June 06, 2023   8:34am

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Seems that age spots can happen whether you’re older or younger.  Besides covering them up with makeup, are there products that actually lighten or eliminate them?

We thought we’d get away with it when we were younger — all those unprotected sunny days at the pool.  Truth is, while some of us have been lucky enough to avoid skin cancer, we have gotten some pretty annoying dark patches. Yuk!  It there anything we can do about age spots?

Turns out that while “for mature skin, the cause is often sun damage.  For younger women, it’s hormonal fluctuations, common during pregnancy or while taking birth control pills.  And for those with sensitive or darker pigmented skin, discoloration can linger after insults of any kind — from a pimple or a wrinkle-relaxing injection.

“Of all appearance-related issues that galvanize women, blotchy skin and so-called age spots are long-term troublemakers,” says “Uneven Pigmentation: What Can Be Done?” in The New York Times. “According to a March 2009 report by Mintel, a market research firm, uneven pigmentation is a major concern for more than one-third of women in the United States, rapidly closing in on dry skin and wrinkles.”

“Uneven skin tone also beats out visible pores, dull, rough skin and stretch marks, according to a senior beauty analyst at Mintel.  So it’s easy to under why there are so many lightening and brightening products with all kinds of claims.  To help you dig through them, here’s a shortened version of the The New York Times article:

Hydroquinone  — Once was the “go-to” ingredient to erase dark spots, but the Food and Drug Administration is currently doing an investigation after tests showed it caused additional darkening of the skin and an increased risk of cancer… and if there’s anything worse than dark spots, we’re sure “cancer” is at the top. So steer clear of this one for the time being.  The final ruling from the FDA will be this September.

Over-the-counter:  Now product formulators are focing on substances “that lighten by inhibiting tyrosinase, the enzyme that is a catalyst for melanin production, or ones that block the transfer of pigment between skin cells.” Among that list of ingredients you may see showing up are:  Niacinamide, Soy, Licorice extract, Paper mulberry Bearberry (“Arbutin, derived from the bearberry, is similar to hydroquinone in molecular makeup, but without the same health risks”), Vitamin C, and Aloesin (an aloe vera derivative).  There’s also Kojic acid (Warning! “A report issued in the European Union by the Scientific Committee on Consumer Products last fall described kojic acid as a skin sensitizer and potential irritant.”), and Pitera, a filtrate from yeast fermentation that plays a starring role in SK-II, a high-end line of skin products that’s promoted by Saks Fifth Avenue for one.

Products:  The trend is towards bundling ingredients.  While manufacturers claim they work, many are so new that dermatologists haven’t had a chance to weigh in yet.  But they are less pricey ($50 or more) than procedures like chemical peel, fraxel laser treatments or intense pulsed light — all of which can combat hyperpigmentation.  A few products mentioned:

  • SK-II, mentioned above — a high-end line of skin products owned by Procter & Gamble. Active Ingredient: Pitera.
  • Laboratoire Rem¨de Intensive Double Serum (Active ingredient: vitamin C with botanical ingredients.)
  • Peter Thomas Roth Radiance Oxygenating Masque (Active ingredients: SymWhite, “a man-made compound similar to lighteners found in Scotch pine,” and Gigawhite, “a blend of alpine plant extracts.”)
  • Priori Brightening Facial Complex (Active ingredients: berry of the coffee plant, gentian and licorice root extracts.)
  • Clarins Bright Plus HP Intensive Brightening Botanical System (Active ingredients: snow lotus, biotin, alchemilla and raspberry, along with vitamin C.)
  • Aveda’s Enbrightenment line (Active ingredients: plant-based ingredients, including brown algae, Scutellaria, mulberry root and grape extracts.)
  • SkinCeuticals Phloretin CF (Active ingredient: root bark of fruit trees.)

Prescriptions: If the products above don’t work, take a trip to your dermatologists and ask about the following where you may see results a little faster:

  • Tri-Luma  — A cream that combines hydroquinone (the one we warned you about!), a retinoid and an anti-inflammatory.
  • Vivit by Allergan — Ingredients for both exfoliating and restoring an even skin tone.
  • Retinoic acid — …available in prescription strength in Retin-A, Renova or a new hydrating formulation Atralin.

“Retinoids work by speeding cell turnover, which combats acne, smoothes skin and reduces spots along the way.”

Be Careful:  Not all treatments fit all skin types.  For example, darker skin can be prone to discoloration and react doubt-time to acne with inflammation and spotting that best responds to gentle remedies.
Some parting words from the NYT: “Harsh treatments could trigger further hyperpigmentation. Dr. Taylor, who has her own line of over-the-counter products, Rx for Brown Skin, advises diligent label reading to avoid irritants, and to proceed with caution no matter the course of action.”  As she says, “I focus more on taking good care of my skin … last, not least, I use suncreen, wear a hat and sit in the shade.”

A TIP from SNOETY:  Sometimes you just have to go with the flow (which doesn’t mean I’m not searching for a remedy that works for me).  A while ago our Secret’s Service told you about a product we swear by as a great age-spot hider.  It’s called “red neutralizer,” and I’ve never seen it anywhere but at Diane Young’s Anti-Aging Salon in NYC.  You can buy it from their website, dianeyoung.com (click here), and, honestly, I always get many at a time – one for the office, one at home, one for my travel kit (so I don’t forget it), and a couple set aside for friends.   I love the stuff.



The New York Times, “Uneven Pigmentation: What Can Be Done?” Barbara hey, May 6, 2009

It takes some time to see results from this method (anywhere from 8-16 weeks, according to the article)

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