Age spots are those ugly small, flat, dark spots that many people find on their body as they get older. Most commonly found in sun exposed areas of the body, such as the face, shoulders, arms and hands, age spots can be quite variable in size and shape. They are most commonly found in adults above 50 years of age but can be seen in those younger who like to spend time in the sun. For some people, age spots are also referred to as sun spots, liver spots or solar lentigines.
Age spots also have the potential to resemble an early skin cancer. This is why when in doubt, many physicians will elect to biopsy the spot to be safe. Under normal circumstances, age spots do not require any treatment, although for cosmetic reasons some people will elect to have them lightened or removed. The presence of age spots represents the body’s response to prior sun exposure and damage to the skin. It is the body’s way of protecting itself from any further sun damage. Despite this protective response, the best way to prevent the development of more age spots is to still regularly applying sunscreen and avoid the sun.
Age spots on the hand
Age spots have been found on people of all skin types. However, people with lighter complexions, are more susceptible. Unlike in the case of freckles which are more common in kids, age spots do not fade in the absence of sun exposure. Some characteristics of ages spots are:
- They are usually tan to dark brown in color
- They are most commonly found on sun exposed area like the face hands, feet, shoulders and upper back.
- They are normally flat hyperpigmented spots on the skin that tend to group together
Do you need Medical help?
As mentioned above, age spots are benign in nature, so they do not need medical attention. The exception to this is if the spot is black in color or is changing in appearance. Age spots may increase in number as we age but they don't change their appearance during this time. A change in color or appearance in what is considered an age spot, many suggest that the spot is actually not an age spot but a pigmented nevi (mole) that may be changing into a melanoma, a more serious form of skin cancer. Medical evaluation should be obtained as soon as possible in these cases or in any case where there are unusual changes to the skin, such as:
- The spot increases in size
- There is an irregular border
- There are color changes or a mixture of colors in the spot
- The spot starts to bleed
- The spot is black
What causes age spots?
When the skin is exposed to the Ultraviolet (UV) rays found in sunlight or in tanning beds, the skin’s reaction is to increase production of melanin, the same pigment that gives us our skin color and the tan that many people strive for. When the skin has had too much sun over the years, the melanin can start to clump together or get over produced even in the absence of sunlight. The result is an age spot. People who are born with light skin or people who have a long history of frequent sun exposures or sunburns will have a greater likelihood of developing age spots. People who have darker skin or people who tend to tan easily, are a little more resistant to age spot formation be can still develop them over time if there is a history of any significant sun exposure.
There are three simple ways to best prevent age spots:
- Avoid the sun
- Wear sunscreen when out in the sun
- Cover up when out in the sunlight.
Diagnosis of Age Spots:
Under normal circumstances, most physicians can easily diagnose age spots by visual examination. In those few exceptions where the spot does not take on the classic look of an age spot, a skin biopsy is sometimes warranted in order to rule out other skin conditions such as melanoma or a lentigo maligna. Both of which are forms of skin cancer.
As mentioned above, age spots are benign hyperpigmented skin spots that do not normally require any medical attention. Any treatment directed towards age spots are therefore predominantly cosmetic in nature. The goal of treatment in these instances is to make the age spots lighter and thus less noticeable to the naked eye. Since age spots are the result of the collection of excessive melanin at the base of the epidermis (the surface layer of the skin), any treatment aimed at treating age spots must penetrate this epidermal layer.
Lasers and Intense pulse light (IPL) treatments are quickly becoming the preferred option in the cosmetic removal of age spots from the hands, feet, and body. These treatments are able to eliminate age spots by penetrating the epidermal layer and breaking up the melanocyte clusters that give rise to the age spots. By breaking these melanin clusters apart, the skin will then be able to reabsorb any excess melanin allowing the skin to return to its baseline color. Normally 2-3 treatments are required depending on the amount of age spots being addressed. The darker the spots and the more numerous the spots, the more treatments required.
Each treatment is generally very well tolerated by the patient. When the laser/IPL is fired, there is a sensation of a warm rubber band striking the skin with each firing. Immediately following the treatment, the age spots will start to darken initially and over the course of 2-4 weeks, will begin to fade. With each additional treatment, the spots will continue to fade until eventually they are no longer visible.
The patient will be asked to apply sunscreen to the treatment area duration of the treatment protocol to help minimize potential discomfort, complications and to ultimately maximize the results.
Because age spot treatments are generally considered cosmetic, they typically aren't covered by insurance. If you want to look younger by having your age spots removed, give our staff at STL Vein and Cosmetics a call to schedule your free consultation today. Let our staff of professionals, help answer your questions so that you can start down the path to a younger and healthier looking you.