What to Know About Age Spots—Plus 4 Products to Help Get Rid of Them
If you're concerned about age spots, here are some ways to prevent and treat them.
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What are age spots?
Age is just a number, right? But as our bodies inch up there in years, they begin to experience a wide variety of signs of aging, from achy joints to graying hair to spotty, wrinkly skin.
Age spots—also known as lentigines or liver spots—are common in those over 55. They’re rounded and flat, ranging in size from a few millimeters to centimeters. You’ll notice them on the skin as tan, brown, gray, or black spots.
And they’re a surefire sign your skin has been exposed to ample amounts of sunlight.
These and other forms of skin hyperpigmentation can affect people of any race and are a major complaint for people with light and dark skin.
Lentigines are sometimes lumped in under the lay term freckles, although that generally refers to another type of pigmented skin lesion, known as ephelides.
“Age spots are dark spots that develop on the skin of the face and body over time. They are noncancerous and typically include lentigines and seborrheic keratoses (SKs),” explains Lisa Anthony, MD, a board-certified dermatologist at Westmed Medical Group in Westchester, New York. “SKs may vary in color, be waxy or scaly, and be raised and bumpy or very thin and shiny.”
If you’re worried about age spots, read on for the skin skinny from dermatologists who see (and treat) them on the regular.
(Don’t miss the things you didn’t know could slow down aging.)
What causes age spots
Sun exposure injures the skin, and the skin responds by creating extra melanin, or skin pigment. Eventually, this melanin aggregates in areas that are injured the most due to more sun exposure or thinner skin.
Voilà: age spots. They can happen anywhere on the body but are most frequently found on the hands, face, shoulders, back, and arms.
They might appear as single spots or in clusters, and the propensity to develop them is typically genetic, Dr. Anthony says.
“Although an exact cause in most cases is unknown,” she adds, “possible factors may include skin aging and sun exposure.”
Since prolonged sun exposure over the years leads to more skin damage, age spots tend to crop up with age.
“Age spots are not harmful to a person’s health and do not need to be treated,” says Annie Gonzalez, MD, a board-certified dermatologist at Riverchase Dermatology in Miami. “However, many people do not like the look of age spots and wish to make them less noticeable.”
There’s no single age-spot treatment that works for everyone.
“It’s best to make an appointment with a dermatologist for a customized treatment plan right for your skin type,” says Dr. Gonzalez.
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How to prevent age spots
Usually, there’s not much you can do to completely prevent age spots, but sun protection may help, Dr. Anthony says. That may be especially true before age 20.
Regardless of your current age, apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen every day—pick an SPF 40 or higher—before you leave the house in the morning and often throughout the day “not only to reduce the appearance of age spots but also [to] lower risk of skin cancer,” Dr. Anthony says.
Wearing long sleeves and a hat while outdoors is another way to decrease sun exposure, Dr. Gonzalez says.
Generally, healthy lifestyle choices—such as eating a balanced diet, drinking in moderation, and keeping skin moisturized and clean—can also help keep age spots at bay longer.
Have age spots? Don’t do these things
Try to ease up on the exfoliation if you do it more than twice per week.
“Over-exfoliation does not minimize pigment of the skin more than gentle exfoliation,” Dr. Gonzalez says. “Rather, it can irritate the skin and may lead to skin rashes or an increase in acne.”
And as hard as it may be, resist the urge to pick at age spots.
“You should never try to physically remove age spots at home by attempting to pick or peel at your skin,” she says. “This can lead to tears in the skin surface that allow bacteria to enter and cause a variety of infections.”
Instead, see your dermatologist about tried-and-true procedures or topical treatments that can help, not hinder, the fading of your age spots.
In-office procedures to get rid of age spots
To ensure it’s an age spot and not a cancerous lesion, be sure to schedule at least yearly skin checks with a board-certified dermatologist.
You don’t need to remove age spots, Dr. Anthony says. That said, if you’re not a fan of the look of your age-spotted skin, there are procedures that remove them.
“This can be done with chemical lightening or peels, electrodesiccation, cryosurgery, shave removal, and laser removal,” she says. “With any removal or destructive treatment, though, there’s the potential for scarring, bleeding, and infection.”
It’s wise to consult a dermatologist about any potential skin-lightening procedures or treatments for hyperpigmentation. It’s important to note that people with darker skin may be particularly at risk of side effects or complications from some skin-lightening techniques.
These are the most common dermatologic procedures to get rid of age spots, according to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD):
Cryotherapy: A dermatologist injures cells with age spots by freezing them with a liquid nitrogen solution. Once the skin heals, it generally looks lighter.
Microdermabrasion and chemical peels: Often prescribed in tandem, these procedures involve a dermatologist physically smoothing away age spots.
“Microdermabrasion ‘scrapes’ or ‘sands’ the top layer of skin to minimize the darker color of age spots,” Dr. Gonzalez says. “Chemical peels do the same thing as microdermabrasion but by using chemical exfoliators to make a new layer of skin come to the surface.”
In a study, 40 percent of people who had microdermabrasion every other week for 16 weeks saw their age spots completely disappear.
Another study found that 47 percent of people who received a chemical peel had at least 50 percent lighter age spots afterward, according to the AAD.
How to safely get rid of age spots at home
You have several options when it comes to fading age spots at home, ranging from lightening creams and retinol to exfoliants.
“Topical bleaching creams can help lighten age spots by reducing both the production and the amount of melanin in the skin,” says Dr. Gonzolez. One skin-lightening ingredient to look for is hydroquinone, which you’ll often find in serums, lotions, and creams aimed at treating hyperpigmentation.
Talk to your dermatologist first before you use any skin-lightening products since ingredients like hydroquinone may actually darken skin with long-term use. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warns that some skin-lighteners may contain mercury, which is dangerous.
Steer clear of injectable skin-bleaching and skin-lightening products. The FDA has warned that these injectables are “potentially unsafe and ineffective, and might contain unknown harmful ingredients or contaminants.” None of these drugs have been approved by the FDA.
The retinoid you use nightly to treat other signs of aging, like fine lines and wrinkles, is another good option for age spots.
“Retinoids, like tretinoin, increase cell turnover and stimulate the production of blood vessels in the skin, which improves skin color,” Dr. Gonzalez says. “Lower-concentration over-the-counter retinoids can work to increase skin cell turnover for a brighter and more youthful complexion.”
Just be sure you wear sunscreen when using retinol to protect your skin.
A face wash with lactic acid can also gently exfoliate skin on a regular basis, which may help with age spots.
Like any anti-aging habit, age-spot-minimizing lotions and creams require commitment. Apply once or twice per day for weeks to months and you’ll likely begin to see at least some results.
The best at-home treatments for age spots
Murad Rapid Dark Spot Correcting Serum
Recommended for all skin tones, this intensive serum speeds up cell turnover to show off a brighter, more-even, and more-radiant complexion.
It’s designed to lighten current dark spots and prevent ones that might be forming under the skin. The antioxidant resorcinol promotes a more-balanced skin tone, while glycolic acid gently exfoliates dull skin cells on the skin’s surface.
Tests conducted by Murad show that 84 percent of users noticed lighter or fewer dark spots after 14 days. As with all studies conducted by beauty brands, the results should be taken with a grain of salt.
It’s best to consult a dermatologist if you’re unsure whether this product is right for you and your specific skin care needs.
(Here are the best summer serums to try.)
SkinCeuticals Discoloration Defense
Kojic acid, tranexamic acid, and vitamin B3 team up in this skin-brightening serum to reduce the appearance of skin discoloration and potentially prevent it down the road while boosting brightness.
It’s designed to be used as a singular at-home treatment for age spots or in partnership with chemical peels or other procedures.
SkinCeuticals studies suggest about 60 percent of users experience a more-even skin tone after 12 weeks of consistent use. (Though, again, approach this stat with skepticism since the study was conducted by SkinCeuticals, not independent researchers.)
(Here’s how to improve your complexion in just one day.)
La Roche-Posay Glycolic B5 Dark Spot Corrector
Give this glycolic acid, tranexamic acid, kojic acid, and vitamin B5 blend two weeks, and you’ll likely notice glowing skin. In about a month, you should see fewer or lighter dark spots and discoloration.
This serum is tested by dermatologists and gently exfoliates to deliver results.
Revision Skincare Intellishade Clear
While this moisturizer isn’t specifically designed to clear up age spots, it can help prevent them with broad-spectrum SPF 50 protection.
Active ingredients like vitamin C, hyaluronic acid, and EGCG from green tea help hydrate and brighten skin tone and may even minimize wrinkles and fine lines.
Next, here’s what dermatologists wish you knew about how to get rid of wrinkles.
- Annie Gonzalez, MD, FAAD, a board-certified dermatologist at Riverchase Dermatology in Miami
- Lisa Anthony, MD, a board-certified dermatologist at Westmed Medical Group in Westchester, New York
- American Society for Dermatologic Surgery: "Age Spots"
- American Academy of Dermatology Association: "Age Spots and Dark Marks"
- American Academy of Dermatology Association: "What Can Get Rid of Age Spots?"
- Harvard Medical School: "Age Spots (Solar Lentigo, Liver Spots)"
- American Osteopathic College of Dermatology: "Hyperpigmentation"
- Pigment Cell & Melanoma Research: "Sun‐induced freckling: ephelides and solar lentigines"
- Human Molecular Genetics: "The melanocortin-1-receptor gene is the major freckle gene"
- U.K. National Health Service: "Skin lightening"
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration: "Injectable Skin Lightening and Skin Bleaching Products May Be Unsafe"
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration: "Mercury Poisoning Linked to Skin Products"
- Indian Journal of Dermatology: "Exogenous ochronosis After Prolonged Use of Topical Hydroquinone (2%) in a 50-Year-Old Indian"
- Journal of Dermatology Research and Therapy: "Exogenous Ochronosis with Use of Low Potency Hydroquinone in A Caucasian Patient"