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Topical treatment for age spots, from Harvard Women's Health Watch

BOSTON, Dec. 5 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Sun-induced skin damage can cause brown age spots, especially on oft-exposed areas like the hands and face. At one time, the only remedy was to cover them up with cosmetics. Now, there are therapies that help reverse the signs of photoaging at the physiological level. One approach is physical removal by surgery, microdermabrasion, or chemical peel. But many women prefer something gentler, and topical medications can help, reports the December 2007 issue of Harvard Women's Health Watch.

The topical drugs used for treating age spots work mainly by interrupting the formation of melanin, the pigment responsible for tanning. To get the best results, you should also use a sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher. Harvard Women's Health Watch describes the following commonly used agents.

Hydroquinone. Many dermatologists consider this cream the best choice for treating age spots. You can expect to see results in four to six weeks, with the greatest improvement after four to six months. The most common side effect is irritation or reddening. The FDA recently proposed a ban on over-the-counter preparations containing hydroquinone because studies found that the drug may cause cancer when fed to rats and mice. So far, there are no studies showing any increased risk to humans using the drug topically. The FDA is still responding to challenges from critics who oppose the ban.

Tretinoin. Topical tretinoin was first approved for treating acne, but trials have demonstrated that it also improves photoaged skin. It can take several months to lighten age spots, and side effects include redness, scaling, and itchiness, although these generally subside after a few weeks. Brand names include Retin-A, Renova, and Avita.

Adapalene gel. This prescription drug is approved only for treating acne, but sometimes it is used off-label to improve photoaged skin.

Also in this issue:

-- Hormone therapy's risks and benefits

-- Herbs and supplements for anxiety

-- Slowing age-related macular degeneration

-- By the way, doctor: Do I need a cholesterol-lowering drug? Why do I yawn during exercise?

Harvard Women's Health Watch is available from Harvard Health Publications, the publishing division of Harvard Medical School, for $24 per year. Subscribe at or by calling 877-649-9457 (toll-free).

SOURCE Harvard Women's Health Watch
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