Fluorouracil is already used as a prescription skin treatment for actinic keratoses, which are precancerous lesions caused by sun damage.
Patients getting such treatment have also reported softer, smoother, less wrinkled skin -- and now, a new study confirms those skin improvements.
The study included 21 patients with actinic keratoses who applied a 5% fluorouracil skin cream called Efudex to their entire face twice daily for two weeks.
The patients were followed for about six months, and during that time, they got skin biopsies, close-up facial photographs, and dermatology checkups on a regular basis.
First, the patients' facial skin got dry, itchy, and peeled. In the following weeks, their skin recovered, with softer wrinkles and better texture.
Twenty patients completed a questionnaire in the tenth week of the study. Of those patients, 40% said their sun damage was "much" improved and 35% said it was "moderately" improved.
When it came to their wrinkles, 42% of the patients reported "mild" improvement, 26% noted "moderate" improvement, and 16% reported "much" improvement.
All noted at least mild improvement in their skin texture. Overall, 75% of the patients said they were "very" or "moderately" satisfied with the results.
One person developed severe skin inflammation and quit using the skin cream after the first week, and most of the patients said they found the treatment at least "moderately" uncomfortable.
Still, most patients said they were willing to get the treatment again and 17 out of 19 patients said they would pay for it out of pocket.
The researchers -- who included Dana Sachs, MD, of the University of Michigan's dermatology department -- say the skin cream was generally well tolerated.
A fluorouracil cream would cost less than laser skin resurfacing but "may not, however, achieve the same degree of improvement," write Sachs and colleagues.
The study, published in June's edition of the Archives of Dermatology, was funded by Valeant Pharmaceuticals International, which makes Efudex.