Age spots, sometimes called “sun spots or liver spots” are the result of uneven and excess melanin caused by frequent exposure to UV rays from either the sun or a tanning bed. Melanin is what causes your skin to have color. Age spots are usually flat, oval-shaped and have brown, black, or grayish coloration. They can occur anywhere on the body, but are especially prevalent on the face, chest, hands, and extremities (the areas that tend to get the most sun exposure). People who lived or grew-up in sunny regions of the world are more prone to have sun spots.
Are Age Spots Dangerous?
Age spots themselves are not dangerous, but they are indicative of sun damage, which can result in pre-cancers and skin cancers. Age spots are often more obvious in lighter skin types and create a mottled appearance to the skin. Go to your doctor if you have any new dark spots that have quickly grown or changed, have uneven borders or show changes in color or show combined colors. Although heavily sun-damaged skin (darkly tanned skin) may look great when you’re younger, it actually prematurely ages your skin and is responsible for 80% of damaged skin. That tan may make you look older when you’re young….but it will also make you look even older as you age.
Can I Prevent Age Spots?
Unfortunately, most damage you see now is related to sun exposure from decades ago, but it’s never too late to prevent further damage. Fortunately there’s a lot you can do to prevent further sun damage, age spots and associated premature aging. Using an SPF 30-60 daily and wearing SPF treated clothing can help, along with avoiding the sun during its peak strength.
How Can I Improve the Sun Damage I Already Have?
The gold standard for treating sun damaged skin is Broad Band Light therapy (BBL), which is a form of Intense Pulsed Light (IPL) treatment. The wavelength of light used is preferentially absorbed by the pigment in the skin, thus heating-up and damaging the abnormal pigment collections (such as in an age spot) without burning the surrounding normal skin. You will see a very noticeable improvement even after a single treatment, and the results will improve with each additional treatment session.
Other options for treatment of age spots are the erbium resurfacing laser or fractional laser, chemical peels, which have the added effect of rejuvenating collagen production, and cryotherapy.
Finally, we can prescribe prescription strength lightening agents which have higher concentrations of the effective ingredients than over the counter products.
Depending on the extensiveness of your problem, a combination of therapies may be used to produce a stronger effect.
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