The name is unflattering and their appearance is unsightly. Age spots (solar lentigines, medically) are also known as liver spots and sun spots, but whatever their name, you want them gone.
What are age spots? They are painless, flat discolorations of the skin, usually brown, black, or gray, that most often occur on sun-exposed areas: the face, shoulders, chest, upper back, forearms, and the backs of the hands, and result from an excess of pigment, or melanin, in the skin. The also tend to occur more often in those with fair skin, and those who have a history of frequent exposure to the sun or frequent use of tanning beds.
These brown spots can occur at any age, but are more common after the age of 40. They are harmless, although you will want your board-certified dermatologists at Skin Associates of South Florida to examine them to be sure they are safe brown spots and not melanoma. If you notice changes in their color, size, shape, or feel, let us know immediately.
Many over-the-counter (OTC) preparations are available to treat this frustrating condition.
One of the newest ingredients is carrot oil, which contains beta carotene, known to be rich in anti-oxidants that can speed turnover of old skin cells and encourage generation of new ones. Some users claim this works, but others haven’t noticed significant improvement.
Another home preparation is licorice root extract, which contains glabridin, known to even out skin tone and lighten brown spots. This preparation may offer mild improvement of age spots.
Other OTC treatments seem to have more success, assuming they contain non-prescription strength hydroquinone (2%), often used for reducing age spots. These products inhibit melanin production in the skin, but again, sometimes aren’t effective against age spots. Other preparations for home use that could be effective may contain some form of alpha hydroxy acid, kojic acid, glycolic or salicylic acid, or deoxyarbutin.
For more effective treatment, you will want to visit your dermatologist at Skin Associates. We can prescribe bleaching agents that will fade the spots over several months. These creams contain prescription-strength hydroquinone, or retinoids such as tretinoin, or a combination of both. Since both agents make your skin more sensitive to the sun, you will need to wear SPF 50 or higher sunscreen at all times during treatment.
Other possible medical approaches to treating age spots include cryosurgery (lightly freezing with liquid nitrogen), chemical peels, or laser treatments. At Skin Associates we offer the latest in laser and light technology to remove brown spots, including the recently released Cutera Enlighten III, which can safely treat unwanted pigment even on darker skin types.
And to prevent this unsightly damage from forming, follow the rules about avoiding the sun that also apply to preventing wrinkles and skin cancer:
- Always wear sunscreen when outdoors, on reflective surfaces such as the water, beach, snow, white concrete, or when sitting near windows, as the damaging harmful ultra-violet (UV) rays of the sun can penetrate glass. Be sure your sunscreen offers protection against both UVA and UVB rays—look for a product labeled “broad spectrum.”
- Apply sunscreen at least 30 minutes before you’re exposed to the sun, and reapply every two hours, more often if you’re swimming or perspiring.
- Cover up all exposed areas of the body with clothing and a sun hat with a wide brim. Remember, you can get sunburn (and skin cancer) on your scalp, lips, and ears along with everywhere else.