Aging Hair/Skin Problems
Age Spots

People use the term “age spot” to refer to various spots and bumps that appear on the skin with age. Some of these spots and bumps are harmless. Others can be a sign of skin cancer. This is why it is so important to have a dermatologist examine your skin.

What Causes Age Spots?
Most age spots develop on skin that has been badly damaged by the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays. Age spots also appear on the skin of people who use tanning beds and sun lamps. These devices also emit UV rays. The cause of one type of age spot, seborrheic keratosis (SK), is not known. Some studies suggest that sun exposure plays a role.

At-home Remedies for Age Spots
Not all age spots are harmless. Sometimes what appears to be an age spot is actually melanoma or another type of skin cancer. With early detection and proper treatment, skin cancer has a high cure rate. When melanoma spreads, it can be deadly.

For these reasons, dermatologists recommend that everyone see a dermatologist for a skin examination. During this examination, you should ask your dermatologist:

Ask Your Dermatologist:

  1. Is it okay for me to use a product that I can buy without a prescription to treat age spots? If your skin shows plenty of sun damage, using one of these products may not be wise. It can delay diagnosis of a skin cancer.

  2. How often should I return for a skin examination? This will depend on several factors, including the amount of sun damage to your skin.

If your dermatologist approves of you using a product you can buy without a prescription, it is important to do the following:

  • Apply sunscreen every day to all skin that will not be covered by clothing. You will not see results from a treatment for age spots if you do not protect your skin from UV rays. The sun, tanning beds, and sunlamps all produce UV rays.

    Sunscreen also will help prevent further damage to your skin. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends the following:

    • Use a sunscreen that offers a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of 30 or greater and broad-spectrum (UVA/UVB) protection.

    • Apply the sunscreen 20 minutes before going outside. When you are in the sun, reapply the sunscreen every 2 hours.

  • Look at the list of ingredients on a fade cream or similar product. Some fade creams and bleaching treatments are available without a prescription. These products generally contain hydroquinone (hy-dro-QUIN-own). Prescription-strength products that contain hydroquinone tend to be more effective than those you can buy without a prescription.

    Other products that may help fade age spots are called skin brighteners, lighteners, or whiteners. These products usually contain soy, licorice, or kojic acid. Again, prescription-strength products tend to be more effective than products that you can buy without a prescription.

  • Beware: Products from outside the United States may contain an inaccurate list of ingredients. Some imported products contain mercury; others products include high-potency steroids. While illegal, these products do find their way into the United States. Using a product that contains a high-potency steroid can cause paper-thin skin, acne, and stretch marks.

    Some imported products contain much higher levels of hydroquinone than currently allowed in the United States. These high levels can irritate the skin and cause visible, light-colored halos to appear on the treated skin.

Age-Spot Treatments Dermatologists Offer
Many patients say they do not see the results they want from products available without a prescription. Dermatologists offer the following treatments for those age spots that people often call “liver spots” or “sun spots”:

  • Bleaching treatments (prescription strength)

  • Chemical peeling

  • Cryosurgery (freezing)

  • Dermabrasion or microdermabrasion

  • Laser skin resurfacing

More Information
10 Questions to Ask Before a Cosmetic Procedure
Age-Fighting Topicals
Cosmetic Procedures

Bates, B. “Derms React to Possible FDA Ban of Hydroquinone.” Skin & Allergy News. January 2007, p. 1+

Jesitus, J. “FDA Impact Felt by Derms.” Dermatology Times. December 2006. p. 1+

All content solely developed by the American Academy of Dermatology

Skin Cancer Screening

For Your Safety
A dermatologist should promptly examine any spot that starts to bleed or changes in size, shape, or color. These are warning signs of skin cancer.





© American Academy of Dermatology, 2010  All rights reserved.
Page last updated 6/17/10

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