If you're unhappy with the appearance of age spots, treatments are available to lighten or remove them. Since the pigment is located at the base of the epidermis — the topmost layer of skin — any treatments meant to lighten the age spots must penetrate this layer of skin.
Age spot treatments include:
- Medications. Prescription bleaching creams (hydroquinone) used alone or with retinoids (tretinoin) and a mild steroid may gradually fade the spots over several months. Sun protection with a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 is strongly advised if you use medication treatments. The treatments may result in temporary itching, redness, burning or dryness.
- Laser therapy. Laser therapy destroys melanin-producing cells (melanocytes) without damaging the skin's surface. Treatments with a laser typically require several sessions. After treatment, age spots fade gradually over several weeks or months. Laser therapy has few side effects, but it may result in slight discoloration of the skin.
- Freezing (cryotherapy). This procedure involves applying liquid nitrogen or another freezing agent to the age spots to destroy the extra pigment. As the area heals, the skin appears lighter. Freezing is typically used on a single age spot or a small grouping of age spots. The treatment may temporarily irritate the skin and poses a slight risk of permanent scarring or discoloration.
- Dermabrasion. This procedure consists of sanding down (planing) the surface layer of your skin with a rapidly rotating brush. This procedure removes the skin surface, and a new layer of skin grows in its place. Temporary redness and scab formation can result from this treatment.
- Chemical peel. A chemical peel involves applying an acid, which burns the outer layer of your skin, to the age spots. As your skin peels, new skin forms to take its place. Several treatments may be necessary before you notice any results. Sun protection is strongly advised following this treatment. Temporary irritation is likely, and there's a slight risk of discoloration.
Because age spot treatments are considered cosmetic, your insurance may not pay for them. And because the procedures can have side effects, discuss your options carefully with your dermatologist. Also, make sure your dermatologist is specially trained and experienced in the technique you're considering.
Feb. 24, 2011
- Goldstein BG, et al. Overview of benign lesions of the skin. http://www.uptodate.com/home/index.html. Accessed Dec. 13, 2010.
- Schaffer JV, et al. Benign pigmented skin lesions other than melanocytic nevi (moles). http://www.uptodate.com/home/index.html. Accessed Dec. 13, 2010.
- Ortonne JP et al. Treatment of solar lentigines. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. 2006;54:S262.
- Melanoma (malignant melanoma). The Merck Manuals: The Merck Manual for Healthcare Professionals. http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/sec10/ch128/ch128e.html. Accessed Dec. 14, 2010.
- Kang HY, et al. The role of topical retinoids in the treatment of pigmentary disorders: An evidence-based review. American Journal of Clinical Dermatology. 2009;10:251.
- Draelos ZD. Skin lightening preparations and the hydroquinone controversy. Dermatologic Therapy. 2007;20:308.
- Facts about sunscreens. American Academy of Dermatology. http://www.aad.org/media/background/factsheets/fact_sunscreen.htm. Accessed Dec. 14, 2010.
- Sun-protective clothing: Wear it well. Federal Trade Commission. http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/pubs/consumer/alerts/alt094.shtm. Accessed Dec. 14, 2010.