Sunspots, brown spots, liver spots, age spots—whatever you call them, they’re all sabotaging your efforts to have the clear skin you want. The large, pigmented spots that appear on your skin most commonly after age 40 are caused primarily by sun exposure. “When the skin absorbs too much sun, it produces extra melanin, the pigment that gives skin its color, to protect itself. In time, melanin can clump additional skin cells together, forming age spots,” says Richmond, Va.-based Susie Galvez, esthetician, makeup artist and author of You Are So Going To Thank Me For This…How Real Women Conceal, Reveal, Find, Flaunt, Fake & Fix Just About Every Hair, Skin & Makeup Dilemma There Is. But before you begin to treat your newfound spots with one of the following methods, err on the safe side and visit your dermatologist to rule out any kind of skin cancer.
Duck and cover
Your best bet at avoiding the onset (or darkening) of age spots is by—you guessed it—using sun protection! Avoid the sun between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. when the sun’s UVA and UVB rays are the strongest. Not possible, you say? Apply broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF 30 about 15 minutes before heading outdoors, and reapply often, recommends Galvez.
Out, darn spot
While the face, neck and hands will show more signs of age spots due to continuous exposure, all areas can be treated in the same way. Here are a few ways to approach the issue:
- Over-the-counter skin-lightening creams.For a gentle method, look for two-percent hydroquinone creams (like DDF Fade Cream SPF 15, $40) or multi-ingredient lotions that combine Retinol and antioxidants (like RoC Multi Correxion Skin Renewing Serum, $18).
- Prescription topical creams and gels.Vitamin-A products like Tretinoin and Renova are a powerful step up from over-the-counter. “Without a doubt, Tretinoin is the strongest and most effective prescription product,” says Omaha-based Dr. Joel Schlessinger, dermatologist and cosmetic surgeon.
- Chemical peels. Ask your dermatologist or esthetician about a salicylic acid-based peel that removes the outer layers of the skin to exfoliate, even out skin tone and improve overall complexion, recommends Schlessinger, who uses the Obagi Blue Peel RADIANCE on his patients. While an in-office peel requires little to no downtime, your face will be red for 24 to 48 hours afterwards.
- Laser treatments. These in-office sessions use a laser to help destroy the extra melanin in age spots gradually over time, Galvez says. The laser procedure requires repeated sessions and can be expensive.