In Ask a Dermatologist, Skin Care

What are age spots?

Age spots are brown, gray or black spots that appear on the skin. They are usually the same texture as the skin, just differ in color from other areas. Age spots are also referred to as sun spots, solar lentigines and senile lentigines. They are also sometimes called liver spots, due to the fact that they were once incorrectly believed to be caused by liver malfunction.

This skin discoloration can appear in any area of the skin exposed to the sun, most typically on the hands, arms, shoulders, face and scalp. Spots can range in dimension from freckle size to a half inch and may be spread out or appear grouped together on the skin. In most cases, sunspots are not harmful and require no treatment, though they may cause cosmetic concerns for some.

What causes age spots?

Despite their name, age spots are not necessarily caused by age. They occur because of sun exposure over time. Ultraviolet (UV) light triggers the overproduction of skin pigment called melanin. Many people do not develop age spots until age 50 or older because of cumulative time spent in the sun over many years.

One way to assess a patient’s sun exposure history is to compare the skin on a patient’s rear to the skin on their chest or face. The skin is the same age, but it typically looks 100% different.

Who gets age spots?

While age spots do not typically appear until middle age or older, it is possible for a younger person to develop them if they experience excessive sun exposure. Those who frequent tanning beds, for example, may develop sunspots at a younger age.

Age spots can occur in anyone, but there are several risk factors that may increase the likelihood of developing the condition. Redheads with fair skin have a higher chance of developing sun spots, as well as anyone who experiences prolonged sun exposure or sunburns.

How can I prevent age spots?

Age spots are very preventable. Wearing sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher will not only help you avoid sun spots but lower your risk for skin cancer as well. Always look for “broad-spectrum” protection on sunscreen labels to ensure you are protected from all of the sun’s harmful rays.

Also, be aware that the sun is most intense from 10 a.m to 2 p.m, so limit outdoor activities during this time of day. You can also help prevent age spots by covering the skin and wearing a broad-brim hat. Consider clothing with SPF if you are prone to sunburns.

How can I treat or remove age spots?

Though age spots are not harmful and do not require medical treatment, some may want to remove them due to their appearance. Topical bleaching creams can be helpful in fading sunspots. However, these work gradually, so you must be patient. It may take 6 to 12 months to fully fade the discoloration. There are also medical procedures that help diminish the appearance of age spots quickly and effectively.

Columbia Skin Clinic offers these effective methods for fading sun spots and reducing the appearance of sun-damaged skin:

Our dermatologists can help you determine the best treatment based on your spots and specific skin type.

When should I see a dermatologist about age spots?

If you notice any changes in a mole or spot on your skin, it is a good idea to visit a skin specialist, especially for people over 50. The majority of age spots are not harmful to your health, yet some spots that look like age spots may be a form of skin cancer.

Watch for these symptoms on or near an age spot:

  • Does not respond to topical treatments
  • Bleeding or redness occurs
  • Itching or tingling
  • A change in color or size
  • Irregular border
  • Raised texture in relation to the surrounding area of skin
  • An unusual combination of colors

Whether you have concerns about your skin or you are seeking to remove unsightly age spots, Columbia Skin Clinic is here to help. Our board-certified dermatologists diagnose skin conditions and will walk you through treatment options. Schedule a dermatology appointment at one of our convenient locations in Columbia, Irmo and Camden.

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