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I am frequently asked by readers and friends which cream they should buy to treat age spots. The thing is, there are no silver bullets. At least in my experience, it is a finely calibrated combination of potions, lotions and treatments that, after patient experimentation, really gets results. In other words, it’s a daily and weekly regimen. Here is the one that I am finding is working at fading freckles and attacking the most stubborn age/sun spots.
Possibly the effective part of my regime is monthly salon sessions of LED light therapy treatments where panels emitting red (visible) light and infra-red (invisible light) are placed over the hands for 20 minutes. I have recently started to top up my monthly sessions once a week using my at-home LED device Truth Renew Plus, which combines the three modes of LED, ultrasonic and ionic. The negative ion is also useful for treating hyperpigmentation.
LED will fade freckles, age spots and generally smooth out hyperpigmentation (it's even good for rosacea). Be prepared for the fact that, immediately after treatment, freckles will look darker. A smear of sunscreen is very important at this stage. Within 36 hours or so, you should start to see results.
I have found the combination of vitamin C and ferulic acid to be very effective for treating more stubborn age spots. Ferulic acid improves the performance of vitamin C, which acts as a mild exfoliant. It also acts as a natural sunscreen and so is helping prevent sun spots from getting any worse. Since products with ferulic acid aren't easy to come by, I recommended finding a good source of C and adding in a little drop of ferulic acid for an effective DIY brightening solution.
Your Best Face Advanced CE Concentrate ($50 in the shop) is an unadulterated vitamin C serum that contains three forms of vitamin C as well as vitamin E. Combine it with green LED light for treating hyperpigmentation. Another good option is Medik8 C-Tetra ($70 in the shop), which uses the stable, oil-soluble form of vitamin C called Tetrahexyldecyl Ascorbate. It helps minimize hyperpigmentation as well as brighten the complexion.
For what I would regard as a freckle with slightly too much attitude, I use a gentler cream that is especially good for sensitive areas. For example, I have a freckle on the arch of my right eye, which I wouldn't dream of subjecting to the ferulic and vitamin C. The all-natural Sweetsation Lumi*Essence Organic Advanced Brightening Repair Treatment ($36) uses papaya and pineapple extract to even skin tone and alpha arbutin and kojic acid to lighten dark spots. Arbutin, or bearberry extract, is a natural skin brightener that's also in Arcona Instant Magic Reversal Serum ($105), and in addition to lightening skin it also offers a natural form of sun protection. La Vie Celeste Eclairage Restorative Serum ($98.50) contains natural skin brighteners such as lilac leaf cell culture extract, licorice and B-white. It not only helped lighten a freckle or two but also helped with firming.
In the evenings I dab some copper peptides on the areas I am treating. The morning creams are doing an exfoliation job and the copper peptides should be repairing by helping the new cells to grow. MAD Spot On Targeted Skin Brightening System ($42 in the shop) is perfect for targeting stubborn freckles and areas of uneven skin tone. In addition to the peptide lumiskin, which inhibits skin pigmentation, it contains vitamin C, niacinamide and botanicals. Osmotics Blue Copper 5 Firming Elasticity Repair ($58/1 oz) not only contains active copper and peptides to firm skin and even out skin tone, but it also contains rutin, which has even been shown to help broken veins. Benir Beauty BV Nine Platinum Anti-Aging Bee Venom Cream uses some of my favorite ingredients — bee venom, copper peptides and coenzyme Q10 — for collagen boosting and skin repair.
Editor's note: This article was updated August 19, 2014