AGE SPOTS AND WRINKLES
Among the most obvious age giveaways are age spots — dark splotches that are bigger than freckles and not as cute. "We don't know why pigment collects into spots, but we do know that the sun's ultraviolet rays are the culprit," says dermatologist Susan H. Weinkle, M.D., affiliate clinical professor at the University of South Florida in Tampa. Repeated UV exposure also leads to wrinkles, and hands are especially vulnerable to damage, thanks to their thin skin.
Just as bleach lifts stains out of clothes, hydroquinone helps fade pigment from age spots. A 4% concentration, available only by prescription, works best, but can be irritating. More gentle are over-the-counter creams with 1% to 2% hydroquinone, such as Porcelana Skin Lightening Cream ($8, cvs.com) or Ambi Fade Cream ($5, drugstores). Another alternative: creams that promise to inhibit pigment with nonirritating botanicals (see 5 Ways to Fade Age Spots for suggestions). However, the nonprescription options can take months to work, and while they may fade spots to a lighter shade of tan, they are unlikely to vanquish them altogether.
A more surefire way to obliterate sun damage is with a laser. Some types — Nd:YAG, DioLite, Ruby — target brown pigment, one spot at a time. The pigment absorbs the light, cells break down, a superficial scab forms, and in a week or so, the scab flakes off, leaving neutral-pigmented skin underneath. Prices vary widely depending on how many spots you zap and your zip code — anywhere from $250 to $650.
For diffuse spots, an all-over treatment is preferable. The plus: It will address spots and wrinkles in one go. Intense Pulsed Light (IPL) zeroes in on both brown and red pigment, and also stimulates wrinkle-fighting collagen. The light is beamed below the skin's surface, so there's no visible injury or downtime. But in contrast to the laser, you usually need three to five sessions — $300 to $600 apiece — each spaced a month apart. Another all-over approach is fractional laser, or Fraxel. I opted for the mid-strength version known as Re:store. It works under the surface, creating pinprick-size micro-wounds that form new, smoother skin as they heal. While Fraxel Re:store produces more dramatic results than IPL, it requires a day of downtime. You typically need three to five sessions, each about $700 to $1,200, spaced over three to five months. I found it worth the mild pain: The skin tone on the backs of my hands became impressively even.
No matter which option you choose, you have to be vigilant about protecting your hands with sunscreen after treatment, or those spots will reappear. Try Boots No7 Protect & Perfect Hand Cream SPF 15 ($14, Target), a GH 2010 Anti-Aging Award Honorable Mention.