If you think just “old people” can get sunspots or age spots, think again. According to MayoClinic.com, exposure to the sun can cause the appearance of sunspots or age spots in ages ranging from young to old. In addition, a type of fungal infection called tinea versicolor can cause the appearance of sunspots, notes Drugstore.com. These spots are not life threatening, but their unattractive appearance makes remedies such as fade cream for sunspots or age spots a routine item on many department store shopping lists.
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Fade cream, also called skin whitening or bleaching cream, comes in prescription strength or you can purchase it over the counter. The main difference between the two is the type and strength of the active ingredients.
Prescription strength fade creams include ingredients such as hydroquinone, tretinoin and mercury. Nonprescription strength fade creams have lower concentrations of prescription medications or ingredients such as ascorbic acid, soy proteins, azelaic acid and kojic acid, according to DermNetNZ.
If sunspots are due to tinea versicolor, prescription creams include antifungal ingredients such as ketoconazole, econazole and ciclopirox. Nonprescription strength creams include terbinafine, clotrimazole and miconazole, reports SkinSight.com.
Whether prescription or over the counter, fade creams for sunspots or age spots perform two general functions: Ingredients in fade creams work to reduce or eliminate the appearance of the spots you already have and prevent new ones from developing.
Spot fading ingredients such as hydroquinone and kojic acid act to bleach and whiten the skin. Exfoliant medications including tretinoin and ascorbic acid function speed up the natural process of replacing older skin cells in the epidermis, or the upper layers of the skin, with new skin. As old cells sloughs off, new, clear skin takes its place.
Preventing new spots from appearing involves slowing down or stopping melanin production. Hydroquinone and mercury inhibit the enzyme tyrosinase, an essential component of melanin production, notes DermNetNZ.
Just as you do not develop spots overnight, fade cream cannot eliminate their appearance overnight. The fade cream you choose must penetrate through the top layers of your skin and work to gradually reduce or eliminate the spots' appearance. Effective treatment requires time, sometimes several weeks or months.
Fade creams can have effects beyond fading and preventing spots from recurring. Irritant and allergic contact dermatitis are common side effects that result when ingredients in fade creams remove moisture, cause damage faster than your skin can work to repair it or invoke an immune system response. Symptoms of contact dermatitis include redness, itching, swelling, blistering and scaling, according to DermNetNZ.
Although the ingredient hydroquinone is an effective bleaching agent, using fade cream that contains concentrations higher than 2 percent carries some risk potential.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration released a report in 2006 recommending additional studies of prescription-strength hydroquinone to determine whether this product is a carcinogen. In addition, the FDA linked hydroquinone to ochronosis, a skin condition that causes darkening, thickening and disfigurement of the skin.