It is no surprise that many changes in our skin accompany aging. As we age, our skin becomes thinner, looser, frailer, and more prone to developing new skin growths. One common growth that accompanies aging is the development of age spots.
What are Age Spots?
Age spots are areas of darker skin discoloration that occur in sun-exposed areas, becoming more common as we age. They may also be called sun spots, liver spots, or solar lentigines.
According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, age spots can be gray, tan, brown, or black and appear as flat spots on your skin. They can appear as round, oval or irregularly shaped lesions of various sizes. They are common and happen as a result of exposure to the sun. Most people typically experience age spots in sun-exposed distribution, including on their face, shoulders, back, hands and feet. They are most frequently found in older adults with fair skin, but can occur in younger individuals with significant sun damage or tanning bed use.
How are Age Spots Diagnosed?
A skincare professional should evaluate any new, changing, or concerning pigmented lesion (tan, brown, or black spot) to rule out a serious and deadly skin cancer called melanoma.
At your visit, the dermatologist can help diagnose an age spot by performing a physical exam and evaluating your skin and growth. Your doctor may even perform a skin biopsy (removing a small growth sample) to confirm the diagnosis.
Treatments for Age Spots
Though age spots are harmless, people often desire treatments to fade or remove the discoloration for cosmetic reasons. Before pursuing any treatment, we recommend having the lesion evaluated by a dermatologist. A dermatologist can help confirm a definitive diagnosis and provide guidance regarding treatment.
The most common treatment options for age spots include:
Hydroquinone (a skin bleaching cream) and tretinoin (a retinoid) are the most commonly used topical therapies to treat unwanted dark spots. Topical creams containing one of these ingredients or combinations are commonly used to fade age spots.
Age spots can be treated with liquid nitrogen. A cotton swab or spray can apply liquid nitrogen to the spots. After treatment, the site becomes pink and puffy. Over 1-2 weeks, the treated site becomes darker, scaly, and peels away.
Numerous different types of lasers have been used to treat age spots. The specific laser used will vary from provider to provider.
Intense Pulsed Light Therapy (IPL)
IPL is a treatment that is similar to a laser. It uses high intensity pulses of visible light to treat skin conditions such as age spots. It is commonly used in dermatology to treat unwanted red and brown spots.
This cosmetic procedure resurfaces the skin by sanding away the outer layers of the skin with a rapidly rotating device. This exfoliative process can peel away or lighten age spots, resulting in younger looking and smoother skin.
Chemical peels are cosmetic procedures that use various chemical solutions to exfoliate your skin. Like dermabrasion, the exfoliative process can peel away or lighten age spots, resulting in younger-looking and smoother skin.
How Can I Prevent the Appearance of More Age Spots?
While age spots can be treated with various methods, the best defense is often preventing the development of new brown spots. Sun protection and sun avoidance are a must. Dermatologists advise their patients to cover up, wear broad-spectrum sunscreen (SPF of 30 or higher), and avoid peak hours of the sun (between 10 am - 2 pm).