My mother has always had an extremely healthy relationship with beauty. Throughout my life, she has consistently passed on elements of the skincare wisdom she has learned over 70 years. While I took her daily SPF application to heart, my hands unfortunately did not get the memo. Even with all my experience as a beauty editor, I still ended up with sun-induced brown spots (they left my skin more damaged and weathered than I'd care for at this point in my early 30s). Hey, nobody's perfect, right? So, in the interest of learning how to get rid of sunspots on my hands, I decided to consult some trusted professionals.
There are topical options for removing sunspots (many of which are already proven favorites in my current skincare lineup). Yet, as an impatient millennial, I'm a fan of procedures that can provide more immediate results. Fortunately, an appointment with Macrene AlexiadeMD, Ph.D. FAAD and founder of New York Dermatology and Laser Surgery Centerfor a Lighting by Cutera the laser treatment was only an e-mail away. To learn more about how to get rid of sun spots on your hands, keep reading.
What are sunspots?
If you live on planet Earth and go outside regularly, you've probably encountered an unwanted sunspot or two in your life, but they're not exactly the same as other forms of hyperpigmentation. As a certified dermatologist Seemal R. DesaiMD, explains, "When exposed to the sun, [pigment-producing cells called melanocytes] go wild and become hyperplastic, which means they get bigger and plumper, and they tend to clump together and form what's called a sunspot. risk of developing sunspots.
Why are hands so sensitive to sun spots?
With all the attention the face, neck and décolletage receive in the beauty world, pivoting your attention to your hands may seem less than inspiring. But ignoring your hands will ultimately contribute to sunspots, making them an essential part of any complete and comprehensive "anti-aging" skin care regimen for the body.
"Generally, hands tend to be exposed to UV [rays] for long periods of time without any coverage, and they are also generally neglected when it comes to applying sunscreen," explains a board-certified dermatologist and founder of Medication for the skin, Dhaval G. BhanusaliMD FAAD.
As a busy New Yorker frequently crisscrossing the city for appointments, my hands are in the sun almost daily. Yes, I pile on the SPF in the morning like a diligent skincare enthusiast, but I'm the first to admit that I don't always add as much as I need to (every two to three hours on average, but even more frequently if you wash your hands). After 33 years, this left me with a handful of unwanted spots on my hands, enough that I felt it was time to treat the pigmentation before it got any darker.
What are the in-office treatment options for getting rid of sunspots?
There are many procedures available to treat unwanted brown spots according to Alexiades, including laser and intense pulsed light therapy, cryotherapy, dermabrasion, microdermabrasion and chemical peels. While there are more than 50 other technologies in her office to remove brown spots, the Enlighten by Cutera system is her favorite.
"Enlighten by Cutera allows me to tailor my wavelength and pulse to the type of brown spot you have so I can remove it in one treatment," she says.
Benefits of an Enlighten by Cutera treatment
- Eliminates unwanted pigments
- Works in one session
- Relatively painless compared to other laser options
- Minimum follow-up
- You will see full results in two weeks or less
If you want faster results from your beauty treatments, this laser will leave you extremely satisfied. Yes, you will have to wait for some minor redness and scabbing to heal, but there is no pain during this process. Once your skin is back to normal, the complexion is remarkably even, as if you have just shaved off a few years of sun exposure.
No follow-up appointments are necessary to achieve the desired results. While Macrene suggests yearly appointments to maintain your skin tone, following a comprehensive sun care routine will help keep your old dark marks from returning and prevent new ones from developing. However, you'll finish the hard work of removing your current sunspots in one visit to your dermatologist's office, so it's well worth it.
How to prepare for an Enlighten by Cutera treatment
"October and November in my office are what I call "Pico season," Alexiades tells me via email (i.e., Pico lasers like Enlighten), adding that patients must wait four weeks after their last significant sun exposure to have the procedure. Because the laser targets darker pigmentation, if you have a light summer tan, you risk further damage to your skin. Case in point: I originally asked the dermatologist to treat my hands at a previous appointment in August, but she told me to wait a few more months for the last of my summer glow to fade.
What to expect during treatment
The beauty of this laser is how much quick the session flies. After filling out the intake forms regarding my current condition, Alexiades provided me with a pair of goggles to protect my eyes (similar to what you might have worn in a tanning bed if you were an irresponsible teenager like me) and she began maneuvering the laser around my hands.
Enlighten by Cutera uses a small wand to deliver the trio of laser wavelengths - 532nm, 1064nm, and 670nm - into the skin to break up the pigment, which seems much more extreme than it sounds. I would compare it to snapping a small rubber band, and it lasts a fraction of a second for each spot. My treatment was over in less than five minutes, after which she provided me with a small ice pack to sit with for a few more minutes to soothe some of the resulting redness, and then I was out the door.
Before and after
On the left, a picture of my hand before Enlighten by Cutera treatment. On the right, my hand two weeks after the treatment.
Here is a look at my hands immediately after the Enlighten by Cutera laser treatment.
This is what my hands looked like four days after the laser.
One week after the treatment, there was still visible redness which disappeared in the second week.
How do topical options compare to professional sunspot treatments?
I find few places more enjoyable than sitting in a dermatologist's office, but I also understand that it often equates to more time and money than some people are willing to spend treating sunspots. Fortunately, there are many ingredients that target hyperpigmentation from the comfort of your own bathroom - no office visit required (usually). Bhanusali cites exfoliants like kojic acid, a mild alpha-hydroxy acid, as an accessible option for fading brown spots over time, as they remove dead skin cells to reveal brighter, more even skin underneath.
He also suggests products with niacinamide, another star ingredient, to help brighten skin, fight inflammation and strengthen your moisture barrier.
You can also speak with your health care provider to look into prescription products, giving you access to stronger ingredients, such as a steroid or hydroquinone, or a higher percentage of active ingredients. If you don't like hydroquinone, or if you have more melanin in your skin and don't want to risk potentially worsening your hyperpigmentation, Alexiades suggests looking for products containing deoxyarbutin, which is known as a comparable alternative to hydroquinone with a better safety profile.
Potential side effects of laser treatment for sunspots
The Enlighten by Cutera laser is non-thermal and non-ablative, meaning it does not use heat energy to heat the skin (which can worsen hyperpigmentation) or remove the top layer of skin. Although the picosecond wavelength of true red is gentler on the skin than some earlier iterations of sunspot lasers, it can still leave small reddish blisters on the skin where your unwanted pigments once lived.
Alexiades treated eight spots on both my hands combined, and the resulting red marks took about a week and a half to fade. I admit that for the first few days, my hands looked like I had scratched a series of gnarly mosquito bites. Thankfully, there was no more discomfort after the initial zaps.
The cost of an Enlighten by Cutera treatment
Depending on your location, the provider you visit and the number of areas you treat, the average cost of a cycle of Enlighten by Cutera can range from 750 $ to 2,000 $. While this may seem expensive compared to the price of a topical product, you will see the desired results after just one round of lasers, with treated areas fully healed in two weeks or less.
Aftercare for a laser treatment against sun spots
Fortunately, the downtime required after an Enlighten by Cutera treatment is minimal. Alexiades says to dab each spot with a protective occlusive, such as AquaphoreUse the zap twice a day until it has healed, about four days. The red marks left by the zaps will fade in about two weeks, leaving you with a much more even skin tone. She suggests visiting your dermatologist annually to maintain your results, but wearing a daily SPF will help protect your hands from developing additional dark marks between appointments.
The last takeaway
As someone who is incredibly conscious of my full-body skincare routine, the almost immediate results of this treatment are especially satisfying. My sunspots faded in just a few weeks, leaving my hands looking younger and more even without having to remember to apply an additional serum or cream beyond my usual sunscreen.
While this is a more expensive option, I know that I will maintain the results I'm looking for much more easily by starting in my 30's rather than waiting until I'm in my 50's, 60's, or beyond when my sunspots might be more numerous or darker (and therefore more difficult to treat). Overall, I'll be happy to schedule this laser treatment as part of my beauty routine.