What Actually Causes Age Spots?

What Actually Causes Age Spots?

Age spots are a discoloration of the skin that occurs predominantly on the face and hands, which are the areas most frequently exposed to the sun. The older a person gets and the more UV rays they’ve been exposed to, the more likely they are to experience age spots.

At STL Vein & Cosmetics in St. Louis, Missouri, Dr. Eric Mai and his expert team specialize in diagnosing and treating age spots. Age spots aren’t dangerous, but their appearance may make you feel self-conscious. We offer laser and intense pulsed light (IPL) treatments to maximize results and minimize potential discomfort and self-esteem issues. In this post, you’ll discover everything you need to know about age spots and their treatment.

What are age spots?

Age spots are benign pigment disorders of the skin, which mainly occur in late adulthood. They aren’t dangerous, but their outward appearance can be aesthetically displeasing and cause mental distress.

As the name suggests, age spots appear more pronounced with age. They’re frequently observed in people over 50 years old, but younger people can also get age spots.

Age spots tend to form on areas of skin that you often expose to the sun. The spots look yellowish-brown to dark brown. They can be tiny, but they can also grow to a few inches. The shape ranges from round to oval to an irregularly defined spot. Unlike freckles, age spots hardly fade in winter.

What actually causes age spots?

Age spots, also called hyperpigmentation, develop after prolonged sun exposure. When you expose your skin to the sun’s UV light, it boosts the skin’s melanin (its natural pigment) production. When the skin produces an excess of melanin in a particular area, it becomes darker. 

The outermost layer of skin is called the epidermis, and it has special cells called melanocytes. They form the brown pigment melanin and pass the substance on to neighboring epidermal cells. These cells store the pigment.

Melanin causes the sun's UV rays to weaken as they travel into deeper layers of the skin. In this way, the pigment protects the cell’s genetic material from the harmful effects of UV light. The longer the skin is exposed to sunlight, the more melanin is produced and stored. 

How much pigment the skin can produce, however, depends on a person's genetic makeup. The higher the melanin content of the skin, the darker it’s colored. Those with more pigmented skin are better protected from the harmful UV rays by the effect of melanin than a relatively fair-skinned type.

Do age spots cause cancer?

Age spots are entirely harmless. However, this doesn’t mean that sun exposure without protection is healthy. Exposure to UV radiation is a proven cause of squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) and basal cell carcinoma (BCC).

Sometimes age spots look very similar to some forms of skin cancer. You should see a physician if you notice any new skin changes or changes in appearance.

How we remove age spots

Lasers and intense pulsed light (IPL) treatments are particularly effective in removing cosmetic skin damage like age spots. Because age spots result from excessive melanin in the epidermis, treatments must penetrate this outer layer of skin.

Lasers and IPL treatments eliminate or lighten age spots by breaking up clusters of melanocytes so your skin can reabsorb excess melanin, which allows your skin to return to its natural color.

Two or three treatments are typically required, depending on the number of age spots being addressed. For darker or more numerous age spots, you might need more than two or three treatments. 

Banish age spots today

Age spots are harmless, but if they’re causing distress, Dr. Mai and his crew at STL Vein & Cosmetics can help. Contact our specialists online or by phone for a consultation.

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