We tend to worry more about the visible changes sun damage causes to our face, but in truth, we should be just as concerned about the changes sun exposure causes on the rest of the body. If you’re seeing white spots on skin, white patches, light spots, dark spots, or other age spots from sun exposure, here’s what you need to know to improve their appearance.

White Spots on Skin

White spots on skin tend to show up on the sun-exposed areas of the arms and legs. They differ from brown spots not only in color, but also in why they form. Brown spots are due to excess pigmentation, but white spots occur when skin’s pigment is destroyed from years of sun exposure. The loss of pigment causes white patches on skin. No one knows why some areas of skin get white spots while others darken.

Although white spots might seem like a cause for concern, they’re harmless. Unfortunately, they cannot be eliminated; there’s simply no way to get the lost pigment back. However, you can prevent more white spots from appearing by consistently applying a broad-spectrum sunscreen rated SPF 30 or greater. You can also take other sun-protective measures, like wearing ultraviolet-rated clothing and, of course, NEVER getting a tan, whether indoors or outside.

You can try to make the white spots visually blend in to the surrounding skin by using a self-tanning product, but you must apply it only to the white spots. Use a cotton swab or makeup brush to apply a tiny amount of self-tanner directly on the white spot; then wait a few hours and see how the color looks. Reapply as needed to maintain the color balance.

Brown Spots on Skin

Brown spots are easier to deal with, as there are both over-the-counter and in-office options from a dermatologist that can improve their appearance—possibly fading them to a significant degree! We discuss those in the section below.

Brown spots are often accompanied by other signs of sun damage, like dull, ashy-looking skin.

You can dramatically improve the tone and texture of sun-damaged skin with an alpha hydroxy acid lotion or, if raised bumps are also a concern, a beta hydroxy acid body lotion. Those are the fastest and most gentle ways to get your glow back!

How to Get Rid of Sun Spots

The best over-the-counter products for fading the appearance of brown spots are those that contain 2% hydroquinone. Decades of research has proven this ingredient to be safe and effective when used as directed.

Always, always, always protect exposed skin from UV light with a broad-spectrum sunscreen, year-round. This is essential to the success of any skin-lightening product; plus, it keeps more age spots from showing up.

Products that work to brighten skin and improve the look of discolorations include those with vitamin C, niacinamide, and azelaic acid. Products with such ingredients can be applied at the same time as a product that contains hydroquinone.

It’s important to know that sun spots on skin can be stubborn. You might find—and research agrees—that the best approach to address sun spots is over-the-counter skincare plus in-office treatments from a dermatologist. This “combination therapy” often includes prescription creams along with a series of laser or other light-emitting treatments that target the source of the brown spots that are deeper in the skin.

References for this information:

Skin Therapy Letter, January 2016, pages 1–7
The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology, August 2014, pages 13–17
Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology, May 2012, ePublication; and September 2010, pages 1026–1030
International Journal of Dermatology, July 2011, pages 798–805; and February 2010, pages 162–166
Photochemistry and Photobiology, Volume 84, 2008, pages 539–549