Age spots are known as sun spots or liver spots. They occur in the outer layer of the skin (epidermis). Age spots vary in size, ranging from freckle sized to larger than a centimeter. Their colors range from light brown to black. This type of discoloration is harmless. The age spots do not become any type of skin cancer although they can look like some skin cancers such as melanoma.
Causes of Age Spots
- Exposure to the sun. Your skin produces melanin which is the dark pigment in the epidermis. The melanin gives the skin its normal color. Melanin absorbs sunlight and protects your skin from ultraviolet rays. Exposure to the sun accelerates the production of melanin. Abnormally high concentrations of melanin will be clumped together, causing age spots on the skin.
Age spots commonly appear on the face, shoulders, backs, and hands because those areas are more likely to be exposed to the sun than any other parts of your body.
- Aging. As you age, the ability of your skin to protect UV rays deteriorates. Age spots are very common in adults older than age 40 but people who have had significant overexposure to the sun can develop the spots in their late twenties and thirties.
- Heredity. If your family members have these brownish spots, you may too.
- Tanning lamps and tanning beds. Like UV rays, lights from these types of tanning can also trigger the production of melanin which leads to age spots.
- Medication. Some diuretics and antibiotics can cause age spots because they increase the skin’s sensitivity to the sun.
Age Spot Removal
There are several skin care products and procedures that can be used to reduce the appearance of age spots.
A cream or lotion that contains ingredients below can slowly peel or fade age spots.
- Topical vitamin A. Retinoids and retinols block the production of melanin and slowly peel these liver spots. Dermatologists often recommend applying a retinoid or retinol directly on age spots. The prescriptive retinoid is more effective and provides a faster result that the OTC retinol. The spots should diminish or even disappear in a few months if you use the retinoid or in 3-4 months if you use the retinol.
- Hydroquinone. It is a bleaching cream. You can buy over-the-counter cream that contains two percent of hydroquinone and apply the cream on age spots. Be sure to follow the manufacturer’s directions carefully. The cream can gradually fade age spots in a couple of months.
- Vitamin C. A cream that contains vitamin C lightens age spots and helps regenerate new skin cells which would replace damaged skin.
Age spot removal procedures include
- Laser resurfacing. Laser resurfacing removes the upper layers of the skin and age spots. As a result, the body will produce new, healthy skin cells to compensate. This procedure not only improves the appearance of sun spots but also reduces wrinkles, fine lines, and acne scars.
- Chemical peels. Chemical peels also remove the top layer of skin. Glycolic acid peels can be done at home. There is little or no recovery time. Higher concentration peels such as trichloroacetic acid peels (TCA peels) should be done in a doctor’s office. The recovery time will vary depending on the type and strength of the peel.
- Microdermabrasion. Microdermabrasion removes dead skin cells and rejuvenates the upper layers of your skin.
- Intense Pulsed Light Therapy (IPL). Unlike laser resurfacing, chemical peels, and microdermabrasion, IPL rejuvenates the skin without causing damages in the epidermis.
Age Spot Prevention
- Avoid the sun between 10 am and 4 pm, when the sun’s rays are strongest.
- Apply sunscreen with SPF 15 or above every morning to protect your skin from UV rays.