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Age Spots : An Age Old Problem

Updated on January 1, 2017

Age Spots - An Old Age Dilemma?

Age spots, or liver spots as they are sometimes known, are brown or black spots on the face and body. They often look something like large freckles. Usually they appear in areas that are most frequently exposed to the sun such as the backs of hands, face and shoulders, but they can occur anywhere on the body.

Although they are known as age spots they are not actually strictly associated with old age. Many people (including myself) develop age spots from when they are in their 30s. By 40 years of age a large proportion of the adult population has age spots somewhere on their face or body, particularly in parts of the world with a sunny climate.

If like me you have a fair complexion you will be particularly prone to age spots, but they can develop on every type of skin type.

On this page I will provide further information about these annoying marks and also include information about the various treatments for age spots and how effective they are.

Unfortunately, as with most things age spots are best prevented in the first place by wearing a moisturizer with sunscreen. However, even if you already have some age spots you can help prevent further marks developing by ensuring that you always wear adequate sun protection and that you keep out of the sun as much as is possible.

What Do Age Spots Look Like?

Age spots on hand
Age spots on hand

Age spots are usually flat and can look similar to a large freckle. They can be a greyish colour, brown or black. Occasionally they can appear a little flaky, and I have had one or two that became slightly inflamed. Sometimes more than one age spot can appear in the same area making it look like one huge age spot.

Age spots are usually found in places that have had a lot of sun damage. In my case I have age spots (or giant freckles as I prefer to call them!) on the back of my hands, on my forehead, and on my shoulders.

Usually in areas that have age spots you will also notice other signs of sun damage to your skin. This can include the skin looking more wrinkly, drier, and generally having a less youthful appearance.

What Causes Age Spots?

Sun causes age spots
Sun causes age spots

If like me you live in a very hot, sunny climate it is likely that you will develop age spots at a younger age than those in colder climates. (Well, there had to be some price to pay for our beautiful weather!) However, even people in northern europe and other cold climates can develop age spots although they usually occur at an older age than for fair skinned people that live in hot climates.

Age spots are in essence caused by sunshine or the sun's ultra violet rays. As the sun causes our skin to produce more melanin, over time repeated sun exposure can cause the melanin in our skin to group together into darker patches- age spots.

Not all age spots are sun dependent however. Some grouping of melanin can occur simply as a result of advancing age.

Artificial sources of UV light, such as sunbeds and solariums can also cause age spots, particularly in fair skinned people. This is another reason for them to be avoided as well as their danger in relation to causing serious skin cancers such as melanoma.

In reality though, your chance of developing age spots is like your chance of developing stretch marks. It is a genetic inherited tendency and although you can influence whether you get them by avoiding the sun and sunbeds, it is your genetic predisposition to them that will determine whether or not you develop them.

Continues below:

Wear A Moisturizer With Added Sunscreen

These moisturizers are for daily use and include a sunscreen to help prevent you from getting any more age spots. Remember to apply them to your hands too! Click on the image for more information.

Do Age Spots Turn Into Cancer?

skin cancer ribbon
skin cancer ribbon

Here's the good news. Age spots do not turn into cancer, and are not cancerous.

They are a benign type of skin condition. However, if you have age spots there is a good chance that your skin has been exposed to a significant amount of ultra violet light over a prolonged length of time.

Before diagnosing yourself as having age spots you should clarify that this is what they are with your GP or dermatologist. In the part of the world where I live seeing a dermatologist once a year for a full skin cancer check is routine. If this is not the case where you live you should seek out a dermatologist or other doctor with an interest in skin to check that what you have are actually age spots and not something more serious.

In particular you should see a doctor about any new marks on your skin that are dark in color, getting bigger quickly, are larger than the end of a pencil, are itchy or crusting, or which have irregular pigmentation and/or irregular borders.

If in any doubt whatsoever please see your doctor as some forms of skin cancer are potentially very serious if not treated quickly.

When you do see your doctor they can usually tell you very quickly whether what you have is an age spot or not. I have made many such visits to my doctor, and a quick visual inspection has always been enough for diagnosis. If your doctor is in any way unsure about your age spot they might take a very small biopsy to be sent away for testing. This is a very quick procedure and is usually done there and then. In the vast majority of cases though an experienced doctor will be able to assess your skin marks within seconds leaving you free to leave.

Don't assume that new spots are age spots, especially if they look black, are asymmetrical or very uneven in color. You doctor will know in a few seconds if they are age spots or skin cancer, so always get any new marks checked out.

Age Spots Treatment

Creams And Lotions

Age spots are such a common condition that there are a whole range of methods of treating them. I have personally tried several of them under the supervision of my dermatologist.

The first treatment is through the use of creams. These are mainly aimed at bleaching out the discoloration in the skin, effectively bleaching the pigmentation. The treatments that I have been given for these have been creams that include a bleaching agent as well as retin A creams ( a kind of vitamin A treatment), a mild steroid cream, and a cream containing fruit acids. These creams really do seem to work when used over a reasonable period of time. The only thing that I found annoying about them was that you have to remember to use sun protection at all times when using them. Although I always remember sun protection for my face when going about my day to day life as it is already included in my sunscreen I often forget to put sun cream on my hands.

The creams that I used were obtained directly from my dermatologist. However, if you do not have access to a dermatologist there are a large number of over the counter creams that can also help to fade age spots.

Age Spots Treatment

Freezing Or Liquid Nitrogen.

This is another treatment that I have personally used in conjunction with my dermatologist. In my case my dermatologist used something that looked like a large aerosol can to spray a very, very, very cold substance onto one large mark on my arm and one on my forehead.

The first thing about this was that it was painful, in the case of my arm very painful. There was no anesthetic provided and I found it a very uncomfortable procedure whilst it was being done. The one thing that I would say is that it is over very quickly, but that some of the pain does linger, on my arm it was painful for several days.

What this freezing does is create a blister on the skin. This then pops and turns into a scab (just like a burn) and eventually the scab drops off taking the brown mark with it. On my face this worked perfectly. It wasn't too painful and there is absolutely nothing where the mark used to be.

On my arm however it was not so successful. Firstly, the scab did not fall off for over two weeks and in the end only did so when I returned to the dermatologist and she gave me some antibiotic cream. When it did fall off, (and I should stress that this was a very large mark) it left a pale area where the brown mark had previously been. Whilst this area is MUCH less noticeable than the brown mark was there is a definite scar where the mark was. I think on balance I may have been better using the cream for this mark.

Age Spots Treatment

Lasers

I must state here and now that I have not personally had this treatment. However, one of my neighbors and friends has and the improvement has been remarkable. She had a combination of age spots, sun damage and some brown marks on her face that appeared during pregnancy.

She opted for the use of a fraxel laser all over her face.

My friend did tell me that her treatment was painful, she described it as similar to having a mild case of sunburn. This treatment was also not without downtime. For about a week after treatment her face was covered in a strange grid pattern of very dark colored skin. At the end of this time her face peeled.

She repeated this treatment three times over the course of a few months.

Although the treatment was expensive, and did have downtime, it was remarkably successful. Not only were all of the dark marks removed from her face, with it went a good many of her fine lines and wrinkles! Her skin now also looks younger and more vibrant.

Age Spots Treatment

Chemical Peels And Dermabrasion

Chemical peels can remove age spots by removing the top layer of skin. Chemicals similar to fruit acids are applied to the skin in varying strengths and they gently burn through the top layers of skin removing them.. Skin peels away and as new skin grows the age spots are gone. Like with other forms of treatment it is very important to use sun protection during and after this treatment.

In general chemical peels are gentler than another method of removing age spots called dermabrasion. Dermabrasion is where the skin is rubbed or sanded off using a brush that rotates. Although this ultimately results in age spot removal it can be quite harsh and the skin often scabs before healing occurs.

Home Treatments For Age Spots

Above I described various treatments for age spots that you can get at a doctors office (including two I have tried myself). There are also a number of treatments that you can use at home that do not require a prescription. They are very similar to the creams that you can get at a doctors office except they are usually of a lower strength. For some people, especially those with particularly sensitive skin this might actually be a better option than prescription creams.

As the creams are of a lower potency than those you can get at the doctors office you do need to make sure that you use them regularly and for as long as it tells you to on the packaging. Also, you should watch out for any adverse reactions.

If you are looking for an at home treatment you should look for creams with one of the following active ingredients as they are what is commonly used in doctors offices:

  • Hydroquinone
  • Deoxyarbutin
  • Kojic acid
  • Glycolic acid

Choose the cream with the most active ingredient where possible and try to select a cream from a reputable company. Any of the creams shown below can be used to fade age spots.

Do You Know Any Age Spot Treatments? Let my readers know your thoughts...

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    • profile image

      saralim 4 years ago

      Yes, try lemon juice. It's supposed to remove dark spots and aged spots.Its cheap, natural and harmless to your skin

    • ingridpalmer profile image

      ingridpalmer 5 years ago

      Age spots, even though not harmful is unattractive and makes your skin look old. It is best to try natural treatment to lighten and eventually remove the age spots. Some age spots can become cancerous, therefore you have to evaluate them often to see if there are changes to shape size and color.

      Great Lens.

    • profile image

      Alexgreenwood 5 years ago

      Very informative and timely advice. It gives me things to think about.

    • TonyPayne profile image

      Tony Payne 5 years ago from Southampton, UK

      Excellent information. I have a few age spots appearing, as well as some odd rubbery patches of skin, all part of getting old I guess. It would definitely be nice to be able to reduce them. Great job, blessed.

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      Great information on your lens. Thanks

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      Great information on your lens. Thanks

    • profile image

      Natural_Skin_Care 6 years ago

      Thanks for the information about vitamin K. I'm still learning the role in plays in getting rid of age spots.

    • Cari Kay 11 profile image

      Kay 6 years ago

      I actually have some large 'age spots' on my upper legs from using my laptop for so many years. Found out fairly recently these spots are common in people who sit with their computers in their laps. Now I know...sigh...

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 6 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Am happy you put this up here as I have really not done prevention. Now, I try to stay out of the sun.

    • WindyWintersHubs profile image

      WindyWintersHubs 6 years ago from Vancouver Island, BC

      Great Info and Resources!