Plus, how to prevent them in the first place.

Kaitlyn McLintock
Feb 15, 2021 @ 11:39 am
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It doesn't matter whether you refer to them as age spots, sunspots, or something else entirely. Small brown marks, which resemble freckles, commonly appear on the complexion with age. These marks, while usually harmless, can be bothersome to people who desire a completely clear and even-toned complexion. If you're one of those people, then it's likely you've been trying to figure out how to get rid of age spots and prevent them from developing.

That's where we come in. We reached out to three dermatologists to ask questions such as, what causes age spots? What do we need to know about them? Is it possible to get rid of them? Keep scrolling to find the answers to these questions and more.

What are age spots?

"Age spots are tan, light brown, or dark brown spots that come in areas of sun exposure and get darker with sun exposure over time," explains Morgan Rabach, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist at LM Medical in Manhattan. "The name is a bit of a misnomer as they can show up early—like in your late teens or 20s—but you do get more over time." In other words, they can appear at a young age, despite what their name implies.

If you're not sure as to whether a new mark is an age spot, go to the dermatologist to get it checked out in case it's something more threatening—it's always better to be safe than sorry. However, there are a few indicators you can look out for—namely in the size and border of the mark. According to dermatologist Elyse Love, M.D., "they resemble freckles but typically have a more ill-defined border, sometimes referred to as a 'moth-eaten' border."

What causes age spots?

According to Dr. Rabach, age spots are caused by a mixture of genetics and sun exposure, which explains why they appear "in areas of sun exposure and get darker with sun exposure over time." Bruce E. Katz, M.D., director of JUVA Skin in New York, agrees, saying sun exposure is typically "the biggest culprit" when it comes to the formation of age spots (that's why sunscreen is critical to treatment and prevention, but more on that later).

Credit: Unsplash

The link to sun exposure explains why age spots are likely to increase in number over time. "Age spots are related to cumulative sun exposure, or the total amount of sun exposure over a lifetime," Dr. Love says. "For this reason, they tend to present in adulthood and increase in numbers with age."

How can I get rid of age spots?

It is possible to get rid of age spots with the right treatment. These range from at-home active ingredients to lasers and other in-office options. Keep scrolling to see all of the treatment options recommended by dermatologists.

  • Retinol: “At-home treatments are minimally effective,” Dr. Rabach says. “Some retinols can lighten the spots but will not make them disappear completely.” Dr. Love agrees that retinol is worth using to treat age spots. She recommends reaching for Obagi Clinical Retinol 0.5 Retexturizing Cream.
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  • Chemical peels: Dr. Rabach says chemical peels are “highly effective” when it comes to targeting age spots, since they clear away the surface layer of the skin, allowing for fresh new cells to replace it.
  • Laser: “The quickest way to treat sunspots is with laser treatment,” Dr. Love says. “Lesions can often be treated with one treatment and resolve over the next week.”
  • IPL (Intense Pulsed Light): Dr. Rabach is a proponent of using IPL to target age spots, which is an effective treatment, thanks to the way it targets pigmentation and redness.
  • Other in-office treatments: Dr. Katz is a proponent of the Morpheus8 by InMode—a device that combines radiofrequency with microneedling to stimulate collagen by targeting the deeper layers of the skin, targeting dark spots and fine lines and wrinkles. It works on all skin tones and types and usually only requires one-five treatments for optimal results.

How can I prevent age spots?

There is one surefire way to prevent age spots, and that's consistent sunscreen use. "Avoid sun exposure, wear SPF 30+ sunscreen daily, and wear protective clothing," Katz says. Don't underestimate how important this is to preventing age spots because according to Love, it's all cumulative. "The most important step to preventing sunspots is daily sun protection over a lifetime," Love says. "Small bouts of sun exposure add up over a lifetime and lead to fine lines, wrinkles, and sunspots."