Getting older can mean a lot of things for different people. From, belly fat to thunder thighs to wrinkles, it's a time that many people dread.
One other affliction that becomes more prevalent, especially in fair-skinned people over 40, is age spots (aka brown spots, dark spots, liver spots, sun spots or solar lentigines).
If bad enough, these spots, especially those on the face and hands, can really make people look look older than they actually are.
You ask any dermatologist - besides wanting to know how to reduce wrinkles, how to get lighter skin for the purpose of removing age spots is probably the most common question patients ask.
The great news is that these spots affect only the outermost layer of your skin. Therefore, there are many non-invasive treatments options available.
If you want to take matters into your own hands, there are several topical creams that can be bought over-the-counter. Though, there are some that are only available on prescription.
For the topical route, a combination of the treatments labeled 1-5 below is perhaps the best approach.
Alternatively, you may enlist the help of a dermatologist or plastic surgeon. In this case, one or more of the treatment options labelled 5a-7 below may be available to you.
The information below seeks to explain the various treatment options for preventing and eliminating age spots. Hopefully, the information will help you ask the right questions when you are seeking treatment.
1. Avoid Sun Over-Exposure
Truth be told, age spots are not usually caused any aging at all. They are basically hyperpigmentation (excess melanin in the skin) brought on by sun-exposure. The spots you are seeing now were years in the making.
So your age spots are basically payback for years of sun-drenched activities you undertook without adequately protecting yourself from the sun.
All those UV rays turbocharge melanocyte, which are dark-pigment producing cells. As a result, the melanin is produced and it then clusters into brown spots.
So it's best to avoid over-exposing yourself to the sun as so doing could bring on more spots and darken current spots. That said, you do need some exposure to the sun because sun exposure does bring some very important health benefits.
By using a sunscreen, you'll be able to limit your sun exposure. All sunscreens are not made equal though. It's very important that you choose the right one.
You can also wear a broad brimmed hat or stay in the shade to help prevent sun overexposure. Oh... and stay away from tanning beds as well.
2. Use Tyrosinase Inhibitors
Ever see those brown spots on the skins of damaged fruits? Well that is the tyrosinase enzyme in action. It does a similar thing to human skin.
In order for the melanocytes to produce melanin, tyrosinase has to be present. Many Skin brightening creams contain one or more tyrosinase inhibitors - ingredients such as arbutin, hydroquinone, kojic acid, mulberry extract and Vitamin C.
When these ingredients inhibit the enzyme, they prevent further pigment from forming. However, you might have to wait a couple weeks or even months to see noticeably results as it takes time for existing pigment to peel off.
Hydroquinone is perhaps the most common of those inhibitors. It is the only FDA-approved ingredient for bleaching pigmentation.
Although hydroquinone is the gold standard for lightening age spots, it is quite a controversial ingredient. It can be quite irritating and it is a suspected carcinogen.
Actually, it's use as a bleaching agent is banned in the European Union but in the U.S it is still considered safe by doctors if used in lower concentrations.
In the U.S., over the counter hydroquinone-based bleaching treatments cannot have more than 2% of the ingredient while prescription treatments can only have a maximum of 4%.
After you achieve the desired result with hydroquinone, it is advised to stop treatment.
3. Use PAR-2 blockers
After skin pigment is made, it is taken from the melanocytes to the skin cells in small "packages" known as melanosomes. Ingredients known as PAR-2 blockers stop the pigment from being placed in the top layers of the skin.
Look for treatments that contain niacinamide and soy act as these act as PAR-2 blockers. But again, patience is the name of the game. Improvement in your condition won't be noticeable until cells that contain pigment peel off.
Niacinamide is also a good moisturizer. It hydrates the skin and helps keep wrinkles at bay.
4. Lignin Peroxidase
First identified in 1984, lignin peroxidase enzyme is one of the newer ingredients to crop up in the fight against skin discoloration. This ingredient breaks down existing pigment, so the results of skin lightening can be visible more quickly.
There are many types of lignin peroxidase but so far, only one has been developed and proven to be effective in making skin lighter. That enzyme, which has been patented as "Melanozyme," is only available in Elure line of products.
Exfoliating regularly is a great way to accelerate the removal of skin discoloration by helping to get rid of surface cells that contain pigment.
As you exfoliate, the cell-turnover cycle accelerates to the point where melanocytes cannot produce pigment quick enough. At that point, your skin start becoming fairer and age spots begin to fade.
Glycolic acid and retinol/retinoids are some of the most effective exfoliating agents out there. Make sure not to over exfoliate though as that may cause skin irritation.
This is a procedure that is normally used to used to improve the look of facial skin left scarred by accidents and surgery.
It is also often used to smooth out fine facial wrinkles.However, it can also be used to get rid of dark/brown spots.
Dermabrasion is a procedure where the top layer of the skin is basically sanded down. New skin later begins to grow in the top layer.
It is not a very comfortable procedure but it works.
A less invasive procedure is microdermabrasion. Check with your skin doctor/plastic surgeon to find out which of these procedures is suited to your situation.
5B. Chemical Peel
Similar to dermabrasion is a chemical peel (aka chemexfoliation or derma peeling). This is a procedure in which an acid is applied to your skin to burn off the top layer.
Although chemical peels are typically used on the face, they can also be used to improve the skin on your neck and hands.
6. Laser And Light Treatments
Check with your skin doctor if he/she offers laser or light treatments.
This is a non-surgical approach that treats age spots with powerful light-based technology. The light kills the melanin-producing cells without harming the surrounding skin.
Some of the benefits of these procedures include:
=> Possibility of visible results form the very first treatment
=> Treatment session could last just minutes depending on the size of the treatment area and depth of the discoloration
=> Minimal discomfort (sometimes feels as if a rubber band is snapping against your skin)
=> Great treatment outcomes
Possible side effects include blistering, itching, peeling and redness.
Of course, cost is also a significant consideration. Treatments can run into the hundreds per session so if you are on a tight budget, skin lightening creams or homemade treatments may be the way to go.
7. Cryotherapy (Freezing)
This procedure entails applying liquid nitrogen or some other freezing agent to age spots to get rid of the extra skin pigment. As the area begins to heal, the skin becomes lighter.
Cryotherapy is usually used on one age spot or on a small, tight knit grouping of spots. This procedure may temporarily cause skin irritation and poses a small risk of permanent discoloration or scarring.
8. How To Get Lighter Skin - Home Remedies
If you are going to use a home remedy to get rid of your age spots, recognize that it might take a little longer than when using conventional treatments. So a bit more patience will be required on your part.
When I was younger and had the occasional brown spot, one of the home remedies I used was lemon juice. It is kind of the flag bearer of home remedies as far as removing dark spots go.
Dab fresh lemon juice directly onto your spots two times a day until you achieve the results you want. Lemon juice contains mild citric acid that is just potent enough to safely get rid of dead skin cells and reveal the fresh new layers of skin beneath.
Buttermilk contains lactic acid, which can work pretty much the same way as lemon juice.
Combining honey and yogurt results in another sort of homemade bleach. Mix a teaspoon of each and apply it to your age spots. Let it dry for about 30 minutes before you wash it off.
For more detailed information on homemade remedies, check out this book on skin whitening home remedies that I reviewed. I think you'll find it most helpful.
9. Neutralize The Spots
If you're a woman - you can cover individual spots with a peach-toned concealer before applying your foundation. Concealers housed in a pot are more often thicker and contain greater amounts of pigment.
A good concealer to try is Bobbi Brown, which is available is 4 peach-based shades. Apply either of these shades with a flat makeup brush and then pat it down with your finger to blend in.
For more diffuse skin pigmentation, use a primer like Pür Minerals Colour Correcting Primer in Peach. Use both concealer and primer sparingly and then apply your foundation.
Check if any discoloration or unevenness in the skin is still showing through. If discoloration is still showing, lightly apply a lightweight, skin-matching concealer, similar to the ones you put under your eyes.
Word Of Caution
Since age spots can look like cancerous growths, it is prudent to check with physician if the spots are irregularly shaped, growing, itching you, tender or have unusual colors.
Make sure you get them checked early too. Better to be safe than sorry.
The old adage - "prevention is better than cure" is very much apt here. It is much easier to prevent unwanted skin pigment than it is to figure out how to lighten skin after age spots and other discolorations have cropped up.
This is where avoiding over-exposure to the sun and using sunscreen comes into play. Implementing these two elements will help prevent age spots and as well as help lighten the current spots you have.
If you've not yet done so, start using an anti-aging skin moisturizing cream - one that contains antioxidants Vitamin C (a tyrosinase inhibitor) or Vitamin E or both.