brown spots after sunburn

Seeing Brown Spots After Sunburn? (What You Should Know)

Many people notice they develop brown spots after sunburn once they turn 50, but you don’t have to be 50 to develop sunspots on your skin. Brown spots, also known as age spots or liver spots, are a sign you’ve been exposed to the sun too often and your skin is attempting to protect itself from more sun damage. So if you spend a lot of time in the sun, you may notice these dark spots developing earlier than following your 50th birthday.

Spending more time out in the sun isn’t the only reason you may be more likely to develop brown spots after sunburn. Some people are more prone to developing sunspots on their skin than others because of their fair skin or a history of tanning bed use. 

Since they’re caused by UV rays, these brown spots commonly develop on the hands, arms, shoulders, and face. You may notice they are grouped together. Let’s learn more about sunspots, what they look like, and how they can be treated.

Is it Normal to Get Brown Spots After Sunburn?

If you have been sunburned multiple times throughout your life, there is a high probability that you will develop brown spots. Although developing dark spots after sunburn is common, a dermatologist will need to determine whether those brown spots are harmful or not. If you notice new or changing brown spots, schedule a skin cancer screening with your dermatologist. 

These screenings should be conducted annually to not only monitor existing brown spots but to also identify new spots so they can be treated as soon as possible. An added benefit of an in-office skin check is monitoring those hard-to-see spots on your own, like those on your back.  

What Do Sun Damage Spots Look Like? 

There are 5 signs of sun damaged skin. While a sunburn isn’t an unexpected addition to this list, the golden tan many people show off in the summer can be a surprising sign of sun damaged skin. Uneven skin tone is also a common sign that skin has been overexposed to the sun. 

Other ways to identify sun damaged skin are patches of cancerous cells (squamous cell carcinoma, basal cell carcinoma, and melanoma), as well as actinic keratoses. Both of these are characterized by patches of skin that change skin tone, especially if the patches become red or brown. But as mentioned before, not all dark spots after sunburn are cancerous, which is why it’s important to have a dermatologist examine any brown spots that appear on your skin.

Sunspots, one of the non-cancerous types of brown spots, are one of the most common ways to tell if your skin has been damaged by the sun. They are flat brown spots which can vary in size (from the size of a freckle up to ½ an inch across) and develop after repeated exposure to UV rays. Sunspots do not require medical treatment, but you can have them lightened or removed for cosmetic reasons. 

Are Brown Sun Spots Permanent Or Do They Go Away?

Brown spots after sunburn may fade over time, but they do not completely disappear unless treated. This is because those brown spots are areas of skin cells that have been damaged. Once treated, dark spots on your skin do not return. However, new spots can form, and additional treatment may be needed to treat these new spots.

How Do You Get Rid of Brown Spots From Sunburn? 

You may have read about how to get rid of sunspots with home remedies, but the most effective ways to remove brown spots after sunburn are laser skin treatment, photodynamic therapy, and chemical peels. 

  • Laser Skin Treatment

Here at Vujevich Dermatology, we use the Excel V Laser to treat sunspots during laser skin treatments. While all lasers deliver wavelengths of light to target certain skin structures, the Excel V Laser specifically targets red and brown structures. The skin cells in the targeted brown spots break apart post-procedure and eventually are eliminated by the body. Because the Excel V Laser targets brown and red skin structures, this avoids damaging the skin surrounding the treated spots.

  • Photodynamic Therapy (PDT)

Photodynamic therapy for sun damage treats brown spots after sunburn by using a photosensitizing drug to selectively apply light therapy. PDT is a procedure that involves multiple steps, including the application of aminolaevulinic acid, which is left to incubate for two hours. 

Once the aminolaevulinic acid has incubated, you return to the office to sit under a blue light that activates the medication and destroys the damaged skin cells. Following this procedure, your skin is extremely sensitive to the sun for 48 hours. A follow up appointment is scheduled for six weeks post-procedure. 

  • Chemical Peels

There are two types of chemical peels Vujevich Dermatology offers to treat brown spots after sunburn: the superficial peel and the medium peel. A superficial peel uses alpha hydroxy acid (or a similar acid) to penetrate the outer layer of the skin. This type of peel treats mild skin discoloration and can require up to seven days to heal. 

A medium peel uses glycolic or trichloroacetic acid to penetrate the middle and outer layers of skin. This type of peel treats brown spots, freckles, and mild discoloration. A medium peel requires more extensive post-care, including a daily skin soak and oral antiviral medication. Up to 14 days is required to heal following a medium chemical peel. 

Can Sunburn Cause Permanent Skin Discoloration?

Sunburn can cause permanent skin discoloration, which is one of the reasons it’s so important to protect your skin from UV rays. The best way to prevent discoloration from sunburn is to follow our Sun Protection 101 guide. Our sun safety tips include:

  • Wearing SPF 30 or higher sunscreen when you’ll be outside more than 20 minutes, even if it’s cloudy
  • Avoiding the sun when it’s strongest, which is between 10am and 3pm
  • Wearing protective clothing, either long sleeves and pants or UV protective clothing
  • Remembering to wear sunglasses and apply lip balm with SPF

If you’re interested in learning more about preventing or treating brown spots after sunburn, schedule an appointment with one of our highly trained dermatologists. You can reach our team at 412-429-2570 or visit our contact page to see all of our locations. You can also follow us on Facebook to see what’s new in the world of dermatology. 

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