These “hyperpigmentations” that we commonly refer to as age spots go by many different names such as liver spots, sun spots or solar lentigines. They tend to appear on the areas of the body which receive the most amount of sun, for example on the hands, face, shoulders, and arms. If you have any brown spots on your skin, it’s important to have it checked by a dermatologist as it may be skin cancer.
What Causes Age Spots?
There’s no doubt about it, age spots come from the sun. These little spots are the result of melanin pigment building up in the skin and are one of the five main signs of aging caused by the sun (the other four being wrinkles, enlarged pores, sagging skin and spider veins). Most of the aging skin I see is caused not by the passage of time and chronological aging, but from the sun. The brown spots you see appearing on your face, this is not a function of age, but of sun exposure. If you don’t believe me, take a look at the skin on your bottom and you’ll find very few ‘age spots’ because it’s so rarely exposed to the sun.
Age Spot Removal
There are a number of possible treatment options out there if you are looking to remove abnormal pigmentations on your skin. These range from like chemical peels and typical skin lightening creams such as hydroquinone, all the way to laser and IPL treatments. Remember to first see a dermatologist to be sure that these spots are not cancer or precancerous lesions.
Laser Treatment is Effective
Of the treatments available, laser treatment is generally considered very effective at getting rid of age spots and is consider the gold standard for treatment. Intense pulsed light (IPL or “photofacial”) is also used to remove these spots. Laser treatment may require two or more sessions to completely remove the spots depending on how many there are and on which area of the body.
Does Laser Treatment Hurt?
These laser treatments may hurt a bit, however most of my patients find the pain to be very tolerable and passes quickly. There may be some slight tingling sensation following the treatment, however it usually goes away on the same day. Typical recovery time is less than 3 days and patients are able to return to normal activity right after the treatment. You should avoid the sun directly after the treatment, however.
Are the Results Permanent
In general we find that laser removal of age spots is permanent, however people do sometimes see new spots appear as they go back out into the sun. These are new spots forming as a result of sun exposure, not a recurrence of the old, removed spots. Good sun-avoidance is key if you wish to see your skin free of sun spots.
Can They Be Prevented?
Contrary to popular belief, tan skin is not healthy skin. While you might think you look better with a sun kissed glow, baking on the beach (or in a tanning bed) is never a good idea. A tan is our body’s way of telling us our skin has been damaged, and is its attempt to protect itself from further damage. As we undergo UVA and UVB light exposure from the sun’s rays or from tanning beds, we are damaging our skin. This damage will lead to hyperpigmentation.
Sun Protection and UV Avoidance
Preventing age spots requires sun avoidance and sun protection. When it comes to truly keeping skin healthy and youthful, it’s all about SPF. Sun protection and also an antioxidant and topical retinoid are critical to preventing skin damage. Even if you already have sun damaged skin, it’s never too late to start wearing sunscreen. This will help prevent further damage and age spotting.
If you’re going to be in the sun for lengthy periods, wear a wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses and even use an umbrella to shield yourself from the rays.
Protect your Skin in the Car
Even if you’re only planning to be outdoors for a short amount of time, the sun’s rays will still reach you. There are also other, more unexpected times the sun can cause damage. For example, you might not realize it but much of the sun damage we get happens while we’re driving. Car window glass protects us from 100 percent of the UVB light (the light which causes a burn), but none of the UVA, the light responsible for sun damage and aging skin. I advise all of my patients to have UVA-protecting film installed on their car windows. This helps prevent much of the sun damage which causes brown spots.
Say Yes to Sunscreen
Wearing sunscreen is one thing, but the real key to saving your skin is diligence. Haphazardly applying a little sunscreen here and there just isn’t good enough and you need to apply every day, even when you don’t think it’s necessary. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, even on a cloudy day, up to 80 percent of the sun’s UV rays can pass through the clouds.
Use about one ounce (the equivalent of a shot glass) to cover your body, but adjust based on your size.
Apply sunscreen 15 minutes before you leave the house and then every two hours so you’re adequately protected. Don’t forget about your ears, lips, hands and feet. Sunscreen should go everywhere to ensure you’re fully protected.