Age Spots and Sun Damage: Causes, Treatments, and How to Cover (It's Easy!)


As is the case for many of us, our age spots and sun damage are all signs of a misspent (or well spent) youth baking (basking?) in the delight of sunshine with nothing to do. Ah, the golden years. Before cellulite, bifocals, and sunscreen, when baby oil smothered all over was the only way to go.

My fondest memory was on holiday in Portugal when my friend and I baked (basked?) so hard my skin literally peeled off my body in long dreadlocks. Yikes. Many of you can relate.

With that not so lovely memory in mind, let’s talk about what we can do now to minimize age spots and sun damage while religiously wearing our hats and 30 SPF sunblock. What are the treatments and home remedies you should consider to best treat sun damage?


Bleaching creams with butyl hydroquinone are one of the main ways to deal with sun damage and age spots. You could try the prescription version alone or in conjunction with retinoids like Tretinoin. Both products are very powerful so be prepared for itching, swelling, and scabbing. Lovely.

The good news is, you will see quick improvement in minimizing the affected area. Having said that, hydroquinone should only be used short-term, as the greater the build-up in your system the more toxic it becomes. Besides the cost of a doctor visit, the prescription is fairly cheap.

Laser and IPL

The second method that can work wonders is getting laser and IPL (Intense Pulsed Light). Doing this destroys the melanin-producing cells (melanocytes). The laser removes the top layer of the skin (epidermis), stimulating the skin to produce more cells thus causing a brighter and less damaged top layer to emerge.

Be prepared, though, that you will not be able to return to work (or other social activities) after a treatment and will look bad for several days after. Usually, you need 2-5 treatments priced around $700-1200 for the package.

Freezing (Cryotherapy)

If you have specific age spots that concern you, using cryotherapy is worth pursuing. Your doctor will take a cotton swab and dip it in liquid nitrogen. After touching the spot for about five seconds, your skin will be temporarily irritated before sloughing off the darker pigment in place of lighter cells.

There is a slight risk of scaring or discoloration, so be sure to ask lots of questions before starting on this method. Check with your doctor for total cost.


Dermabrasion and microdermabrasion are similar, but with different results. Microdermabrasion removes dead or dying skin, while dermabrasion goes deeper and removes layers of the skin that are still viable (alive).

Dermabrasion produces more dramatic results compared to microdermabrasion, but must be performed in a doctor’s office, has a longer healing time, and is pricier. On average, dermabrasion costs around $1700, but that doesn’t include things like anesthesia.

It works by sanding down the top layer of skin using a rapidly rotating brush. Side effects include redness, scabbing, and swelling, so don’t plan any family photos after you do this. Besides feeling like you are having paint removed on a bookcase, the effects are significant.

Microdermabrasion and Chemical Peels

For a less invasive and aggressive treatment, microdermabrasion is the next best thing. Over extended use, this treatment will greatly improve your skin, lessen fine lines, minimize sun damage and age spots, and is cheaper.

Personally speaking, I’ve been doing microdermabrasion for the past six years and love it. Every month, I visit my esthetician (me) and get this treatment along with a chemical peel.

In the first year, I noticed about eight years of damage disappear especially from that trip to Portugal I told you about. On average, this costs around $150-200, and must be done monthly for at least eight to twelve months to notice this dramatic of change.

The chemical peel portion of the treatment can cause redness, irritation, and swelling depending on the type of peel and how long you have it on your skin. In essence, chemical peels are a softer method to remove (exfoliate) the top layer of skin (epidermis). Now the bookcase has a new paint job, so to speak. Not to say we are furniture, but the analogy is practical so I’m keeping it.

With paint removal in mind, let’s turn to home treatments.

Butyl Hydroquinone in Face Cream

For a greatly minimized version of skin bleaching, buying a moisturizer that contains butyl hydroquinone can help. Because the quantities are diminished, you will need to use it for at least a month or more to see improvement.

Having said that, it’s a cheaper and less invasive way to lighten dark spots. Remember, though, that in large quantities hydroquinone is toxic, so give your face a break between jars. Try Paula’s Choice Triple Action Dark Spot Eraser or a similar product for this method.

Glycolic, Kojic Acid, and Retinol

Using a glycolic acid with retinol consistently can have a lasting effect. If you’re on a budget, try The Ordinary retinol ($12). It’s inexpensive and if you’ve never used retinol, it’s in a mild form and won’t cause a major reaction, but your results will be less noticeable.

For a wonderful, well priced ($84) night crème with all three ingredients try Image MD Restoring Youth Repair Crème. Because there are medium quantities of the active ingredients, you might notice a bit of irritation and redness, but nothing like office treatments. Over the duration of the product, you will notice improvement with little to no down time.

For greater bang-for-buck ($139), try Truth Treatments 1% Retinol. For an over-the-counter retinol, it’s one of the most efficacious and must be used in accordance with your skins ability to manage the intensity. I recommend applying 2-3 times per week to allow the skin to heal.

How to Cover Age Spots

For the most part, I don’t recommend using a full coverage foundation because on mature skin, it can look overly heavy. Having said that, if that’s the best option for you, then try MAC Full Coverage Foundation and be sure to moisturize before applying it.

To cover individual age spots, use a good concealer like Amazing Concealer and apply with your ring finger in a rolling motion as demonstrated in the above video. The most effective course of action is to use the exfoliation method from the above list that suits your budget and intentions, and use a medium coverage foundation like Koh Gen Do Moisture Foundation as your skin texture and look improves.

You are not a bookcase, and your paint is beautiful. Stay away from baking (basking?) in baby oil in Portugal (or anywhere!) and don’t get family pictures taken after a skin treatment. On the other hand, it’s spring and time for pretty hats, sunblock, and enjoying time with family in the sunshine. Vive le soleil!

Do you notice brown spots on your skin? What do you do about them? Do you have a story about how you got them? Please share any products or treatments you have tried.

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