Age Spots

What are age spots?

These brown, freckle-like spots appear usually first on the backs of the hands, the face, and upper chest, in areas chronically exposed to sun. The medical name for age spots is lentigines, and they, like the freckles of childhood, are nothing more than an area where the skin cells contain an excess of coloring pigments. If you run your fingertip over an age freckle with your eyes closed, you will feel nothing. They are totally flat and different in that regard from the rough, raised spots caused by sun damage, called solar keratoses, that can become skin cancers. The lentigines pose no health threat, but we can attest that they can precipitate an emotional crisis when at 30-something you first find them on your hands.

Age spotsWhat helps age spots?

• Some evidence suggests that vitamin E oil applied daily to the areas involved may help slow down the aging process in the skin, and the natural leap of intellect would be to assume this would reduce age spotting. We have found the application of vitamin E helps lessen various kinds of pigmented skin spots in my own patients, and this effect makes excellent medical sense. However, there is not much in the way of hard science to prove a role for vitamin E in age spot treatment. Still, topically, it's quite harmless, and it does have a generally beneficial effect on skin, keeping it soft and supple.

We would recommend that you purchase either vitamin E oil to apply nightly to the spotted areas, or purchase vitamin E 200 to 400 IU capsules, which you can pierce or snip the end from and squeeze the contents out of. We prefer the latter form, because the capsules are a "two-fer," meaning that you get two modes of treatment for the price of one: you can take them by mouth as a vitamin supplement or you can rub the contents onto your skin.

To cover larger areas of skin, mix the contents of one or two capsules in the palm of your hand with a puddle of any richly moisturizing body lotion you like. Recommended dose: 200 IU to 400 IU applied to spotted areas twice daily mixed with moisturizing lotion.

• Vitamin A, or at least its prescription cousin, isotretinoin (RetinA), applied sparingly to the age spots of the backs of the hands and arms or on the face, markedly improved the condition in clinical trials. In some countries, pharmacies sell Retin-A over the counter, but in the United States it still requires a prescription. If you use this vitamin relative, whether purchased in this country or elsewhere, discipline yourself to apply only the tiniest amount in a very thin film and never on freshly scrubbed skin. Even the lowest-dose cream (0.25% cream) is potent enough to cause redness and drying of the skin if you use or absorb too much. Recommended dose: Apply a very light film of cream or gel to skin once or twice daily no sooner than 1 to 2 hours after washing your skin. Follow in one hour with a good moisturizing lotion.

•  Essential fatty acids—in a form suitable for applying to your skin—are available only in a nonprescription product called EicoDerm (produced by Eicotec, Inc., of Marblehead, Massachusetts). The essential fatty acids produce much the same benefit of the vitamin A-related creams, but with virtually zero side effects or potential for skin irritation. You can add a few drops of this formulation of essential fatty acids to your facial rinse water twice daily, or apply the oil directly to the age spots morning and night; the formula absorbs readily into the skin used either way. If it's going to do the job, you should see some visible lightening of the spots after 3 to 4 weeks of twice-daily use. Recommended dose: Apply a light film to the damaged skin areas twice daily.

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Age Spots
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