Including: how to finally get rid of sun spots.

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Woman with large straw hat covering her face
Credit: Plamen Petkov

Between the ghosts of pimples past and years of neglecting sunscreen as a teen, I have no shortage of brown spots that pepper my face from cheek to cheek, and across my nose. Don’t mistake them for freckles though, which are cute; these are sunspots and, according to my derm, signs of “hyperpigmentation.”

Whatever they’re called, I want them gone. I want the even-toned, radiant skin that inspires face wash commercials. In my quest for a clearer complexion, I sought the help of Jeremy A. Brauer, director of clinical research, Laser and Skin Surgery Center of New York, to get some options for lightening up those spots for good.

At home: You’re already wearing an SPF of at least 30, right? Just checking. Now, add an antioxidant-packed serum like Dermadoctor Kakadu C ($95, under your sunscreen every morning. “Vitamin C, in particular, has been shown to provide numerous beneficial effects on photodamaged skin,” says Brauer. In the evenings, apply a product that’s specifically formulated to target pigmentation, like Neutrogena Rapid Tone Repair Moisturizer Night ($23.99, under your moisturizer. “These often contain non-prescription strength retinol, which helps increase cell turnover, or natural brightening ingredients like soy, licorice extract, kojic acid, and mulberry.”

In-office: You can choose from a series of laser treatments like IPL (intense pulsed light), Clear + Brilliant, FraxeI, or the lesser-known (as it applies to hyperpigmentation removal) PicoSure. Consult your derm as to which one would be best for you, as it depends on your skin tone and the severity of discoloration. I opted for the PicoSure, which works by delivering “ultra-short pulses of energy to the skin, resulting in a heating and shattering of the target pigment particles that your skin then absorbs,” says Brauer. Based on its ability to tackle bigger things like, say, a giant butterfly tattoo from spring break 2008, I had high expectations—and was not disappointed.

Post-Pico, my smaller spots are completely gone, and the larger dime-sized shadow that previously engulfed my right cheek has lightened up drastically. Also, for the first time in my life, someone told me that I was “glowing.” (Dr. Brauer confirmed that, in addition to obliterating spots, the laser helps to stimulate new collagen growth. Hence, the marked improvement in tone and texture.) I’m going back in a few weeks for another try at that larger spot.

Two things to keep in mind before you go all Star Wars on your face:

  1. It will put a dent in your pocket. “The cost of treatment depends on the size and location of the spots. Generally, treatments start at $300, with costs being a bit higher in cities like New York or Los Angeles,” says Brauer.
  2. To keep your hard-earned skin in pristine condition, be vigilant about your SPF application; make sure it’s a broad spectrum formula that protects against both UVA and UVB rays, don’t be stingy (use at least a quarter-sized amount for the face alone), and reapply every two hours if you plan on being outside for a while.