OTC Age Spot Treatment


Age spots (photoaging spots) generally present as light to dark brown patches on your hands, face, legs or feet. Age spots, which go by the medical names lentigines or lentigos, may look like a large freckle that appears by itself, although sometimes several age spots may form in a cluster. Over-the-counter (OTC) age spot treatments purport to help you fade these problematic patches, which are generally only harmful to your cosmetic appearance. However, medical practitioners and skincare experts call into the question the efficacy of using a consumer product alone.


Age spots are usually caused by years of sun exposure, as well as your genetic propensity to develop them, says the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD). Falling under the broader category of hyperpigmentation issues, age spots—as well as freckles, melasma and post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation—occur when excessive amounts of melanin (pigment) collect in one area of your skin. Age spots can affect all skin colors and people of all races, says the American Osteopathic College of Dermatology. Age spots get even darker when exposed to ultraviolet rays from the sun or a tanning bed.


Topical hydroquinone is one OTC age spot treatment that’s used to fade sun spots. By law, consumer products must contain no more than 2 percent hydroquinone, says consumer skincare expert Paula Begoun, while prescription topical bleaching agents may contain up to 4 percent. Mayo Clinic experts state that the fading and bleaching creams you see in department stores and drugstores may work for you, depending on the darkness of the age spot being treated and how often you apply the cream. Because successful resolution of age spots means that the topical must penetrate below the outer layer of skin, it may take numerous weeks or months before you notice any difference.

Alpha Hydroxy Acids

Alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) may also be an effective active ingredient in your OTC age spot treatment. The Mayo Clinic also mentions glycolic acid (one type of AHA) as an ingredient to look for, and Begoun adds lactic acid as yet another AHA that can be of benefit. She states that these AHAs have a molecular size that permits them to penetrate into the skin, but goes on to specify that these products don’t necessarily inhibit melanin production; rather, they increase the rate at which skin cells turn over so that unhealthy/abnormal cells are gently exfoliated away. Begoun goes on to state that when used in concert with other topicals, such as hydroquinone, a prescription tretinoin and sunscreen, AHAs may prove beneficial to reducing the appearance of age spots, as well as improving sun-damaged skin in general.

Sun Protection

The most obvious OTC age spot treatment is sunscreen, which prevents the spots from darkening and becoming more noticeable. The AAD advises using a broad-spectrum, waterproof sunscreen with a sun protection factor of at least 30 on all parts of skin that are exposed to the sun. Sunscreen should be reapplied every two hours or after you get out of the water, even on overcast days. To choose the best sunscreen, make sure it has the AAD Seal of Recognition on the product label. Begoun notes that sunscreen use and staying out of direct sunlight is important not only to avoid increased melanin production of age spots, but to decrease other signs of photoaging, such as wrinkles and rough, leathery skin.

Effectiveness of Treatment

When treating age spots, medical practitioners and cosmetic experts have no consensus. Begoun indicates that if you want to treat age spots topically, a comprehensive approach includes adding a prescription topical tretinion (such as Retin-A or Renova) to the mix. The Mayo Clinic, on the other hand, indicates that consumer products alone “may be good options,” as long as age spots aren’t too dark and products are used daily. Integrative physician Dr. Andrew Weil, known for his expertise on natural remedies, flatly indicates, “Over-the-counter whitening or ‘fading creams’ don’t work,” and states that only prescription topicals, such as Retin-A and Renova, will be of benefit. If you’re unhappy with your OTC age spot treatment, the Mayo Clinic lists several treatment options that your dermatologist may provide, which include prescription bleaching creams, laser treatments, chemical peels, cryotherapy and dermabrasion.