Apothecary: See Spot Run

Could we have a word with whoever invented the expression “liver spots”? Ugly phrases used to describe aging processes should be banished and, anyway, the term is incorrect.

Those dark marks that can appear across our cheeks, foreheads or the backs of our hands, usually after age 40, are actually solar lentigos (sun marks, sun spots), the result of accumulated sun damage, not a de facto sign of aging. (And while we’re at it, “age spots” is yet another misnomer.)

Dr. Sandy Skotnicki of Toronto’s Bay Dermatology Centre warns of the risks of too much sun exposure. “If you deposit pigment (melanin) in the upper layer of the skin year after year, most of it is metabolized,” she explains, “but some of it accumulates,” resulting in those unwanted spots. And according to a 2006 German study, it isn’t wrinkles but rather uneven skin tone and dark spots that create the impression of added years.

While a dermatologist can remove lentigos with an “intense pulsed light (IPL), which is not a laser, or with liquid nitrogen,” says Skotnicki, topical options exist for a less invasive, more gradual home-based solution.

Hydroquinone, the most effective skin lightener, has been banned in the EU since 2001 for causing cancer in rats and is under regulatory scrutiny in Canada. As a result, beauty companies have developed formulas with alternatives like licorice root and kojic acid, often combined with retinoids (vitamin A derivatives) to inhibit spot production, boost brightness and accelerate cellular turnover.  —Liza Herz

Slow Spot Production

Dark spots occur when the enzyme tyrosinase activates melanin production. Products that inhibit melanin production slow the development of spots by neutralizing the melanin signal with ingredients like liquorice extract and red algae.

TRY Rodial White Brightening Serum, $98; Stila Light Source Spot Correcting & Brightening Serum, $59; DiorSnow Anti-Spot Serum, $155


Brighten Skin, Lighten Spots
To lighten existing spots and give a brightening boost to the complexion, “Vitamin C can help decrease pigmentation,” says Skotnicki. But that’s not all, this vitamin is also a hard-working multi-tasker, providing antioxidant sun protection against future damage.

TRY Proactiv Solution Dark Spot Repair, $36; Physician’s Formula Laser Resurfacing Serum, $26; Boscia Bright White
Mask, $46


Speed Cellular Turnover

To eradicate spots and accelerate skin turnover, revealing new unblemished skin, “peeling will help over time,” says Skotnicki. Peels contain acids that dissolve the “mortar” between skin cells, causing them to shed more quickly. A warning: peeling increases sun sensitivity, so daily sunscreen usage is a must.

TRY Origins Brighter By Nature High-Potency Brightening Peel Pads, $48; Neutrogena Rapid Tone Repair Day with SPF, $30; Garnier Dark Spot Overnight Peel, $20