Spend unprotected hours in the sun today and you’ll see the result in age spots on your hands and face tomorrow. Your body fights back against absorbing too much sun by producing extra pigment—melanin—to protect itself. That beautiful tan is produced by melanin accumulating. Sometime around the age of 40, melanin makes an appearance in another form that’s not as attractive as youthful bronzing. The dreaded age spot shows up.

Why do we start to see the unwanted freckles then? Most people need about 40 years to accumulate enough sun exposure to produce those significant melanin splotches. Some people, unfortunately, just produce more melanin as they age.

The teens, 20s and 30s are the decades to prevent age spots from forming. Genetics and skin color play a part in accumulating too much melanin, but exposure to sun is the main reason dark splotches appear on our face and hands as we grow older.

The greatest protection is staying out of the sun between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. and covering up with long sleeves and pants. But who’s going to take that advice when the swimming pool beckons and you’re showing off your toned body is a skimpy bikini?

Next best strategy is plenty of sunscreen slathered on 15 minutes before going out in the sun to give the lotion plenty of time to absorb. Choose a sunscreen that offers SPF 15 or higher to shield against UVA rays that burn and UVB rays that damage and age skin.

It’s never too early but it’s also never too late to use a serum that will prevent new spots from forming. Serums also can stop excess pigment that’s already under your skin from coming to the surface. First try over-the-counter products that contain lower concentrations of the ingredients found in prescription treatments.

OTC lotions containing hydroquinone, deoxyarbutin, glycolic acid or kojic acid tend to produce the best results in reducing the appearance of age spots. Look for a serum containing a combination of vitamin C, licorice and soy. Over-the-counter brighteners that contain antioxidant ellagic acid will fade spots. A retinol formula will lighten dark spots as well as smooth facial lines.

You may need to use these regularly for weeks or months to see spots fade but be aware skin irritation can come with prolonged use.

Prescription medicines may further help reduce age spots.  Dermatologists may recommend bleaching creams containing hydroquinone and retinoids to help reduce the appearance of age spots. Prescription ydroquinone paired with salicylic acid can be used to treat stubborn discoloration.

Other treatments can be more expensive end and require in-office visits. These include laser treatments, freezing or crynotherapy, dermabrasion and chemical peel.

Read More: How to Prevent and Fade Age Spots