You’re used to seeing changes in your skin. You fought acne in your teens, started looking for wrinkles in your 30s. Now, you notice another change.
Freckle-like spots have appeared on your face, neck and hands. At first, you thought it was cancer. But, these flat, dark areas don’t seem to match the ABCDEs of skin cancer.
So what are they?
These benign lesions are known as age spots, sun spots or liver spots. No matter what you choose to call them, these dark patches can be an unwelcome rite of passage as you age.
What causes age spots? The sun’s rays, tanning beds and exposure to other types of ultraviolet (UV) rays stimulate an overproduction of melanin, the hormone that causes your skin to tan. In your 40s and 50s, your melanin levels decrease. The combination of UV ray stimulation and the decrease in your overall pigmentation can have you seeing spots, especially if you have fair skin.
But even if you avoid UV rays, it may not be enough. Recently, the Journal of Investigative Dermatology associated traffic-related air pollution with facial lentigines or liver spots.
Are age spots cancerous? No, typically, they’re not cancerous. But, if you notice any spot or mole that begins to grow, change color, develops uneven edges or becomes asymmetrical, you should call your healthcare clinician for a skin cancer screening.
How do you get rid of age spots? A quick Internet search will reveal many home remedies. Some of these may cause unwanted side effects. It’s best to work with an experienced and respected dermatologist or plastic surgeon for the safe, medical removal of age spots. Your healthcare provider may use:
- Chemical peels, which use a chemical solution to remove the top layer of skin.
- Cryosurgery to freeze the age spot with a nitrogen solution.
- Dermabrasion, which is a dermatologically-sound method of sanding off the skin where age spot appears.
- Laser resurfacing to remove the spot. This technique speeds healing and reduces scarring since the skin produces collagen in response to laser’s heat.
- Medicated creams to fade age spots.
Prevention is better than treatment. Always use a broad-spectrum SPF 30 sunblock when you go outside— even if you are just driving. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, driving without sunscreen exposes your hands to UV-A rays through the car’s windows.
Simply washing your face, neck and arms in the evening also may help you reduce the appearance of age spots caused by air-borne pollutants.
Age spots are flat, dark, non-cancerous areas where melanin builds up in the skin due to the exposure to ultraviolet rays from the sun, tanning beds or UV lights. They are not dangerous, but as with any spot on your skin, visit your healthcare clinician if you notice changes. If you would like to have the spots removed, find a physician or an advanced care provider in your area who specializes in the treatment of age spots. You can search for a clinician at ministryhealth.org/finadoctor or affinityhealth.org/findadoctor.
Please share this article with someone who has questions about age spots.