the best sun spots treatments

What are the best sun spots treatments? The one that works best for you. I know it’s a crappy answer – but it’s honest, too. There’s a reason why there are a dozen skin-lightening ingredients out there – and more are being discovered every year.

Sun spots are tricky to treat. Azelaic acid may work wonders for your BFF and not make the slightest dent in your sun spots. You may swear by Alpha Arbutin, but your mum complains it’s not working for her – at all. This is a case where it’s worth experimenting to find out what works for you. But, there are some sun spots treatments that work better than others – and have the science to back them up. Here are the best sun spots treatments to try first. Take your pick!

What Are Sun Spots?

Sun spots are dark spots that appear on your skin as a result of unprotected sun exposure. “When your skin is exposed to the sun, its natural reaction is to produce melanin, which helps to block UV radiation from further damaging our DNA and skin. This is often why, when we go into the sun for prolonged periods, our skin gets tanned,” says board-certified dermatologist Dr. Michele Green. “It is also the reason why individuals with fair skin easily burn in the sun while those with darker skin complexions are less likely to get sunburned. Sometimes, the sun causes an uneven increase in melanin production. This excess melanin gets clumped up and spills in between skin cells, giving the appearance of dark spots.”


How often should you use sun spots treatments?

Every product is different, but as a rule, I recommend using it only once a day, preferably in the evening. Using them too much could cause dryness and dehydration. You can give it a go, but if you experience side effects, cut back usage.

Do sun spots treatments work on freckles?

Yes.  “Freckles form as a result of overproduction of melanin due to UV exposure, so yes, bleaching agents can help lighten them as they reduce pigmentation,” explains Board-certified dermatologist Dr. Azadeh Shirazi. But why would you want? Freckles are cute and make you stand out from the crowd.

What is the best spot treatment?

There’s a reason why there are so many different actives to treat sun spots. Just like different medicines work for different people, different dark spots treatments give you different results. Some of my clients use azelaic acid without results, while for others, azelaic acid is fades away dark spots fast. Ditto for alpha arbutin. You may have to experiment with different actives before you find the one that works for you.

What’s the best sun spot treatment for sensitive skin?

If you have sensitive skin, I recommend azelaic acid. It has anti-inflammatory properties and is generally well-tolerated by sensitive skin, too.

How long does it take for sun spot treatments to work?

Even the best sun spots treatments work slowly. It takes 28 days (a little longer when you’re older) for skin to renew itself and see results. You should see a small improvement within one month, but wait at least 3 before deciding if the product works for you. If after that time, you don’t see results, switch to a different active.

Can I use more than one product to fade away sun spots?

I don’t recommend it. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that the more actives you use, the sooner your sun spots will fade. In reality, overwhelming your skin with too many actives causes inflammation, a root cause of sun spots – and all forms of hyperpigmentation (dark spots). Slow and steady wins the race here.

I’m using retinol/glycolic acid/vitamin C. How do I incorporate a sun spots treatment into my skincare routine?

Retinol (and all retinoids), glycolic acid and vitamin C can all help fade away dark spots. But, on their own, they work very slowly – hence why you need a separate sun spots treatments. For most people, I recommend using The Ordinary Ascorbic Acid 8% + Alpha Arbutin 2% in the morning and alternating retinol and glycolic acid at night. If you want to use Azelaic Acid, use it in the evening. Alternate it with retinol and skip a separate exfoliant (Azelaic Acid can exfoliate skin). If you’re using another treatment, you can use it either in the morning or evening after vitamin C or exfoliation. If it’s too much for your skin, take out retinol or exfoliation until the sun spots have faded. If you want my help to create your skincare routine, you can book your consultation here.

What Are The Best Sun Spots Treatments?

The Ordinary Ascorbic Acid 8% + Alpha Arbutin 2% ($11.10)

Don’t let the price fool you: The Ordinary Ascorbic Acid 8% + Alpha Arbutin 2% uses two very powerful skin-lighteners. Alpha Arbutin works by releasing hydroquinone, the gold standard for hyperpigmentation. It reduces the skin’s melanin (pigmentation) production and blocks the activity of Tyrosinase (the enzymes that triggers it). But it’s much gentler than hydroquinone and better tolerated by all skin types. Ascorbic Acid is the pure form of Vitamin C, a powerful antioxidant that boosts collagen, fights free radicals and brightens the skintone. Together, they tackle both premature aging and sun spots.

Available at: Beauty Bay, Cult Beauty, The Ordinary, and Ulta

Active Ingredients: 2% Alpha Arbutus and 8% Ascorbic Acid.

Benefits: Fades away dark spots and prevents wrinkles.

Cons: Not the most effective for anti-aging. I recommend you use this to fade away dark spots and, once they’ve faded, switch to 15% Ascorbic Acid.

Skin type: All skin types.

Fragrance-free: Yes.

Related: The Complete Guide To Vitamin C In Skincare

Paula’s Choice 10% Azelaic Acid Booster ($36.00)

Azelaic acid is a godsend for acne-prone skin. To start with, it has anti-inflammatory properties that reduce redness and inflammation. Guess what acne is? An inflammatory disease! Plus, itt treats mild to moderate forms of acne. It’s a good alternative to both benzoyl peroxide and tretinoin – and way gentler on the skin. Like that weren’t enough, it fades away dark spots and brightens the complexion. Paula’s Choice 10% Azelaic Booster pairs it with salicylic acid, an oil-soluble antioxidant that gets inside the pores and exfoliates them from within. Bye, bye acne!

Available at: Cult Beauty, Dermstore, Net-A-Porter, Paula’s Choice, Sephora and SpaceNK

Active Ingredients: 10% Azelaic Acid and salicylic acid.

Benefits: Fades away dark spots and exfoliates skin.

Cons: Can’t think of anything.

Skin type: All skin types, but especially sensitive.

Fragrance-free: Yes.

Related: Why Salicylic Acid Is Key To Spot-Free Skin

Obagi Medical Nu-Derm Blend Fx ($110.00)

Obagi Medical Nu-Derm Blend Fx is expensive, but worth it. This rich cream uses arbutin to inhibit the enzymes that cause pigmentation and fade away dark spots. It’s one of the most effective ingredients for sun spots out there. But what sets it apart is the sprinkle of antioxidants, including Vitamins C and E, to prevent premature wrinkles. A little goes a loooooong way. Good thing, considering the price!

Available at: Dermstore, Obagi, and Skin Store

Active Ingredients: Arbutin, Vitamin C, and Vitamin E.

Benefits: Fades away dark spots and fights wrinkles.

Cons: Expensive.

Skin type: Best for dry skin.

Fragrance-free: Yes.

Skinceuticals Discoloration Defense ($98.00)

Not sure which skin-lightening ingredient to try first to fade away dark spots? Skinceuticals Discoloration Defense combines four: 3% Tranexemic Acid to break down proteins that lead to melanin production; 1% Kojic Acid to inhibit the activity of tyrosinase, the enzyme that’s responsible for the production of melanin; 5% Niacinamide to brighten skin and reduce sallowness; and 5% HEPES to speed up cellular turnover (the skin’s natural exfoliating process). Because, why not throw everything at those pesky dark spots?

Available at: Blue Mercury and Dermstore

Active Ingredients: 3% Tranexemic Acid, 1% Kojic Acid, 5% Niacinamide, and 5% HEPES.

Benefits: Lightens dark spots.

Cons: May be less effective than Alpha Arbutus and Azelaic Acid, but it’s still worth trying if the other treatments don’t work for you.

Skin type: All skin types.

Fragrance-free: Yes.

Related: The Battle Of The Skin-Lighteners: Which Is The Best Alternative To Hydroquinone?

SkinMedica Even and Correct Advanced Brightening Treatment ($142.40)

If you can stomach the price,SkinMedica Even and Correct Advanced Brightening Treatment is a powerful skin-lightening cocktail. The star of the show is niacinamide, a form of Vitamin B3 that can fade away dark spots… and fight wrinkles, hydrate skin, treat acne, soothe irritation… You can’t go wrong with it. Plus, the serum contains two novel skin-lighteners: Tranexemic Acid breaks down proteins that contribute to melanin production while Phenylethyl Resorcinol inhibits tyrosinase, the enzyme involved in melanin production. P.S. The serum also has a sprinkle of antioxidants to help you fight premature aging, too.

Available at: Dermstore

Active Ingredients: Niacinamide, Tranexemic Acid, and Phenylethyl Resorcinol.

Benefits: Lightens dark spots.

Cons: Expensive. May be less effective than Alpha Arbutus and Azelaic Acid, but it’s still worth trying if the other treatments don’t work for you.

Skin type: All skin types.

Fragrance-free: Yes.

Related: The Complete Guide To Niacinamide: What It Is, What It Does, And How It Works

The Verdict

There’s no one size fits all treatments. The best sun spots treatments include either Alpha Arbutin or Azelaic Acid, so start there and see which option is best for you. Other treatments are newer, but they’re still worth a try if the more tried-and-tested ingredients don’t work for you or you just want to try something new. Again, you won’t know what works until you try it. But, these are the absolute best sun spots treatments on the market, according to science, so I’m confident one of them will work work for you.