One thing that occurs with aging but not necessarily the result of aging is age spots. Age spots are typically brown spots that occur on the sun-exposed skin. They are usually various shades of brown in color but can be red or black. Age spots are caused by sun exposure and also known as solar lentigo (sun spot – loosely translated).
In the past they were thought to be caused by liver disease and were called liver spots. Age spots differ from moles in that age spots are flat while moles are a raised areas on the skin. Age spots are similar to freckles, but freckles are primarily genetically based. Age spots become more common after age 40 but can occur sooner for the sun worshipers.
Are Age Spots Dangerous?
Age spots can be unsightly since they occur on areas of the skin like the face, forehead, tops of shoulders, and arms that are visible. The good news is age spots are not dangerous and they are not cancerous. But, lesions or spots that look like age spots can be cancerous. So the take home message is this. Any spot that is new or has changed shape or color should be seen by a dermatologist to make sure it is not cancerous.
Why Do Age Spots Occur?
Our skin contains melanin which absorbs ultraviolet (UV) rays. Melanin is made by special cells called melanocytes. One out of every 10 to 20 cells in the epidermis of the skin is a melanocyte. Fair skin people make less melanin than darker skin individuals. Age spots occur most often in people with fair skin. Tanning is an example of melanin at work. After repeated sun exposure skin loses its ability to absorb UV rays and abnormal melanin production occurs leading to an accumulation of melanin as spots.
Preventing Age Spots
Age spots can be prevented by sun avoidance and/or protection. The more fair your skin the more important using sunscreen/sunblock become. Remember that UVB rays causes sun burn, but UVA ray cause age related changes to the skin like wrinkles and age spots. Car windows do not protect against UVA rays, but UVA film for car windows is available. Also, eat plenty of fruits and vegetables that are high in antioxidants that protect against the effects of the sun.
Treating Age Spots
Nearly every maker of skin care products has something to treat age spots. They can be very effective for some individuals, though some trial and error might be needed. These are usually more effective for small areas. Both Drs. Murad and Perricone have products for age spots.
Other treatments include laser treatment which destroy the melanocytes. Several treatments might be required and the hyper-pigmentation or spots usually fad over several weeks. Some discoloration to the skin can occur after laser treatments. Cryotherapy or freezing using liquid nitrogen can be effective for an isolated spot or small area. It, too, can lead to discoloration and even scarring. Dermabrasion and chemical peels are also used to treat age spots.
If you have age spots that you would like removed it is best to consult with a dermatologist to see what treatment is most likely to be effective for you.
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