A decade or so ago – that pessimistic view might have been right – especially outside the US where the most effective ingredient in skin lightening products (hydroquinone) is banned.
But skin care science has moved on. Hydroquinone free creams are now available with a range of active naturally derived ingredients that really work.
Choosing the right cream
If you live in the US and you want to treat your age spots with a topical cream – you have a great choice. You can choose an over the counter hydroquinone cream at up to 2% concentration or you can choose a fade cream for age spots based on natural skin lighteners if you prefer.
A wide choice of dark spot removers can make life more difficult of course – how do you know what works?
Your first hurdle is to decide whether to go with a hydroquinone based cream. If you are undecided – take a look at an earlier article on this site which gives you the facts you need.
Whichever type of cream you go for – you need to take care how you apply it. The active ingredients in even the best age spot remover can cause skin irritation and inflammation – which means redness and peeling. Some of this may be necessary to treat the area of hyperpigmentation but it is worth following a few golden rules:
How to apply age spot cream
1. Test on a small area first and wait 24 hours for a reaction
2. Generally it is best to follow the makers instructions
3. If you prefer high strength spot removal creams can be applied to the area of hyperpigmentation only using a Q tip or your finger rather than spreading over a wider area which may not need treating.
4. Apply a soothing moisturizer after the fade cream has completely sunk in.
5. Use high strength sun protection (sun block stick) under your makeup during the day to completely cover the hyperpigmented area. Top up frequently if required.
6. Expect the age spot to look worse before it gets better. The treated area may become even darker and then start flaking to reveal clear lighter skin underneath.
7. Allow enough time for the skin lightening cream to work – this can mean several weeks or a couple of months depending on the strength of the ingredients and how bad your age spots are.
8. Set a time limit to use the cream – use for 3 months max and then take at least a 1 month break (especially for hydroquinone based products) to give your skin time to recover.
Any adverse reaction to a fade cream for dark spots is usually to do with over use and sun exposure. Take care and you should be able to get the results you want with a well chosen cream.
So what are the best products for removing age spots? Here’s some of the best skin lightening creams for 2012 – depending on whether you want to use hydroquinone or not.
Age spot creams with hydroquinone
Hydroquinone is still the active ingredient to go for and there are lots of over the counter lightening creams on the US market based on hydroquinone.
Hydroquinone products sold over the counter in the US can only contain a maximum 2% concentration. Several dermatologist lines get round this restriction by using a blend of ingredients which act together to fade age spots by making the effects of the hydroquinone stronger. This appears to work much better than just hydroquinone at 2% on its own. Here’s my pick of the best:
1. Murad Age Spot and Pigment Lightening Gel
Murad age spot cream is top of the list for a reason and is probably the best lightening cream containing hydroquinone. There are 345 reviews on the website for this award winning product and the average is 4.5 stars which speaks for itself. This review from one satisfied customer is fairly typical:“After years of having large dark splotches on each side of my neck, I used the lightening gel for about 3-4 weeks and am very happy with the results. It is the best product for removing dark spots that I have ever used.”
Dr Murad knows his skin care and in this product designed specifically for age spots he combines the melanin inhibiting power of hydroquinone with the exfoliating effect of alpha hydroxy acids (AHA). The highly active gel also contains licorice which is a natural anti inflammatory and allantoin to soothe irritation.
2. Clinicians Complex 6% Skin Bleaching Cream
A blend of three proven skin lightening ingredients that is claimed to be both powerful and gentle at the same time. The blend is equal parts of hydroquinone, Kojic acid and Bearberry Extract – all at 2%. The makers say that each ingredient performs a different function. In fact – hydroquinone and Bearberry Extract both inhibit the enzyme tyronisase which is key in the formation of melanin. Reviews are good but comments show that results take longer to achieve (typically 2-3 months).
3. PCA Skin (pHaze 13) Pigment Gel
A powerful blend of hydroquinone and kojic acid this time with two other acids -citric acid and lactic acid. Can be used for all types of skin pigmentation treatments including age spots and acne blemishes. For faster results if your skin tolerates it – try with the C serum from the same makers. Reviews show product does get rid of age spots but there are many comments about skin reactions – burning and stinging sensations. Follow instructions in the how to apply section on this site and if all else fails – try the PCA Skin hydroquinone free product or one of the others listed below.
Hydroquinone free products
If you are unsure about using hydroquinone to get rid of your age spots then other active ingrdients to look out for include: licorice extract, bearberry extract and acids like kojic acid, glycolic acid, lactic acid and citric acid.
The effect of these ingredients is similar to hydroquinone. Products usually contain a combination of active ingredients and results will probably take longer to achieve than with a hydroquinone based cream. Skin reactions like inflammation, redness and peeling can also occur with these ingredients even with the best fade cream so you need to follow the same rules when applying products.
Look for well formulated creams produced by dermatologist brands with high levels of active ingredients. Here’s some recommendations for the best hydroquinone free products according to reviews online.
1.SkinCeuticals Pigment Regulator
SkinCeuticals is a great brand and the makers claim this product is as successful at reducing hyperpigmentation as hydroquinone based creams. Uneven pigmentation is removed by the Glycolic Acid which increases cell turnover and kojic acid provides a skin lightening effect. Embilica extract has high levels of vitamin c to brighten skin tone and antioxidants to provide future protection. Reviews are generally good but the pump dispenser comes in for a fair bit of criticism.
2.MD Forte Facial Lotion 1
Another great derm brand – MD Forte base this product on a high strength (15%) glycolic acid compound. The lotion is not specifically targeted just at age spots but is also recommended for mature dry skin, fine lines and wrinkles and acne scarring as well as hyperpigmentation.
3. IS Clinical Super Serum Advance
This serum has ecstatic reviews on online sites. Based on a combination of copper tripeptides and vitamin c at high levels of concentration with hyaluronic acid for added moisture and mushroom extract for natural skin lightening. Targets skin firmness and wrinkles as well as dark spots.
So – what’s the best?
In the end it all comes down to personal choice – budget, skin type and preference for type of ingredients. If you are looking for a product specifically to get rid of age spots and nothing else then my choice would be the best available hydroquinone based product – Murad Age Spot and Pigment Lightening Gel.
Hydroquinone free products may not be as effective at removing dark spots but the best should still make an impact and many have a mix of ingredients that target skin aging s as well as hyperpigmentation.
The great thing is nowadays there are effective topical products that will treat hyperpigmentaiton. Just remember – whatever product you go for – keep out of the sun as much as possible and protect yourself with a good sun block.