What You Can Do About Age Spots


Mary Elizabeth Dallas

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Ever notice a brown spot on your skin that looks like a really big freckle? It might be an age spot. 

Like wrinkles, these flat brown spots are often unwelcome signs of aging. They usually develop from years of exposure to the sun's rays. Using tanning beds or sun lamps can also cause them. Doctors sometimes call age spots solar lentigo. Some people call them “liver spots.”  They usually appear on the arms, back, face, feet or hands. 

Age spots are not dangerous. Still, you might not like them, especially if they show up on your face or hands. If age spots bother you, there are ways to make them less visible, or you can have them removed. Read more about what you can do about this common skin condition. 

How to Treat Age Spots at Home

Some over-the-counter (OTC) products help reduce the appearance of age spots. They include:

  • Fade creams. These are bleaching creams that you apply to the skin. They usually contain a small amount of hydroquinone. People have used this drug for many years to treat skin discoloration caused by the sun and other conditions.

  • Skin brighteners. Certain skin brighteners, lighteners or whiteners may help fade age spots. Look for products that contain soy, licorice, or kojic acid.

  • Retinol cream. This is an OTC form of vitamin A. It tends to work best in people with light skin who have superficial dark spots due to early sun damage.

How Doctors Treat Age Spots

If home treatment doesn't work, you should see a dermatologist. Options that doctors have include:

  • Bleaching cream. A doctor can prescribe a bleaching cream that is stronger than what you can get OTC. Prescription creams contain more hydroquinone.

  • Chemical peel. This involves applying a chemical solution that removes the damaged outer layer of skin.

  • Cryosurgery. This procedure freezes age spots with a liquid nitrogen solution. It causes the outer layer of skin to peel off. Side effects include a lighter or different color of the treated skin.

  • Microdermabrasion. For this procedure, a doctor “sands off” age spots with a hand-held device or wand. The procedure takes about 30 minutes, and there is no recovery time. Most people need several treatments before they see an improvement.

  • Intense pulsed light (IPL). This treatment uses light energy to reduce the appearance of age spots. Sometimes doctors use this along with other treatments.

  • Laser skin resurfacing. This involves using short, pulsating beams of light to treat age spots. The laser removes the outer layer of skin. Full treatment may require more than one laser procedure.

How to Prevent Age Spots

The best way to prevent age spots is to protect your skin from the sun. It's the sun's ultraviolet (UV) rays that are the problem. They can lead to age spots. They also can cause wrinkles and skin cancer as well. 

It is important to wear sunscreen whenever you go outside to protect your skin. Use a sunscreen that offers "broad-spectrum" protection. That means it keeps out both UVA and UVB rays. It also should have a sun protection factor (SPF) number that's 30 or higher. Put on sunscreen 20 minutes before heading outdoors. Re-apply it every two hours when you're in the sun.

When to See a Doctor About Age Spots

Age spots are harmless signs of aging. Other spots and bumps that develop on the skin, however, could be more serious. It can sometimes be hard to tell the difference. If you notice any spots that are itchy, prone to bleeding, are oddly colored or irregularly shaped, go to your doctor for a checkup. That's the best way to stay safe and healthy.

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Medical Reviewers: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Review Date: Apr 30, 2016

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Medical References

  1. Skin Care and Aging. U.S. National Institute on Aging. Feb 2014. http://www.nia.nih.gov/health/publication/skin-care-and-aging.
  2. Aging Hair/Skin Problems. American Academy of Dermatology. http://www.skincarephysicians.com/agingskinnet/age_spots.html.
  3. Dermatologists have firm grip on new treatments for the aging hand. American Academy of Dermatology. Aug 2011. http://www.aad.org/stories-and-news/news-releases/dermatologists-have-firm-grip-on-new-treatments-fo...
  4. What Is Photoaging? Skin Cancer Foundation. http://www.skincancer.org/healthy-lifestyle/anti-aging/what-is-photoaging.
  5. Chemical Peel: Here's How It Works. American Society of Plastic Surgeons. http://www.plasticsurgery.org/cosmetic-procedures/chemical-peel.html?sub=Here%27s+how+it+works.
  6. What happens during microdermabrasion? American Society of Plastic Surgeons. http://www.plasticsurgery.org/cosmetic-procedures/microdermabrasion.html?sub=What+happens+during+mic...
  7. Microdermabrasion Treatment. American Society of Plastic Surgeons. http://www.plasticsurgery.org/cosmetic-procedures/microdermabrasion.html
  8. Skin Resurfacing. The American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery. http://www.surgery.org/consumers/procedures/skin/skin-resurfacing.
  9. What is laser skin resurfacing? American Society of Plastic Surgeons. http://www.plasticsurgery.org/cosmetic-procedures/laser-skin-resurfacing.html
  10. Cryosurgery for Age Spots. American Society for Dermatologic Surgery. http://www.asds.net/Cryosurgery-for-Age-Spots/
  11. Hydroquinone. American Society for Dermalogic Surgery Association. http://asdsa.asds.net/m/position/Hydroquinone/
  12. Variety of options available to treat pigmentation problems. American Academy of Dermatology. Feb 2013. http://www.aad.org/stories-and-news/news-releases/variety-of-options-available-to-treat-pigmentation...
  13. Light for Light. Skin Cancer Foundation. http://www.skincancer.org/healthy-lifestyle/anti-aging/light-for-light
  14. Chemical Peels. American Academy of Dermatology. http://www.aad.org/dermatology-a-to-z/diseases-and-treatments/a---d/chemical-peel

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