June 16, 2023
Age spots, sometimes known as liver spots, are those flat, brown, small dark areas on the skin. They tend to occur in places where your skin has been exposed to the sun, so they are more common on the face, backs of the hands, arms, and shoulders. They usually begin to make their appearance when people reach the age of 50, although younger people can also have them if they have had a lot of sun exposure.
People with all skin types can have age spots, but they are most frequently seen in light-skinned adults. Age spots, unlike freckles, don’t fade due to lack of sun exposure.
Age spots don’t require any treatment, once you are sure that’s what they are. But they are a signal your skin has gotten a lot of sun exposure. Here’s how to recognize them:
The spots are oval and flat and are tan to light brown in color. They range from about the size of a freckle to about ½ inch. Location is a giveaway as well. As mentioned above, they appear on areas that over the course of your life have had the most sun exposure: backs of your hands, tops of feet, face, shoulders and upper back. Sometimes, age spots can group together, making them appear larger.
If you notice any changes in the appearance of your age spots, see your doctor for an evaluation. Here’s what to pay close attention to:
An increase in size
A change in color, especially if the spot appears black or appears like it has several colors
A border that is jagged or irregular
Bleeding or irritation
If the age spot has any of the above-mentioned characteristics, you should bring it to the attention of your doctor. Your doctor may elect to do a small skin biopsy and send it to a pathology lab to see if it might be a cancerous growth. This type of biopsy is usually done right in the office, and a local anesthetic is used to numb the area prior to taking the biopsy.
If the doctor confirms that you do have simple age spots and their appearance bothers you, you can have them removed or lightened by a dermatologist. The pigment that gives age spots their color is located at the bottom of the first layer of skin (the epidermis) so any treatments must be able to penetrate to that depth.
Here are some of the ways age spots are treated:
Prescription bleaching creams, either used alone or with retinoids and a mild steroid cream. This can take several months to gradually fade the spots.
Freezing, also known as cryotherapy, uses a swab dipped in ultra-cold liquid nitrogen which is applied to the age spot for a few seconds.
Laser light therapy can obliterate the pigment producing cells without doing damage to the skin’s surface. These usually require two or even three sessions.
Dermabrasion is a process in which the skin is sanded down with a brush that rotates rapidly. Then new skin grows where the sanding took place. Sometimes there needs to be a repeat treatment and the skin turns pink, which may take several months to fade.
Micro-dermabrasion is less aggressive than dermabrasion and requires several sessions done over months. The results are not as good as with dermabrasion.
Chemical peeling is a method where an irritant chemical is applied to the top layers of skin to remove it. Then as the skin heals, new smoother skin grows to replace it. Again, you may need several treatments and redness may last for weeks.
Many of these treatment options have possible side effects, including scarring, lightening or darkening of your skin color, and infection.
Preventing age spots is a matter of protecting your skin from the sun’s harmful UV rays by wearing protective clothing and sunscreen.
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