All About Age Spots

What are age spots?

Our bodies age due to our genetic make-up and our lifestyle choices and environment. We cannot do much about the natural aging process but we can control factors like sun exposure. Age spots are more common in older people, although they may develop at an earlier age.

Age spots are largely a manifestation of skin photoaging that depends upon the degree of sun exposure and on the amount of melanin in the skin. People with a history of exposure to intensive sun and tanning booths, live in sunny geographical areas, and have fair skin will experience the greatest amount of ultraviolet radiation (UVR) skin damage.

What causes age spots?

Scientists are trying to elucidate the physiological cause of age spots. Theories include UVR damage which causes an increase in the number of melanocytes (cells containing melanin), a reduced removal of melanin from the skin surface, and an impairment in the proliferation/differentiation program of keratinocytes (epidermal cells found on the skin surface which contain keratin).

What parts of the body do age spots appear most?

Age spots - also called lentigines, lentigos or liver spots are most commonly found on the face and back of the hands which are the most sun-exposed parts of the body. These skin lesions are sharply defined, rounded, brown or black, flat patches of skin.

What are the best ways to minimize development age spots?

The best ways to minimize age spots are to protect yourself from intensive sun exposure and avoid tanning booths.

To get the protection you need, you must apply sunscreen every day before you go outside and reapply every 2 hours or after water sports.

  • Apply a sunscreen that is:
    • Broad-spectrum protection
    • SPF 30 or higher
    • Water resistance
  • Cover your skin with UV-protective clothing
  • Wear a hat
  • Wear sunglasses

What are the best ways to treat age spots?

The best ways to treat age spots are to:

  • Look for an over the counter topical skincare product that contains one of the following ingredients:
    • 2% hydroquinone
    • Azelaic acid
    • Glycolic acid
    • Kojic acid
    • Retinoid (retinol, adapalene gel)
    • Vitamin C
  • Talk to your doctor about the following prescription topical products:
  • Retinoids (tretinoin or tazarotene)

Topical azelaic acid, glycolic acid, and kojic acid are safe in pregnancy. Avoid retinoids and hydroquinone during pregnancy.

  • See a board-certified dermatologist to discuss the following in office procedures that treat age spots more quickly than topical products:
  • Laser treatment
  • Cryotherapy
  • Microdermabrasion
  • Chemical peeling

Have age spots evaluated by a doctor to confirm that they are not cancerous. Warning signs include:

  • changes in size, shape or color of a mole or other skin lesion
  • the appearance of a new growth on the skin
  • a sore that doesn't heal
  • ulceration or bleeding of a mole or other skin lesion
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