As we age, our bodies go through lots of changes. One of the first places we showsigns of age is our skin, with the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles and brown patches. These brown patches are commonly called age spots, liver spots or sun spots, and usually begin showing up during middle age. The number of age spots often depends on how much sun exposure you have had over your lifetime.
What are age spots?
Age spots are harmless, flat, brown spots on the skin caused by a concentration of melanin, the substance that gives skin and hair its color. Melanin is found in the skin, eyes, feathers and scales of all living creatures. As we age, the pigment gathers in the top layer of skin, causing spots to appear. Age spots--unlike freckles, which can lighten if not exposed to the sun --do not fade. The chief job of melanin is to provide a natural protection from the harmful UV rays of the sun, but it does not provide complete protection. Darker skinned people with higher melanin levels don’t burn as easily, but are still at risk for damage from dangerous UV rays.
Protecting yourself from exposure to UV rays is the best way to avoid or minimize these age spots. If you’re already seeing these spots on your skin and their appearance is distressing, there are a few treatments available that can successfully lighten the spots.
Bleaching creams are one treatment option, but require many applications over a few months. Over-the-counter creams are not as effective as prescription formulas, but the prescription creams may cause redness and peeling, and are usually more expensive. Chemical peels are another option. Talk with your dermatologist about effectiveness and recovery time. You can also choose laser resurfacing. During this procedure, the spots --along with wrinkles and lines-- are literally burned off. The recovery time is usually about a week, and requires multiple treatments. Intense Pulsed Light Therapy is a newer form of treatment that is favored by some because it does not damage the epidermis, thus no recovery time.
Melanoma, the deadliest type of skin cancer, can often look similar to, or mimic age spots. If you notice an age spot that is growing or has changed in appearance, such as in size or color, make an appointment with your doctor to have it checked right away. Early detection is the key if the spot does turn out to be skin cancer and not just a harmless age spot.
Keys to prevention
Using an SPF 30, broad-spectrum sunscreen on a regular, daily basis, especially on your face, is the best way to minimize the appearance of more age spots or if you are still young, to help prevent them. Age spots can also darken due to sun exposure, so using a sunscreen when outdoors can really keep the spots from getting darker.