You may notice a growing number of small dark spots on your skin with each birthday that passes. Getting more and more of these age spots as you get older is a normal body reaction to sun exposure over time.
They most often start popping up at or around age 50, but younger people can also get age spots if they spend a lot of time in the sun.
If you don’t like the appearance of your age spots, there are many things you can do to get rid of them. Read on to find out how.
At-home remedies for age spots
You can treat your age spots at home with topical medicated creams. To get these creams, you’ll need a prescription from your doctor. Doctors most often prescribe:
- hydroquinone (a bleaching cream)
- mild steroids
- retinoids, such as tretinoin (an acne cream)
These topical medications work by fading age spots over the span of several months.
You should always apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF (sun protection factor) of at least 30, especially if you use one or more topical treatments. This helps reduce any additional sun damage.
Be aware that prescription topical creams have a very strong effect on the skin. They may result in burning, dryness, itching, or redness, usually only temporarily.
Over-the-counter topical fade creams are also available. Look for one that contains:
- glycolic acid
- kojic acid
Be aware that some of these products may irritate your skin, especially those that contain hydroquinone.
If you don’t feel comfortable using topical creams to get rid of your age spots, there are some makeups available that are specially designed to hide them.
In-office treatments for age spots
Your doctor may be able to treat age spots in the office faster than you can at home. Here are some in-office medical treatment options for age spots.
Laser and intense pulsed light therapy
These treatments help destroy melanin-making cells (the cells that color age spots) without harming the surface of the skin. Typically, you’ll need to see your doctor two or three times for treatment.
Some weeks or months after the treatment, your age spots should begin to fade. There are few side effects of laser and intense pulsed light therapy. Most often, people experience some temporary discoloration of their skin.
After treatment, you need to apply sunscreen and use other forms of sun protection daily.
For this treatment, your doctor will apply liquid nitrogen or another freezing solution to your age spots using a cotton-tipped swab. This should destroy some of the color (pigment) of your age spots.
As your skin heals, it will appear lighter in color. This type of treatment is usually only used on a single age spot or on a small cluster of age spots. With this treatment, there is a small risk of temporary skin irritation, permanent scarring, or discoloration.
Dermabrasion and microdermabrasion
Dermabrasion involves planing (sanding down) the surface layer of your skin with a fast-spinning brush. This treatment removes the surface of the skin, allowing a new layer of skin to grow in its place.
Your doctor may have to perform this treatment more than once in order for you to see results. You might experience temporary redness and scabbing after this treatment.
Microdermabrasion treatments are less intense than dermabrasion, which can help make the look of age spots a bit lighter. It requires several in-office treatments over the span of months to see results.
Be aware that if you have rosacea or small red veins on your face, microdermabrasion might make the appearance of these worse.
During a chemical peel, your doctor will apply acid to your face, which destroys the very outer layer of your skin down to your age spots. When the outer layer peels off, new skin will grow in to replace it.
You may need to have a few treatments before you start seeing results. You’ll probably experience some temporary redness after your treatments, and there is a small chance that the treatment will change the color of your skin permanently.
This is an in-office treatment for age spots just approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) after a clinical trial.
During this treatment, a doctor will apply highly concentrated liquid hydrogen peroxide to each age spot four times over four minutes. The hydrogen peroxide helps moisten age spots to dissolve them without damaging surrounding skin.
Some people need more than one treatment in order to dissolve an age spot completely, especially if it’s large or very dark. There are few adverse side effects with this treatment, the most common being mild skin irritation and scabbing.
Living with age spots
To prevent any more age spots, avoid prolonged sun exposure. And when you’re in the sun, be sure to protect yourself with protective clothing, a hat, and sunscreen. You should also avoid tanning beds, which also increase your risk of having age spots.
Age spots are completely harmless. However, they’re sometimes hard to tell apart from skin cancer. For that reason, see your doctor if you’re suspicious about a new spot on your skin.
Be aware that your health insurance may not cover the costs of professional age-spot removal because they are considered cosmetic. Talk to your skin doctor (dermatologist) about the various options to learn what’s best for you.