Your doctor told you that the brown spots that suddenly appear on your skin are nothing to worry about, just age spots. This is great news.
But if you don’t like the way they look, you may be wondering how you got those spots, how to get rid of them, and how to prevent more.
Age spots, sometimes called liver spots or solar lentigines, develop after exposure to UV rays, says dermatologist Amy Kassouf. They can be tan, brown, or black in color, vary in size, and usually appear on areas most exposed to the sun, such as the face, arms, shoulders, and hands.
“Age spots are common in adults over 50,” says Dr. Kassouf. “But young people can get them if they spend a lot of time in the sun or use sunbeds.”
How are age spots formed?
Your skin contains melanin, which gives your skin its color. And when your skin is exposed to UV rays, melanin turns tan.
Dr. Kassouf says age spots occur when melanin accumulates or is released in excess in the skin, such as when your skin is exposed to too much UV light.
Anyone can develop age spots, but you are more likely to develop them if you have light or pale skin or if you have frequent or intense sun exposure or sunburn.
Older women have less melanin in their skin and are more prone to age spots and sun damage.
If you notice any spots that are enlarged or change in size, are multi-colored, or bleed, see a dermatologist. These can be cancerous and should be treated immediately.
How to prevent age spots
Sometimes the best place to start is before age spots develop. Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen to prevent them from forming in the first place or to keep them from recurring. Mineral sunscreens that contain zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are best for our skin and the environment. But don’t forget sunscreen, a hat, and sunglasses! If you drive a lot, you may want to get a UV protection cover for your driver’s side window.
What can be done about age spots?
If you are not happy with the appearance of age spots, they can be removed or removed. Pigments are located at the base of the epidermis, the topmost layer of the skin, so any treatment aimed at eradicating age spots must penetrate this layer of skin.
Age spot treatment includes:
A lightening cream (hydroquinone) used alone or in combination with a retinoid (tretinoin) and a mild steroid can gradually fade spots over several months.
Lasers and intense pulsed light treatments can target melanin granules and melanin-producing cells (melanocytes) without damaging the skin’s surface.
Freezing, or cryotherapy, involves applying liquid nitrogen or another freezing agent to age spots to destroy extra pigment.
Laser resurfacing that removes sun-damaged cells, rejuvenates the skin, and removes blemishes.
A chemical peel involves applying an acid to the aging spots that removes the outer layer of the skin.
These procedures can have side effects, so be sure to discuss them with your dermatologist, says Dr. Kassouf. She says it’s important to make sure your dermatologist is specifically trained and experienced in the technique you’re considering.
You can buy over-the-counter age spot creams and lotions at department stores, drugstores, and online. These can improve the appearance of age spots, Dr. Kassouf says, depending on how much they darken and apply the cream.
“It may take several weeks or months of regular, regular use to see noticeable results,” he says.
Dr. Kassouf says that when shopping for an over-the-counter blurring cream, choose one that contains hydroquinone, glycolic acid, or kojic acid. Some of these products, especially those containing hydroquinone, can cause skin irritation.