Age spots usually begin to appear on sun-exposed areas such as the back, chest, arms and hands in your early 30s. Although they may look similar to moles, the two are very different. Moles are genetically predetermined; age spots are the result of cumulative sun exposure throughout your life.
There are several over-the-counter and doctor-prescribed treatments for age spots. Before treating your spots, see your dermatologist first to rule out skin cancer. If you've gotten enough sun to develop age spots, you are at a higher risk of developing skin cancer. Once your doctor has given your skin a clean bill of health, discuss with her which options are right for you.
Remember, though, that with whichever method you choose, results will vary depending on how severe the spots are, how much time you spend in the sun and how consistently you follow treatment. It is essential to protect against new age spots and prolong the results by wearing a broad-spectrum sunscreen on all exposed areas every day, even in the winter.
What they are: Over-the-counter moisturizers containing 2 percent hydroquinone, a bleaching agent.
What they do: Gradually lighten age spots over a couple of months. They work best when used in conjunction with a glycolic acid moisturizer, which smooths out the skin.
Drawbacks: It will take a few months to see a difference, and they don't have much effect on darker, more stubborn spots.
What they are: Prescription-strength vitamin A creams such as Retin-A and Renova.
What they do: Fade discoloration while stimulating the growth of new, healthy cells. They are often used with prescription-strength hydroquinone for a stronger bleaching effect.
Drawbacks: Retinoids can be drying and harsh for some skin types, and it will take two to three months to see results.
What they are: Dermatologist-administered peels that use 30 to 70 percent glycolic acid to remove hyperpigmented skin, wrinkles and fine lines.
What they do: Smooth and firm skin and lighten age spots gradually. The treatment can be done during your lunch hour, and there is no recovery time.
Drawbacks: A series of several peels done once a month is needed before you'll notice any fading.
What it is: An in-office treatment where age spots, wrinkles and lines are burned off with a laser.
What it does: Removes most traces of age spots and discoloration, usually in one treatment.
Drawbacks: It's expensive. One treatment can cost anywhere from $1,000 to $5,000, depending on how big the area being treated is. Your skin will be red and peeling and most likely scab in the days after the procedure. Expect recovery time of about a week.