Brown spots from sun damage on my face; can I get rid of them?
May 21, 2015 4:24 PM   Subscribe

I'm female, mid-fifties, white (English/Irish background) and in the last few years, amid other signs of aging, I've developed brown spots on my cheeks and jaw (perhaps from sun exposure while travelling in the Middle East many years ago; I've never sunbathed). I'm working on aging gracefully, but the blotchiness does bother me. Are there products or treatments that will help to reduce the spots or, happy thought, make them go away entirely? I've seen ads for various creams and serums; can I trust that they will actually be effective? Any recommendations?
posted by jokeefe to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (18 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
It could be melasma. You can fade melasma with hydroquinone cream cream (most effective is prescription strength). The trick is that you must wear high-level SPF sunblock to preserve the lack of extra pigmentation. Even a few hours outside with no sunblock protection can make all of the dark spots come back.
posted by quince at 4:33 PM on May 21, 2015 [2 favorites]

I'm 40 and I've had brown spots zapped off by my dermatologist before. I had a dime-sized brown spot on my cheek for years and had diligently covered it up with makeup. It finally started bothering me enough to go to a dermatologist. The dermatologist basically froze it off with nitrogen in his office. I have no idea why I didn't do it sooner! It was so simple.

I did have a scab for a couple weeks, and when the scab fell off that area was pink, but now it's not noticeable at all. The smaller ones are gone now too. Weirdly enough, I've had a couple new brown spots pop up. I was out in the sun a lot when I was younger and never used sunscreen; now it's catching up to me. I will probably go back and get those zapped, too.

I just started using The Paula's Choice line for sun damage. The reviews are really good -- I'm hoping it helps too.
posted by Ostara at 4:35 PM on May 21, 2015 [3 favorites]

Lentigo (aka "liver spots") can be treated with a variety of creams or as Ostara says with cryotherapy. See a dermatologist I guess.
posted by GuyZero at 4:45 PM on May 21, 2015

You can get laser treatment to reduce them. Check at your local medical spa, they usually do an intro visit where they assess and answer your questions.
posted by Youremyworld at 5:08 PM on May 21, 2015

Fraxel laser is extremely effective. I know a friend who has had it for similar issues to yours. Her skin is now amazing.

Downside: expensive, and there is downtime involved after each treatment.
posted by Salamander at 5:19 PM on May 21, 2015

I think going to a cosmetic dermatologist might be your best best, but you can check out some suggestions floating around /r/SkincareAddiction. It seems to be a nice place and the people responding to questions are very helpful. They're going to recommend religious use of sunscreen right off the bat, which is never bad advice, but there are detailed explanations there for things like AHA creams, dermarollers, and prescription-strength options. People have posted their experiences with laser treatment as well.

Good luck!
posted by erratic meatsack at 5:43 PM on May 21, 2015 [3 favorites]

If you don't have sensitive skin, you might take a look at the Makeup Artist's Choice website which deals with DIY chemical peels. Research other's experiences in forums like this one or this one beforehand, start with a low percentage, and follow the instructions exactly.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 5:51 PM on May 21, 2015

I believe topical vitamin C preparations in high enough concentrations help reduce brown spots (see this PubMed study and others). Unfortunately, as I understand it, ascorbic acid is unstable and oxidizes quickly once it is prepared into a product , causing more harm than good for your skin at that point. Fortunately, other preparations of vitamin C are more stable. You might want to check out sodium ascorbyl phosphate and magnesium ascorbyl phosphate in particular (e.g. here). They also have other benefits, like helping with skin hydration, elasticity, collagen development, and combating acne. See this for a clear summary.
posted by ClaireBear at 6:06 PM on May 21, 2015

IPL or the more heavy duty Fraxel. As long as you are careful with pre and post care and choose a practitioner who is conservative with settings you should get a great result
posted by slow graffiti at 6:16 PM on May 21, 2015

I had what I thought was an age spot on my forearm -- it turned out to be melanoma. Please get it checked by a dermatologist, who can also advise on cosmetic concerns, if it's not anything worrying.
posted by potsmokinghippieoverlord at 6:18 PM on May 21, 2015

One dietary tip to share: Nicotine causes moles and dark spots to appear on the skin. I have never smoked, but I am fond of eggplant, tomatoes and potatoes and all of them have nicotine, especially eggplant. Once I stopped consuming eggplant, my moles and dark spots have gone away. It takes a few months. Also, eating carrots and oatmeal have made my skin a lot smoother and softer, and both have Vitamin A and colloidal compounds that are beneficial for skin.

Medline Plus (National Library of Medicine) lists medical studies on nicotine and nevus (moles) just so you don't think I'm getting this out of thin air.
posted by effluvia at 6:28 PM on May 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

Two of my friends had IPL treatments and had a lot of success with getting rid of brown spots. It sometimes takes 2-3 treatments but it works really well.
posted by JenMarie at 6:42 PM on May 21, 2015

Response by poster: Thank you all! I won't mark best answer because all of your comments have been helpful in different ways. I have been seeing a dermatologist for annual mole checks, so I can get his advice, but I'm going to try the over the counter recommendations first (my Extended Health doesn't cover cosmetic procedures). I've been using sunscreen religiously for the last few years, but the first really hot day this month I wasn't expecting the sun and didn't have any on and boom-- splotches came up within a couple of days after fading over the winter. I feel hopeful about reducing them now; lotions and potions and so on are kind of foreign territory for me as I've never worn makeup or ventured too close to the "beauty" counter except for moisturizer, so thanks again.
posted by jokeefe at 9:59 PM on May 21, 2015

Chemical peels have made my skin much more sun sensitive and therefore my melasma worse, there just doesn't seem to be a strong enough sunblock and it's so easy to forget to reapply... So I urge caution there. I did use hydroquinone for a scar on my face and was happy with the result but I would only use it on one small spot... Because
You can go quite blackened after bleaching with it and getting sun. Fraxel is out of my price range so I'm using camouflage makeup on the darkest bits.
posted by flink at 12:53 AM on May 22, 2015

Oh! And summer is NOT the time to try hydroquinone and chemical peels!
posted by flink at 12:54 AM on May 22, 2015

Seconding vitamin C. I've also heard AHAs work, but you absolutely must wear sun protection when using them.

In addition to _______'s skincare addiction suggestion, I'm going to suggest /r/asianbeauty because Asian skin care is also relatively affordable and has a lot of variety. You might be interested in topics like this. You should search for "brightening."
posted by Ms. Moonlight at 2:19 AM on May 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

(I've also never been 'into' makeup or products but about a year ago decided to start trying some things out.)

I have had good luck reducing age-related blotchiness on fair skin with the following combination of OTC products: benzoyl peroxide 2.5% twice/day (I get it at; Kiehl's Clearly Corrective Deep Moisture Clarifying Cream (at least once/day - I really love this stuff); Kiehl's Clearly Corrective Purifying Foaming Cleanser (1-2x/day); and I rotate in various moisturizers, toners, etc. - but I stick with at least those 3 things. It took several weeks being super consistent before I finally felt like it was doing something.

I've also been trying Kiehl's Powerful-Strength Line-Reducing Concentrate with 10.5% vitamin C - I *think* it is helping, but can't say for sure yet.

And for a smooth-looking foundation I really like Lancome Teint Visionnaire Skin Correcting Makeup Duo - you'll probably need to go to a Sephora or elsewhere to get help finding the right tint/color for your skin. It's the smoothest looking daily foundation I've found.
posted by Medley at 10:28 AM on May 22, 2015

I have had great luck with Clinique's Even Better Clinical Dark Spot Corrector.
posted by Snazzy67 at 2:58 PM on May 22, 2015

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