What Causes Age Spots and How You Can Treat Them?

May 7th 2016

Age spots are common as your skin gets older, but you do not have to live with these blemishes. Have your sun spots evaluated by a doctor, and then discuss the best options for treatment.

What Causes Age Spots?

Sun exposure and time spent beneath artificial ultraviolet rays are the most likely causes of age spots, but aging skin and genetics play a role as well. When ultraviolet rays reach the skin, they speed up the production of melanin, which is the pigment that gives the top layer of skin its color. A tan is the epidermis' way of protecting the skin beneath it from sun and UV damage.

Age spots form when too much melanin is produced in a particular spot. Sometimes, the pigment clumps beneath the skin, forming one large sun spot. Other times, it may appear as a cluster of small spots. Age spots typically appear on areas of the skin that receive the most sun exposure, such as the face, hands, shoulders and forearms.

At-Home Treatment Options

A variety of over-the-counter skin products are available to lighten or fade age spots. A skin bleach that contains hydroquinone is usually the most effective, but it is too harsh for many skin types. Products with glycolic acid or kojic acid may be safe alternatives. These products are most effective on small, light-colored sun spots, especially newer occurrences, and may require several weeks for noticeable results.

Prescription Alternatives

Dark age spots, large blotches and older skin spots may benefit from a prescription treatment. Bleaching creams with hydroquinone are one of the most common medications prescribed to treat age spots, but they are not the best option for everyone due to their harshness. Retinoids are another option that may be used alone or in conjunction with a bleaching cream. Like their weaker nonprescription counterparts, these products are often prescribed over several months for maximum effectiveness.

Medical Procedures

Dermatologists, plastic surgeons and medical spas offer a variety of office procedures to treat age spots. Chemical peels intentionally injure the outer layer of skin to stimulate a healing response that diminishes the appearance of age spots, while cryotherapy freezes the skin around the age spot to destroy the excess pigmentation. Dermabrasion and laser treatment options are also available. These procedures are more invasive than medications. Discuss the risks and side effects with your doctor.

Preventing Age Spots

Even with effective treatment, age spots may reappear with prolonged sun exposure. Active prevention is an essential part of any treatment plan. Always use a sunscreen with a sun-protection factor of at least 30, with both UVA and UVB light protection. Stay indoors between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. to avoid the most intense sunlight, and wear clothing that protects your skin while outdoors, including sunglasses and a hat.


Age spots can affect anyone, but individuals over age 40 who have fair skin and a history of regular sun exposure or tanning bed use are the most common victims. These small, flat spots on the skin are also called liver spots, solar lentigines or sun spots. Age spots are not cancerous and are generally not a reason for concern, but many people seek treatment for cosmetic reasons.

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