What Are Age Spots?

In your younger days, you may have not minded a few freckles. But age spots — also known as liver spots or solar lentigines — are freckles writ large. Age spots — which can be a centimeter or more in diameter and often cluster together in varying shades or gray, brown, or black — are an unwelcome sign of aging that often occur on the face, forearms, backs of the hands, shoulders, upper back, and tops of the feet.

They are usually just a harmless and painless consequence of sun damage, resulting from a gradual accumulation of the dark pigment melanin. But age spots can be a big cosmetic nuisance. Fortunately, the appearance of age spots can reduced — or even eliminated all together — with over-the-counter or medical treatments.

The Causes of Age Spots

As the name suggests, age spots are most commonly seen in people 40 and older, partly because age itself is associated with extra melanin production. Factors associated with an increased susceptibility to age spots include:

  • Frequent or intense exposure to the sun or tanning beds
  • Fair Skin
  • Family history of age spots

Preventing Age Spots

Of all the factors associated with age spots, the strongest is a long history of sun exposure and sunburn. You can prevent age spots by:

  • Wearing protective clothing and sunglasses while outdoors.
  • Avoiding sun exposure from 10 a.m. through 4 p.m., when sunlight is most intense.
  • Applying a sunscreen of at least SPF 15, preferably 30 minutes before going outdoors.

When Age Spots Might Be Problematic

Because age spots sometimes resemble melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer, you should receive medical evaluation for any new spots that are:

  • Darkly pigmented, or have an unusual combination of colors.
  • Increasing in size.
  • Irregularly shaped.

Treatment of Age Spots

Over-the-counter fade creams are weaker than prescription medications, and results may not be noticeable until after weeks or months of regular use. But they can be effective in reducing the appearance of lighter-colored age spots. The best products include ingredients such as:

  • Hydroquinone
  • Glycolic Acid
  • Kojic Acid

Other over-the-counter options include products containing retinoids, vitamin A derivatives that accelerate the defoliation of skin.
Medical treatments include:

  • Prescription Medications: Some topical ointments contain high-strength hydroquinone. Others contain hydroquinone in combination with the prescription retinoid tretinoin and a steroid.
  • Cryotherapy: During this simple, in-office procedure, your doctor sprays liquid nitrogen on one or more age spots to destroy the accumulated melanin.
  • Laser Therapy: Various types of lasers can be used to obliterate accumulated melanin, but this therapy often requires multiple treatments.
  • Dermabrasion: Using a rapidly rotating brush, your doctor sands off the outer layer of skin, enabling the growth of a new and natural-looking layer.
  • Chemical Peels: Multiple applications of certain acids — including alpha hydroxy acids — burn off the outer layer of skin, also enabling the growth of a new and natural-looking layer.

Although age spots aren't medically dangerous — and don't require treatment — they can make you look and feel older. With the right medical management, you can reduce or eliminate these common nuisances, and restore a more youthful and even look to your skin.


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Fall Skincare Tip

Your skin can appear dull and dry after a summer spent in the sun, exfoliation can remove the dull outer layer of skin, and unclog pores plugged by regular sunscreen use. But be gentle with exfoliation: A mild scrub, baby washcloth, or exfoliating cleansing towelette will do a fine job. Exfoliate only once or twice a week, and don't get over-aggressive, too-vigorous scrubbing can scratch, tear, and damage skin, compromising the glow that gentle exfoliation gives. Another exfoliation option: Microdermabrasion or glycolic acid peels. These procedures are more effective and quicker at removing the superficial dead layer of skin.
Oct 20th, 2012

Did You Know

According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), up to 80 percent of ultraviolet rays can pass through clouds! Also another surprising bit of info: Just because you’re indoors doesn’t mean the sun can’t find you — window glass blocks the UVB light that causes sunburns, but cell-damaging UVA rays still penetrate. The bottom line: Sunscreen is a must, indoors or out, year-round, every day.
March 31st, 2012

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