Updated 06/20/23. There’s nothing wrong with sun spots or freckles, but some people want to prevent them from forming throughout the summer. If that’s the case, it can be difficult (mostly because of the heat, as you’ll soon learn), but it’s not impossible. You just have to practice the right prevention techniques. Ahead, see all of my expert tips for how you can prevent sun spots from appearing on your skin, even if you’re like me, and you spend a lot of time in the great outdoors.
How to Prevent Summer Sun Spots
1. Wear Sunscreen and Sun-Protective Clothing
I know this is stating the obvious, but it’s of great importance. Exposing your skin to the sun (especially if you get a tan or a sunburn) will bring out sun spots. So, if you’re serious in your quest to prevent them from ever appearing in the first place, you must do two things. The first is to wear sunscreen every single day, applying it generously and consistently.
Protecting your skin from the sun has much more to do with how much sunscreen you apply than it does the actual SPF number listed on the bottle. That’s why I recommend applying at least a quarter-sized dollop to your face, alone. If your neck and chest are exposed, apply a separate quarter-sized dollop to those areas as well! If you’re spending time outside, reapply every 90 minutes.
I always recommend using the Weightless Protection SPF 30. I formulated it specifically for people who struggle with oily, breakout-prone skin (although it’s good for all skin types). It’s a lightweight formula that dries to a matte finish. And it won’t clog pores or worsen breakout activity. I use it every single day!
If you’ll be spending time outside and you don’t want to keep reapplying sunscreen, consider investing in sun-protective clothing. This is different from regular clothing because it has a UPF rating. UPF stands for Ultraviolet Protection Factor. It’s a measurement of sun protection in clothing. Unlike regular clothing, which allows UV light to be transmitted through the weaves of the fabric, UPF clothing goes through rigorous testing to make sure it’s providing adequate sun protection.
Wear a Hat
This goes along with my sun-protective clothing tip, but it’s worth stating anyway. In theory, protecting your skin from the sun by wearing a hat while outdoors is smart. However, it may backfire in certain cases. While a hat will provide shade, it can also trap heat around forehead, which can cause pigmentation (AKA sun spots) to appear…but more on that in a minute.
A good test for this is to take off your hat when you’re outside. Does it make you feel cooler with or without it? If a hat makes you feel hotter, don’t wear it. Your best bet is to choose one that’s made from a light, breathable fabric (like the ones runners wear). This will keep sunlight off your skin without trapping excess heat.
This is an effective way to cover the thin skin around the eyes, which is one of the first areas to show signs of aging. It can also prevent you from squinting in bright light, which can, in turn, prevent fine lines and wrinkles from forming.
According to research, wearing sunglasses might even help prevent sun spots from forming in your skin. Researchers studied the effect of UV light on the eyes of mice. When their eyes were exposed to UV light, they discovered the skin had a darkening response. Further research demonstrated that UV light goes into the photoreceptors in the eyes and prompts the pituitary gland to create melanin within the skin. While this hasn’t been proven or extrapolated to humans, it’s still pretty incredible and could be another reason to consider wearing sunglasses.
2. Avoid the Heat
For years, it was thought that sun spots were only caused by the sun (as the name suggests). We now know that heat can stimulate melanin activity, as well. This means that no matter how diligent you are about wearing sunscreen and seeking shade, your skin can still form sun spots if you’re exposing it to a lot of heat.
I live in Austin, Texas, so I know that sometimes the heat is unavoidable. However, if you’re serious about preventing sun spots, avoid being in direct sunlight from 10 am to 4 pm. Those are the hottest hours of the day. I would also suggest avoiding saunas, steam rooms, or hot yoga. All of these can make pigmentation worse.
How to Cool Down Overheated Skin to Prevent Sun Spots
- Seek shade.
- Put a cold compress on the back of your neck.
- Splash your skin with ice-cold water to quickly lower its internal temperature.
- Gently press a bag of frozen vegetables to your skin.
- Keep an alcohol-free toner in the fridge, so that when it’s applied after cleansing, it provides a cooling effect.
- Keep a gel-based mask in the fridge, so that when it’s applied, it will cool the skin and hydrate thirsty cells.
- Go for a dip in the pool, lake, or ocean. This will quickly lower your body temperature to reduce heat in the skin.
3. Use Chemical Exfoliants
One of the best ways to manage skin discoloration (including sun spots) is to exfoliate regularly. This can be done through chemical exfoliation or physical exfoliation. Chemical exfoliation involves applying an acid to the skin (like glycolic, lactic, or mandelic acids) to lower the pH of the skin and dissolve dead cells. This encourages cellular turnover, which helps fade pigmentation.
Some people are hesitant to exfoliate in the summer since some exfoliating acids can make the skin more sensitive to the sun. I’m here to tell you that as long as you’re diligent about sun protection, it’s business as usual with exfoliating acids.
With that being said, always use common sense. If you’re going to be at the beach for a few days, and you know you’ll be out in the sun a lot, you might want to skip chemical exfoliation for a night or two before you go.
4. Use a Gentle Facial Scrub
Due to the popularity of exfoliating acids, many people no longer feel the need to use a facial scrub. In fact, some people refuse to use one, thinking they’re all harmful to the skin. The truth is that there are some amazing gentle facial scrubs out there that won’t damage the skin. Take the Mint Buffing Beads, for example. I formulated this product with perfectly round jojoba beads that glide across the skin and slough away dead cells.
While exfoliating acids do a great job of dissolving pigmented cells, it’s a facial scrub that will actually lift them up and off the skin. In fact, in many instances, you can see an immediate fading of pigmentation after using a facial scrub. That’s why I suggest alternating between chemical and physical exfoliants.
5. Use Retinol
Retinol is a derivative of vitamin A. It happens to be one of the most effective skincare ingredients you can use for preventing sun spots. With continued use, it can smooth and resurface the skin while keeping pigment cells under control. However, it can also increase sun sensitivity, so sun protection is the key to using this ingredient safely. (Read more about using retinol in the summer.)
6. Use a Vitamin C Serum
In addition to exfoliants and retinol, a natural skin brightener like vitamin C can suppress melanin cells, helping to fade and prevent sun spots. I suggest applying a vitamin C serum every morning under sunscreen. Not only will it go to work on pigmentation, but it will also offer potent antioxidant protection. In fact, using a stable and well-formulated vitamin C serum in conjunction with sunscreen can significantly increase UV protection. That’s why I apply the Vitamin C&E Treatment every day, without fail.
7. Eat a Diet Rich in Antioxidants
Did you know that certain fruits and vegetables can boost your skin’s defense against sun damage? German researchers analyzed the results of seven large studies on beta-carotene—an antioxidant found in carrots, sweet potatoes, kale, and spinach. They found that consuming 24 to 180 milligrams a day for at least 10 weeks significantly increased internal SPF.
Additionally, a small study in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology had 10 subjects take 2,000 mg of vitamin C and 1,000 IU of vitamin E each day for eight days. They found they could tolerate 20% more UV exposure before getting sunburned. It just goes to show that eating fruits and veggies is good for the health of your body and your skin. Make sure you’re stocking up on the 10 best antioxidant-rich foods.
The Bottom Line
Just because sun spots or freckles appear on your skin in the summer, doesn’t mean you’re getting more sun damage than other people. We all have things that are genetically hard-coded into our skin, and pigmentation from heat and sun is one of them. Everyone has different goals for their skin. My hope is that this information gives you the tools you need to achieve those goals!
There’s one more thing I want to note. There’s a condition called poikiloderma, which is another type of hyperpigmentation that’s usually isolated to the neck and chest. I personally have it on my neck, so I’m super diligent about sun protection, and I follow all of these precautions to fade the redness and discoloration it causes. Read all about what it is and how I manage it.
Celebrity Esthetician & Skincare Expert
As an esthetician trained in cosmetic chemistry, Renée Rouleau has spent 30 years researching skin, educating her audience, and building an award-winning line of products. Her hands-on experience as an esthetician and trusted skin care expert has created a real-world solution — products that are formulated for nine different types of skin so your face will get exactly what it needs to look and feel its best. Trusted by celebrities, editors, bloggers, and skincare obsessives around the globe, her vast real-world knowledge and constant research are why Marie Claire calls her “the most passionate skin practitioner we know.”