As humans, we are subjected to all kinds of health conditions which can affect our brain, hair, the respiratory system, skin, etc. And speaking of skin, one of the most notable conditions are age spots. Although harmless, they can prove to be a huge burden on the victim. This is the reason many do all they can to get rid of them. In this article, we will look more at this skin condition.
What are Age Spots?
These are flat spots that can be seen on the skin. They are usually black or brown in color depending on the person, and their size can be different as well. Mostly, they can be seen in areas that are in constant exposure to the sun like the neck, face, forearms and the back of the hands. Anyone can suffer from age spots; however, it is those over the age of 40 who make the majority of the victims.
Age spots can also be referred to as sun spots or liver spots. Despite the name liver, age spots have nothing to do with the liver.
Because of their nature, they can easily be mistaken for skin cancer. It is also because of the very same reason that they make detection of skin cancer difficult especially in people with dark skin. However, it must be noted that age spots do not lead to cancer.
Subtypes of Age Spots
Age spots can be classified into three groups depending on their nature. Some of these will have the haracteristics of skin cancer which is what makes it a good idea to be diagnosed by a dermatologist.
Here are the subtypes:
- Cherry hemangiomas: These are very small and can be seen anywhere on the body and are usually red in color.
Studies have showed that these are caused by an overgrowth of blood vessels in the skin.
- Lentigines: These range in size and will usually be seen in sun-exposed areas like the face and hands. They are usually flat.
- Seborrheic Keratoses: These can be flat or raised or raised and they are dark brown or black in color. They are a result of genetics or excessive sun exposure.
What are the Causes of Age Spots?
As said before, age spots can affect anyone. However, they are common in people over the age of 40. From research conducted so far, age spots are a result of excessive production of melanin. This is what gives us skin color. What causes melanin to be produced excessively is not clearly known.
Here are some of the causes of age spots:
- Aging: It is believed that aging contributes to liver spots hence being common in elderly people.
- Sunlight: The sun has dangerous Ultraviolet rays which are thought to be what contribute to the occurrence of age spots.
- Tanning Beds: It has been observed that those who use tanning beds are at a higher risk of suffering from this.
- Genetics: some people have a genetic predisposition to have this condition. For example people with fair skin have a genetic structure that makes their skin more prone to formation of the spots.
What are the Symptoms of Age Spots?
Although many worry when they get age spots, the truth is that these are completely harmless. And as said earlier, they do not even lead to other conditions like skin cancer. The only problem might be that they can affect ones confidence.
Below are some of the symptoms of age spots:
- Spots on skin – These can be seen anywhere on the body and are usually brown or black in color. They vary in size depending on the individual affected.
- Painless – Age spots do not torture the victim with any kind of pain.
How are Age Spots Diagnosed?
Diagnosis of age spots can be tricky especially to the untrained eye. But even for well experienced dermatologists, it is not always easy to tell if one has age spots or another condition. That is why other tests are usually carried out.
Here is how Age Spots are diagnosed:
- Looking At The Skin: Mostly, a dermatologist will be able to tell if you have age spots simply by looking at your skin. With years of experience, this is very easy for them. But there are some skin colors which can make this process difficult.
- Skin Biopsy: Since age spots can be mistaken for skin cancer, skin biopsy is sometimes carried out. Small piece of skin from the affected area is taken for examination.
Age Spots Treatment
Usually, treatment for age spots is not necessary. However, a person may not be comfortable living with this condition. This is when the issue of treatment comes into question. The good thing is that it is possible to treat this condition. Your dermatologist will discuss with you the available options and advise which one might be more appropriate for your skin type.
People who seek treatment for age spots are usually too embarrassed to be in public. It is not surprising then to know that simply getting treatment for this could raise one’s self-esteem.
Here are some of the common forms of treatment:
- Bleaching Lotions: This is one of the most common forms of treatment. However, results are not always immediate and usually take months to start showing. Adding to that, you are supposed to wear sunscreen during the whole time as these lotions make the skin sensitive to ultraviolet light. You should also know that most bleaching creams use hydroquinone – although safe, it is known to cause blisters in some people.
- Chemical Peel: This burns the outer layer of the skin making way for new cells to grow and replace the ones that had age spots.
- Freezing: You might also know it as cryotherapy or laser treatment. It is also a very reliable way of treating this condition. Its purpose is to destroy melanin which produces the dark color.
- Dermabrasion: includes usage of rotating brush in order to remove outer layer of the skin.
- Laser treatment: destroys cells that produce melanin. The treatment usually requires a few visits to dermatologist, but it makes age spots fade away.
Are Age Spots Trigged by a Diet?
Many say we are what we eat. And to a large extent, that is very true. What is also true is that our diet plays a big part in determining how our skin will look like. This is why some might think a diet has something to do with age spots.
Since some of the causes of age spots are not known, it could be true that a diet might cause age spots. For now, however, we should not speculate. There is no scientific study that proves that age spots are caused by a diet. In future, perhaps, when more research will be done on this, we might be able to say whether or not a diet causes age spots.
However, it is always recommended to stay away from junk food and include fresh fruits and vegetables in order to provide your skin with essential vitamins and minerals.
What are the Prevention Tips for Age Spots?
Preventing age spots is not that hard. You just need to understand the causes and use that information to protect yourself. Here are some tips you can follow:
- Cover your skin by wearing such things as hats or long-sleeved shirts.
- Wear glasses to protect your eyes.
- Avoiding the sun when it is strongest, this is usually from 10am to 2pm.
- Only use high quality sunscreen with SPF rating of 30 and above.
Dos and Don’ts
- Don’t stay in the sun when it is hottest. Like said above, this is usually from 10am to 2pm. And when you do sit in the sun, do not go beyond 30 minutes – staying longer in the sun will not give you more vitamin D.
- Do wear sunscreen whenever you are in the sun. It is advised that you put on your sunscreen 30 minutes before heading out. You should then reapply every 2 hours. And if you happen to be swimming, you should do it often.
- Do wear long-sleeved shirts and long skits. This will block much of the ultraviolet rays from the sun.
- Don’t use tanning beds excessively. It has been shown that those who use this are at an increased risk of getting age spots.
- Do have age spots evaluated by a dermatologist. You might think since they are harmless, then it might not be a big deal making the diagnosis yourself. But in some situations, this could be skin cancer. And for your information, early treatment is the best way of fighting cancer. So if you stay too long, it might progress to an incurable condition.
Frequently Asked Question’s (FAQ’s)
What is the medical term for age spots?
The medical term for age spots is liver spots or solar lentiginosis. Despite having the reference to liver, there is no connection between the two.
Do age spots appear anyway as we age?
Even though they affect elderly people (hence the name) there are ways to prevent their appearance by not exposing your skin to harmful UV rays.
Do all age spots look the same?
No. They can be brown, black, or in case of cherry hemangiomas even red. The size of age spots varies too and it can go from freckle-like size to more than ½ inch.
Is age spot cancerous?
Age spot is not cancerous and it doesn’t require medical treatment. However, it is advised to visit dermatologist to make sure the spots are not the result of other skin conditions.
Is age spot hereditary?
Yes, some people are genetically predisposed to develop age spots. It can even happen during young age, but the spots are in most cases related to people aged 40 and older.
Does the age spot affect self-esteem?
Age spots are harmless, but people do feel self-conscious about them and that is the primary reason why they visit dermatologist and ask about the most successful treatments. It is because they appear on face or other parts of body that are exposed to sun (and looks of other people) which plays a big part on person’s confidence.
Are melanoma spots similar to age spots?
Melanoma spots and age spots are quite similar and it is usually hard to tell the difference. Melanoma is indicated by asymmetrical spots with irregular border and spots tend to show different colors.
Will there be scarring from using laser treatment to remove age spots or brown blemishes?
Laser treatment does not leave scars. Its purpose is to destroy cells which produce melanin without causing any damage to your face.
Can I have treatment for age spots if I’m pregnant?
You can. Treatments for age spots do not go farther than the skin which means they cannot reach or harm the baby in any way.
Age spots are a common skin condition that usually affects elderly people, but due to genetic structure they can affect younger people as well. They are completely harmless, but it is important to visit dermatologist in order to make sure you do not have melanoma (because they look similar).
- James, William D.; Berger, Timothy G.; et al. (2006). Andrews’ Diseases of the Skin: Clinical Dermatology. Saunders Elsevier.
- Rapini, Ronald P.; Bolognia, Jean L.; Jorizzo, Joseph L. (2007). Dermatology: 2-Volume Set. St. Louis: Mosby.
- Karen J. Carlson, Stephanie A. Eisenstat, Terra Diane Ziporyn, The new Harvard guide to women’s health, Harvard University Press, 2004