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Q&A: How do I get rid of sunspots with a laser?

Posted by Dan Narsete on

There are a lot of questions that we get regarding different skin care concerns. We took the most frequent questions we receive from our followers and are going to break them down for you. Hopefully this will shed some light on some of the most problematic issues regarding our skin and give you the tools and information to get rid of the problem. The first question is about sunspots and lasers. Let’s take a look…

Question & Answer: I have sunspots and would love to have them lightened or whatever the laser treatment does. What should I do?

 There are basically three different light-based modalities used to remove sun spots. First, it’s important to understand what it is that you are dealing with. Sun spots are a form of hyper-pigmentation usually caused by the sun (or in some cases from melasma caused by hormones). Your skin has small cells called melanocytes (me-lano-cytes) which are responsible for producing melanin. This melanin is your body’s natural way to protect itself from the sun. When you are outside and are exposed to ultraviolet rays, your body will produce pigmentation and thus, sunspots. 

Laser basics

Lasers use light that is attracted to one color or target. There are three basic targets for cosmetic lasers on your skin: water, blood, and pigment. Water is used for resurfacing and new collagen, blood for those annoying little veins we get on our face and finally pigment. The light emitted from a laser will heat and essentially destroy the medium it is attracted to. So, you must use the right laser for the right issue. Does that make sense? Keep reading… it will. 


Commonly found in medical spas, Intense Pulsed light (IPL) is a treatment for people with sun spots. It works like a camera flash that emits heat to destroy the pigment in your skin. IPL is not a laser as it emits a wide range of light versus a laser that emits one type of light. Since they emit a wide range of light (versus just one thing) it will hit multiple targets. So, if you have veins and pigment, you can hit them at the same time. The downside is that since you are hitting more than one thing, it’s not as strong of a treatment (less energy=less efficacy). Most IPL devices have a large hand piece with a rectangle crystal placed on your skin. There is also a gel used to protect and sometimes cool the skin to dull down the pain from the pulse. The sensation when fired feels like a rubber band snap. It’s hot, bright, and covers a relatively large area. It is quick and can be effective for treating large areas of skin. Brands to look out for are Cutera/Xeo, Sciton/BBL and Palomar/Cynosure.
PRO: affordable
CON: requires multiple treatments, can exacerbate melasma, and hyper-pigmentation


Compared to IPL lasers are a definite step up. Since they focused on a single target (vs multiple), all the energy is dedicated towards that one focus. More energy = more effective treatment. This means it requires less visits to the medical clinic to get rid of your pigment. This also means that when having a laser treatment done the area being treated is much smaller (vs IPL that can cover more targets). The sensation often felt is warmth, but since it’s a smaller area, often it’s much more tolerable and usually you can get a topical anesthetic to help numb any pain. Look out for clinics that include Lumenis and Fraxel.
PRO: Effective, fast, less treatments
CON: Can be expensive, not good for melasma

Q-switch and Pico Lasers

Hands down the best laser for treating brown spots are tattoo lasers. The reason is that melanin and tattoo ink share a similar trait—The molecules each contain are too big for your body to dispose of. Therefore, you need something to break up the pigment. Both Q-switch and Pico technologies do just that. It’s much better than typical lasers and the best part…virtually painless! Instead of heating up a target and destroying it, these lasers create an acoustic effect where the force of the laser shatters the pigment. Unlike an IPL that feels like you are getting hit by a rubber-band, one of these lasers can sound like a loud rubber band snap but there is very little sensation to it. Pico lasers can get a little hot, but that is because the energy used is multiple times what an IPL or laser can do. Remember, more energy=better outcome.

When looking for a medical clinic, look for one’s advertising tattoo removal. Make sure they are using a Q-switch or Pico laser to do so. Brands to look out for include Revlite/Picosure by Cynosure, or PicoWay from Syneron.

PRO: Fast, very effective, pain free, can be used
CON: Expensive

Prevention is key

Now that we have covered how to deal with it, let’s go over a few basics on how to avoid getting sunspots after your treatment. A good skin care routine is key to avoiding further pigmentary issues. Sunscreen is a no-brainer to use. Make sure it’s at least 30 SPF, has non-comedogenic (non-pore clogging) moisturizer in it, and anti-inflammatory agents. Also it is a must to reapply it. Most sunscreens are only good for 1-2 hours. Zinc and niacinimide should be part of any liquid sunscreen, or try out the new generation of dry sunscreens like Colorescience. Next on the list would be an appropriate strength retinol. As a derivative of vitamin A, this is a studied serum that will give you results. Make sure to only use it at night and again with a sunscreen (during the day). Other serums you will want to consider are vitamin C, arbutin, CE Ferulic, and kojic acid based serums. These serums all have proven effects in slowing the production of melanin in your skin. Need to know where to start? Take a look at our quiz to help you get going.

Moving forward

We love getting questions and are happy to answer them! Should you have skin related questions whether it is in the technology or skincare arenas, ask us…we have two physicians and a team of dedicated professionals that will get the answer one way or another. Skin related challenges are complex and we value your opinion, questions, and concerns.


Looking forward to your next question,


Team Reflect

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