We all get them. Those tell-tale brown spots on our face, chest and hands. While Lady Macbeth couldn’t get rid of her “damn spot,” we consulted top dermatologists to find out how to get rid of your age spots and keep them away for good.
What the *!*# are they?
Age spots are caused by exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet radiation which triggers pigment cells deep down in your skin. They may be flat or slightly raised and range in color from light tan to dark brown. While they seem to pop up overnight, they are a lifetime in the making. Even if you were never a sun worshipper and stayed as covered up as Diane Keaton, chances are you still accumulated enough ultra violet radiation over the years to create a connect-the-dots game on your forehead and hands.
Damaging ultra-violet rays aren’t limited to vacations in Cozumel. They occur even on overcast or snowy days, in all climates, from coast to coast. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), increased depletion of the ozone layer has intensified harmful radiation. While fair-skinned types are most at risk, all skin tones are susceptible.
“The oldest and most widely used treatment for age spots is liquid nitrogen,” says Philadelphia dermatological surgeon, Steven Greenbaum, MD of the Skin & Laser Surgery Center. “Liquid nitrogen is an extremely cold substance that is either sprayed onto the brown spot or applied with a cotton swab. The spot will become slightly inflamed, then gradually get darker, forming a thin wafer-like crust that dissipates.
While many dermatologists still use liquid nitrogen Dr. Ellen Gendler of Gendler Dermatology in NYC has another suggested method. “ For raised keratoses, I like to use a new medication called Eskata, which is an acid that is applied via a pen, and the keratoses crust and lift off over a few weeks. It doesn’t leave scars and is really effective, albeit a bit expensive because the pens are not cheap. But it’s great. “
If you have multiple age spots, your doctor may recommend chemical peeling. “Depending on the chemical used, there is usually a sensation of initial burning,” says Dr. Greenbaum. “There can be almost no discomfort following the procedure or there can be a feeling of tightness followed by progressive darkening of the skin and subsequent peeling away of the skin’s top layer.”
Dr. Gendler uses lasers to get rid of darker age spots. “It’s often easier to get rid of a dark brown spot than a light brown spot, especially with lasers, which absorb pigment as their means of getting rid of something. The darker the spot, the more responsive it will be to most types of lasers.” Lasers work by targeting the melanin in the skin, destroying the brown lesion and leaving the rest of the skin unaffected.
If your dermatologist prescribes a Retin-A cream to reduce fine lines and wrinkles, there’s an added benefit. “The use of topical retinoic acid can help fade age spots and, in some instances, make them disappear. It tends to be most effective on smaller, lighter age spots,” said Dr. Greenbaum.
Cosmetic fade serums
Almost every cosmetic brand, from La Mer Brightening Duo to Boots No. 7 dark spot serum offers a product that promises to “fade” age spots. Do they work? It depends how much patience you have. “Since they are not regulated by the FDA, they tend to be weaker in strength. It often takes several months to see results,” says Dr. Greenbaum. Murad makes this spot fading kit that promises your hyperpigmentation will fade in 90 days (note: the money-back guarantee is for 60 days.)
Age spots, like robocalls, inevitably return. Dr. Gendler adds, “Preventing age spots from coming back usually requires a prescription strength bleach in addition to sunscreen. The lighteners help prevent the pigment cells from revving up again to do their job of making pigment.” Wear at least SPF 30 facial moisturizer daily. Keep a SPF 50 spray in your car to protect your hands . We love this little one for your purse Supergoop sunscreen mist.(Nasty rays do come through the windshield even in winter.) Dr. Gendler prefers European sunscreens which contain better UVA protectors than the ones made here. La Roche Posay Anthelios makes a legion of excellent SPF products. When you are outside, apply and reapply sunscreen to all exposed skin and wear a hat. Straw fedoras are for everyone!
Is it an age spot or skin cancer?
Detecting the difference between age spots and pre-cancerous facial lesions is crucial. “It’s like the difference between having a car that’s dirty and one where the tire pressure is low,” says Dr. Gendler. “The first scenario is one that is cosmetic–if you want to drive around in a dirty car, that’s your prerogative. But if you continue to drive with low tire pressure, your tires will become flat and you will likely have an accident. Age spots can be unsightly but pre-cancerous facial lesions will most likely become skin cancers if not treated.” Which is why an annual visit to your dermatologist is mandatory.
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