Ask Dr A – How to Get Rid of Age Spots
Q: I don’t like the age spots that are starting to appear on my face. What can I do about them?
A: So-called “age spots” are actually “sun spots.” Patches of uneven pigmentation affect many people and occur because the body distributes either too much or too little melanin (the pigment that creates skin, eye, and hair color) to an area. Uneven pigmentation results in a mottled appearance and can occur at different life stages, regardless of ethnic background or skin color.
As we age, we may notice that spots start to appear on the face, hands, and arms, which result when sun exposure triggers excess melanin production. There are several effective approaches to limiting blotchy sun spots, including topically applied creams and laser treatments.
Creams: New skin brighteners contain hydroquinone, a skin-lightening agent that decreases the production of pigment granules by inhibiting the enzyme required to make melanin. After you’ve cleansed your skin, apply hydroquinone to only the affected areas. Let it absorb into the skin, and then apply sunscreen and cosmetics. With consistent use, you can see results in about a month. To support its effectiveness, you must stay out of the sun or use sunscreen while using hydroquinone. Once you achieve your desired results, you can cut back from daily to occasional use for maintenance. If you don’t see results within 3 months, stop using it. Additionally, do not use hydroquinone while pregnant or breast-feeding.
A stronger topical formulation combines Retin-A® with hydroquinone and steroids, which requires a doctor’s prescription. A caution here – overuse of hydroquinones can actually result in a darkening of the skin, particularly on richer skin tones.
Laser: Laser treatments are the high-tech (and priciest) treatment of choice for banishing age spots. It may take 2 or more fairly painless 20- to 30-minute sessions to achieve desired results, but they are gratifying and permanent. However, as with any treatment, new spots are guaranteed to appear with unprotected exposure to the sun.
Use sunscreen! Age spots are a direct result of over exposure to the sun, so the best way to treat them is to avoid getting them in the first place! Use sunscreen every day on the face, chest, arms, and hands; any exposed skin is susceptible. The effort is worth it. For many, eliminating age spots is the least-intrusive and best path to achieving a more youthful appearance, so consult your dermatologist about appropriate treatments to banish them.