Age spots are flat, brown, black, or gray spots on the skin. They vary in size and usually appear on the face, shoulders, arms and hands. Most age spots are harmless and do not require treatment, even though they look cancerous. They usually appear on adults over the age of 40, but can appear on people younger.
Causes of Age Spots
Over-exposure to the sun, especially without the use of sun block is the main cause of age spots. Ultraviolet light increases the production of melanin, which is the darkening pigment in the skin. This creates darker colored spots on the skin.
Other than exposure to the sun, growing old can also cause age spots, because of the body’s naturally increased production of melanin. Genetics also plays a role.
Age spots are usually flat oval areas of the skin that have increased pigment color. They can be black, brown or gray and appear on the parts of skin that have the most sun exposure such as the tops of feet, cheekbones, shoulders, upper back, and the backs of hands.
There are several other symptoms that can occur along with age spots including deep wrinkles, red veins, dry or rough skin, and a translucent skin color.
Even though most age spots are harmless and do not need treatment, you should still consult a doctor. A doctor will be able to tell you whether they are harmless or a sign of melanoma. You should see your doctor if the spot is darkly pigmented, has an irregular border, is increasing in size, or has an unusual color.
Tests and Diagnosis
The easiest way for a doctor to diagnose age spots is with a simple visual inspection. However, if he cannot determine that the age spot is harmless on sight, he may have to perform a biopsy. During a biopsy, the doctor will take a small piece of your skin and analyze it in a microscope.
Age Spot Removal & Treatments
There are numerous treatments that can remove or lighten the appearance of age spots. These include medication, laser therapy, freezing, dermabrasion, and chemical peels.
There are several types of medications that can be prescribed to treat age spots. Your doctor can prescribe you a special bleaching cream or a retinoid to fade the age spots over several months. If you are taking the medication approach, it is important to have strong sun protection.
Laser therapy tends to be more expensive than the other treatment options, but has limited side effects. Laser therapy will destroy the darker pigments without causing harm to the surrounding skin. This however, may need to be performed over several sessions.
Cryotherapy or freezing is also an option, however it can cause permanent scarring and discoloration. With this treatment, the doctor injects a freezing agent into the age spots to destroy the extra pigment. This is typically only done if you have a small group of age spots.
Mircodermabrasion removes the top layer of skin by sanding it down. This can cause redness and temporary scabbing, which eventually heals and is replaced by new skin.
A chemical peel can help to fade age spots, although it usually takes several sessions to see any results. A chemical peel basically burns the top layer of your skin off with an acid. Strong sun protection is necessary after this treatment option.