Age spots are spots on the surface of one’s skin that are black, brown, and sometimes even gray in color. In terms of size, they can be as small as a freckle or even larger than a centimeter in diameter across. Sometimes, there is only one spot. Other times, there are large clusters of them.
They are sometimes referred to as liver spots, but their scientific name is solar lentigines. As the scientific name implies, age spots are typically caused by sun exposure. They frequently appear on areas of skin that have been subject to the sun’s UV rays for extended periods of time.
The most commonly affected areas are shoulders, hands, arms, and face. Age spots tend to appear on persons over 40 years old, but individuals who experience the greatest amount of sun exposure, regardless of age, tend to have them more than others.
Determining a Spot
A skin expert, such as a dermatologist, can determine whether a mark on the skin is truly an age spot, or perhaps something even worse. Age spots are just sections of skin that have increased pigmentation and are generally flat and oval-shaped. More serious spots might be slightly elevated, unusually shaped, and multi-colored.
A medical doctor can determine whether the spot is potentially life-threatening, as in the case of skin cancer, or if it is just a harmless mark. A physician might also perform a biopsy on the skin to confirm if it is cancer. This procedure involves the removal of a small section of skin where the spot developed.
Sunscreen is beneficial in preventing age spots all together. Sunscreens guard the skin against UV rays emitted from the sun. When skin is unprotected, the ultraviolet rays will speed up the production of melanin in skin. The dark pigment in the epidermis is melanin, and it is what gives skin its color.
Heightened melanin production is a natural defense mechanism the body uses to protect skin against dangerous UV rays. Sometimes, individuals on purposely subject themselves to this, in a process we know as tanning. When higher than normal concentrations of melanin form, dark spots are developed on the skin.
Though they are most often caused by sun exposure, age spots can also result naturally from aging, which also increases melanin production. Furthermore, genetic factors can also add to the formation of age spots. An individual who is naturally fair skinned or has freckles are more likely to develop them, since lighter skin naturally has less melanin, and thus less protection against the sun’s rays.
Though age spots are generally harmless, it may not be aesthetically pleasing to most people, and many try to remove them through various treatments. Examples of treatments include dermabrasion, bleaching, facial peels, cryotherapy, and laser treatment.
These treatments tend to be physically unpleasant and costly, so skin specialists highly recommend proactive prevention to avoid age spots. Such options include the use of broad-spectrum sunscreens and keeping out of the sun’s rays during peak hours when UVA and UVB rays are prominent.
Photo Credit: Total Dermatology Irvine CA