Is it possible to get rid of age spots?

Drugstores and beauty counters are teeming with products designed to even skin tone and help fade dark spots. But how well do they work?

Is it possible to get rid of age spots?

Source: Best Health Magazine, September 2012; Image credit:

Q: I’ve been noticing age spots starting to appear on my face. How do dark spot correctors work?

Dark spots, which can appear on your skin as early as age 25, are caused by sun damage, and also by hormonal changes, acne and other inflammatory changes, says Burlington, Ont., dermatologist Dr. Nathan Rosen. Explains Montreal-based Karoline Kanani, a director of marketing for Sanofi (which makes the NeoStrata brand of skincare products), cells begin to secrete the amino acid tyrosine, and then ‘the pigment melanin matures and moves to the top of the skin’and stays there.’

Drugstore shelves and beauty counters are teeming with products designed to help fade these discoloured areas (also referred to as sun spots and hyperpigmentation). They aim to diffuse excessive production of melanin, the natural pigment responsible for giving skin its colour; some work to prevent spots via antioxidants and SPF.

They’re a more benign version of ‘fade creams’ containing hydroquinone, a skin-lightening ingredient under review by the FDA in the U.S. and prohibited in some countries (it’s allowed in concentrations of up to four percent in Canada).

Generally, the newer dark spot correctors are less potent and meant to be used all over, not just on the discoloured areas of the face, hands and décolleté. (Some, like Marcelle Revival Brown Spot Corrector Roll-on, are for the spot alone, but this is to avoid waste, says Marcelle spokes-person Suzanne Timmins. If it gets on the skin around the spot, it won’t change that skin’s tone, she says.)

Dark spot correcting is intertwined with skin ‘brightening,’ which drives the skincare market in Asia, and has become a trend here for many ethnicities. Tom Mammone, New York-based executive director of biological research and development worldwide at Clinique, maker of Even Better Clinical Dark Spot Corrector, says, ‘Today, the definition of skin brightening really means evening out of the skin tone.’

What’s in the products?

Formulations might include vitamin C; extracts of bearberry, mulberry, mushroom or licorice; and kojic acid. There’s usually ‘an exfoliating ingredient in the mix, such as glycolic acid or salicylic acid, to turn over skin cells and keep skin fresh; or there’s retinol to help even skin tone.

As these products evolve, the ingredients are becoming more exotic. In Clinique’s corrector, an antioxidant found in the plant Dianella ensifolia reduces uneven skin tone and protects against free radical damage. A yeast extract brightens skin ‘by breaking up the appearance of large clusters of pigment at the skin’s surface,’ and glucosamine and salicylic acid exfoliate. NeoStrata SecureWhite, available in October, has a patented molecule and a plant extract that ‘decrease tyrosine activity and melanin synthesis.’

Dark spot correctors can be expensive’among the priciest at $160 is Prevage Clarity Targeted Skin Tone Corrector from Elizabeth Arden, with soy ferulate-C and the antioxidant idebenone. But consider that dermatology-office lasers or light-based procedures can cost $500 and more.

Do spots disappear forever?

Says Kanani: ‘If you stop using these products, and go in the sun unprotected, the spots will return.’

And keep in mind, ‘Not all dark spots are equal,’ says Rosen. ‘Some are not impacted by any topical treatment or can intensify with the wrong one. ‘In these situations, a doctor or dermatologist can recommend the best options.’

What are you curious about? Send me your beauty questions at or @RhondaRovan on Twitter.

This article was originally titled "Help me, Rhonda" in the September 2012 issue of Best Health. Subscribe today to get the full Best Health experience’and never miss an issue!