Brown spots and the sun

If the skin is exposed to the sun too frequently it becomes unable to manage the harmful effects of UV rays: small brown spots called "lentigos" begin to appear as evidence of a disruption in the production of melanin.

Submitted on 20/07/2012
 Skin pigmentation and the sun are closely related: indeed, the epidermis contains cells called melanocytes that secrete a brown pigment, melanin, in response to UV exposure. With repeated exposure, the epidermis gradually tans: it is this tanning which offers some protection to the skin against sun damage.

When the skin cannot take the sun any more

If exposed too frequently without effective protection or repeated sunburn, you can see small brown spots appear which are flat, only a few millimetres in diameter and located on the most exposed parts: in particular on the face, décolleté, forearms and shoulders. These spots occur more quickly in people with fair skin (blondes and redheads in particular) and those who spend a lot time outdoors (outdoor workers, sports people, lovers of intensive sunbathing, etc.). However, olive or dark skin can also develop these spots with excessive exposure to the sun.

Known as "actinic lentigos' or 'solar lentigos', they should not be confused with senile lentigos: unlike age spots, sun spots can form in very young people, sometimes as early as 20 years. With no systematic protection against the sun, they tend to multiply and turn darker over time.

While perfectly benign, these spots are a sign that the skin cannot take the sun any more: some melanocytes become disrupted and begin to secrete an excess of melanin. The pigment accumulates in the epidermis or the dermis where it forms clusters: the well-known brown spots.

From prevention to treatment

The best way to avoid or delay the formation of brown spots is to limit the exposure of your skin to the sun, or use a sunscreen with a high protection factor (SPF 30 minimum) in a systematic way between May and October. This applies in town as on holiday, in sunny weather as in overcast weather whenever you are outdoors.

If brown spots have already formed, there are now several ways to fade them or make them disappear: depigmenting creams, cryotherapy with liquid nitrogen, laser treatment, flash lamp treatment, peel, etc. Go and see your dermatologist: only he or she can determine the right treatment for the condition of your skin. In all cases, it is then necessary to carefully protect your skin from the sun to avoid a rapid recurrence.

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