Age spots, also known as sun spots, liver spots or solar lentigines, are flat dark areas which are found on the skin. The sizes vary, and usually appear on areas of the body that are exposed to the sun, e.g., face, shoulders, arms and hands.
Age spots should not be confused with freckles, because freckles are hereditary, appear quite early in life and most times fade away in later life.
Adults older than 50 are more susceptible to getting age spots, but young people can also get them if they spend long periods under the direct sun. Age spots are actually a sign that the skin has been overexposed to direct sun light, and the spots are the body’s way to protect itself from more sun damage.
Age spots have certain characteristics such as:
- they are usually tan to dark brown.
- they are flat, oval shaped areas which have increased pigmentation.
- age spots range in size from tiny dots to about 12mm in diameter.
- they tend to appear grouped together, making them more prominent.
- they occur over the years on exposed areas of skin, e.g., on the face, shoulders, arms, upper back, and the tops of hands and feet.
What causes age spots?
Our skin has a natural skin pigment called melanin, which is produced by special skin cells called melanocytes. All humans have the same number of melanocytes, but some people produce more or less of it, making them darker or fairer.
When you are exposed to direct sun light, your body automatically produces more melanin in the exposed areas as a natural protection from harmful UV (ultraviolet) rays. Over time, these areas become age spots.
However, this additional melanin is not sufficient to offer total protection against UV rays, as your skin is damaged if it turns slightly darker or you get sunburnt. Hence it is always important to cover up and apply sunscreen.
Frequent visits to tanning salons can also cause age spots and damage skin further, though this is not popular in Malaysia as we have loads of natural sunlight to get sufficiently tanned.
Medical research data shows light skinned people and those with long exposure periods under the sun have a higher percentage of developing age spots.
Are age spots cancerous?
Though age spots sometimes resemble certain types of skin cancer, medical practitioners have confirmed age spots are not cancerous.
As prolonged periods of sun exposure makes skin cancer more likely to develop, it is important to be aware of the differences in age spots and skin cancer.
Age spots are similar to precancerous actinic keratosis (AK) growths, with a difference. Age spots are flat where else AK growths have a rough texture.
A dermatologist will be able to distinguish the two, and offer suitable treatment options.
Can age spots be prevented?
Yes, it is possible to prevent age spots. Here are a few options that you should discuss further with a qualified dermatologist:
Stay out of the sun during the hottest parts of the day, usually from 10a.m. to 2p.m.
Apply sunscreen with a minimum protection of SPF 30 to exposed skin daily. Check that the label states the sunscreen is water resistant and has UVA and UVB protection. Reapply sunscreen every 2 hours or after sweating or a swim.
Avoid tanning salons, even if you feel your fair skin looks pale.
Cover up the head and body to reduce exposure to direct sunlight. Look for clothing labeled with UV protection factor (UPF) of 40 to 50 as they provide the best protection from direct sunlight.
Treatments to remove age spots
After consultation and diagnosis, your dermatologist will determine the correct treatment for your age spots. The options include medications, laser treatment, freezing, dermabrasion, microdermabrasion, chemical peels, etc.
Note that these are not DIY procedures and should only be done by a qualified dermatologist in sterile conditions to minimize infection. Bear in mind the costs involved, as the procedures need to be done repeatedly until the desired result is achieved.
For home treatments, there are many OTC (over the counter) whitening creams and lotions available to lighten age spots. Make sure you read the instructions thoroughly before starting off. Check with your doctor first if you are on medication for other health issues.
We hope this article has provided our readers some general insight on age spots. The information provided is not to be taken as medical advice and readers, especially those on medication, are always advised to consult their doctor or a registered dermatologist for further information.
22nd August 19:50 2020