Solar lentigenes is the medical term for those pesky spots that we often refer to as liver spots, sun spots or age spots. These spots of darker skin may appear on anyone and are a common occurrence in most individuals by the time they reach 40.
Age spots are generally flat and may range in color from deep yellow to gray, brown or black. They vary in size, but tend to be small and can be found on areas such as the face, arms, shoulders and hands – those areas most exposed to the sun. Although they may look like cancerous growths, age spots don’t need treatment as they are harmless. However, if their appearance bothers you, they may be treated. Various ingredients are available to treat age spots, but your best bet is to prevent their development in the first place by limiting your sun exposure and using sunscreen.
Who Develops Age Spots?
Age spots develop as a result of melanin production due to sun exposure. Individuals with a fair complexion are more prone to age spots, but even those with darker skin may develop them. They are often accompanied by other signs of skin damage including thinning, translucent skin; deep wrinkles; dry, rough skin and fine red veins on the cheeks, nose and ears.
Age Spots Treatment
Age spots may be treated in a number of ways:
- Topical Treatments. Often referred to as bleaching creams, products containing hydroquinone, kojic acid, alpha hydroxy acids or other botanical skin lighteners (link) can help to fade spots. Adding a prescription retinoid or non –prescription retinol as found in Green Cream can hasten the process. As well, Vitamin C, in concentrations over 5% have been shown to lighten pigmentation. Our article on skin lightening provides useful tips and recommendations
- Chemical Peels. By removing the top layer of skin and allowing new skin to form, age spots can be faded. Several treatments by a qualified skin care professional may be necessary to see results
- Laser treatment. Works to destroy extra melanoncytes (pigment producing skin cells). While effective it can be expensive
- Cryotherapy (freezing) involves the use of liquid nitrogen to destroy excess pigmentation. Skin appears lighter as the area heals, but this process does come with the slight risk of permanent scarring or discoloration. Take care if you scar easily
- Dermabrasion. A process that involves removal of the skin’s surface layer with a rapidly rotating brush. The result is a new layer of skin that grows in its place. Redness and temporary scab formation may accompany dermabrasion.
When To See A Doctor
Although not cosmetically appealing, age spots tend to be harmless so medical attention generally isn’t required. However, if your age spots are very dark or their appearance has changed, it may be a sign of skin cancer. Have your physician check it out if the spot:
- Is Darkly pigmented or has an unusual color combination
- Is Growing rapidly
- Has an irregular border