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Getting Rid of Age Spots

Q. Recently I heard that there was a cream or ointment for getting rid of age spots. I think I heard it referred to as Hydroxycordone but I am not sure. Is there such a product that can be bought over-the-counter? I would like to get rid of my brown sun spots.

A. The compound you heard of is hydroquinone. It is a bleaching agent that is applied to darker areas of skin (such as age spots or “liver” spots) to lighten them. Such spots are usually a result of sun damage.

Hydroquinone is available in many OTC lightening or fade creams. The compound is controversial, however. It has been banned in Australia, Europe and Japan because of concerns about possible cancer-causing activity.

The FDA proposed a ban on hydroquinone several years ago, but has not yet taken any action. More research has been initiated, but it will be years before there is a definitive answer about the safety of this chemical.

One possible alternative is tretinoin (Avita, Retin-A, Renova). This prescription acne cream can also smooth wrinkles and help fade age spots (American Journal of Clinical Dermatology, Aug, 2009). Although the brand name is pricey, you can get this cream as a generic for around $40 a tube.

Regardless of how you try to lighten your spots, avoid the sun or use a sunscreen.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies..
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