Age Spots: Prevention & Treatment Options
Age spots (also referred to as “sun spots” or solar lentigines) are flat brown spots that are caused when the skin is chronically exposed to ultraviolet (UV) light, either from the sun or from tanning beds. This spotting occurs after cells in the skin react to UV exposure by overproducing melanin in just one area instead of uniformly across the skin, causing the area to appear darker than surrounding areas. Age spots commonly form on areas of the body that are most frequently exposed to the sun, like the face, hands, neck, décolletage area, arms and legs.
While commonly mistaken for moles, melasma or other precancerous pigmentation, age spots are not a precursor to cancer and are not harmful to your health. They can, however, affect a person’s cosmetic appearance especially over time as the spots begin to increase in number and darken.
Can age spots be prevented?
Nearly everyone who is exposed to the sun will develop some degree of spotting over their lifetime. Individuals who have lighter skin tones are most susceptible to age spots and may start to notice their development as early as their 20’s. As you can guess, age spots are also more noticeable on lighter skin.
There is, however, one effective way to stall the development of age spots: limit your skin’s exposure to UV rays. This means wearing a high SPF brand spectrum sunscreen daily, avoiding the outdoors during peak UV hours, and wearing a wide brimmed hat or UV resistant apparel when stepping outside.
Treatment options for age spots
Fortunately, there are many great treatments that can reduce the appearance of age spots. Treatment options, from skin care products and in-office procedures, vary in both intensity and effectiveness.
Topical Skin Care Products
Currently, there are a variety of skin care products dedicated to counteracting age spots (among other pigmentation issues) and brightening the skin:
- Exfoliating the skin using an AHA, BHA, or Glycolic Acid containing scrub can help lighten minor sunspots by removing upper layers of the skin (including excess pigment).
- The use of a vitamin C anti-aging product can help prevent future age spots by reducing the skin’s overall production of pigmentation
- Retinol or retinoids like prescription strength Retina-A work to both exfoliate and brighten the skin.
- Hydroquinone based skin lightening creams can lighten sun spots.
Individuals with moderate to severe age spots may require more intensive in-office treatment options that are administered by a skin care professional. Common professional treatments include:
- Cosmelan Mask: Cosmelan is a non-invasive skin lightening treatment that peels away surface pigment (i.e. age spots) while also blocking the enzyme involved in melanin production from creating further pigmentation. Learn more about Cosmelan
- Chemical Peels: Chemical peels are topically applied formulas that revitalize the skin surface by creating an even and controlled shedding of the skin cells; replacing sunspot affected skin with pigment free under layers. There are different types of chemical peels that vary in terms of strength. Learn more about chemical peels
- Laser Treatments: Skin resurfacing laser treatments use wavelengths of laser light to cause controlled wounding to the skin. The process can remove age spots and promote the growth of new healthy and youthful appearing skin. Common lasers include Fraxel, Clear + Brilliant, and ActiveFX. Learn more about laser skin resurfacing
- Microdermabrasion: A non-invasive procedure that removes the upper layers of the skin through controlled physical exfoliation. Microdermabrasion uses a handheld device that is guided over the skin to provide light abrasion. The device also features suction mechanism that removes sloughed off skin as it passes, removing pigment containing skin cells. Learn more about microdermabrasion
- Cryotherapy: Also called liquid nitrogen therapy, cryotherapy involves the freezing of specific age spots by a dermatologist. The freezing of age spot-stricken skin results in a peeling off of the heavily pigmented layers. Additionally, cryotherapy can work to lower the skin’s production of melanin by diminishing the number of melanocytes in the treated area.