01 Jul What Causes Age Spots?
The brown spots that seem to be increasing with age are known by a lot of names including sun spots, simply “brown spots” or “age spots,” liver spots, hyperpigmentation, solar lentigines, and sun damage. Many patients visit Spectrum Dermatology because they are concerned brown spots might be cancerous or pre-cancerous, or simply for aesthetic concerns and to have the spots removed. Brown spots are usually small areas of the skin that are darker, but can vary in size, shape, and color.
Age spots are most common in those aged 50+ but can appear at any time in your life. They are more common in those with fair skin and who have a history of excess, unprotected sun exposure. Genuine age spots are harmless, but they can be mistaken for skin cancer by the layperson and that is why it’s important to schedule annual skin checks with your dermatologist.
Why Age Spots Happen
Age spots occur when your skin protects itself from dangerous UV rays. When pigment cells in the skin become overactive in response to UV rays, melanin production increases in those areas and appears “clumped” over time. The production of more melanin is your skin’s only defense against sun damage and sun rays. However, age spots can take years to develop. You might notice more brown spots immediately after spending a lot of time in the sun, but that is just the earliest symptom of your body’s defense against UV rays. It’s common for age spots to take years or even decades to become visible after the sun exposure that caused them. This is how they earned the name “age spots.” We tend to have more of them show the older we get.
Age spots and freckles are two different types of hyperpigmentation. Age spots are exclusively caused by sun exposure, whereas freckles can occur in those with virtually no unprotected sun exposure. Age spots also look different than freckles because they are usually oval-shaped, often grouped together (which can make them more noticeable), and range in size up to 0.5 inches (whereas freckles are much smaller). Unsurprisingly, age spots are most often found on parts of the body that get the most sun exposure including the tops of the hands and feet, face, upper back, and shoulders.
Should You See a Dermatologist About Age Spots?
Sun spots aren’t dangerous, but since it’s easy for a non-professional to misdiagnose age spots it’s always a good idea to see a dermatologist when you notice changes in your skin. Any spot that looks especially dark, is changing in size, has an irregular border, a combination of colors, or bleeds requires immediate attention from a dermatologist. This is a possible sign of skin cancer. There are various types of skin cancer, with melanoma being the deadliest. A quick diagnosis and treatment are the best approach to a full recovery with minimal invasive treatments.
Of course, you can also see a dermatologist if you want to remove or minimize age spots for aesthetic reasons. There are various treatments available including chemical peels and laser skin rejuvenation, both of which can dramatically improve the appearance of the skin and lighten age spots. These treatments simultaneously tighten lax skin, ensuring a more youthful, healthy appearance.
Stop Age Spots Before They Start
No matter your age, it’s never too late to stop future age spots from occurring. Wear medical-grade broadband sunscreen and reapply liberally every 75 minutes any time you’re exposed to UV rays. This includes through windows, so be mindful while in your car or sitting in a sunny room. Try to avoid the sun entirely between 10 a.m. – 2 p.m., because that’s when the sun’s rays are strongest.
Covering up can provide the best protection from the sun. Opt for tightly woven clothes that cover your limbs, a broad brimmed hat, and sunglasses. For those who are especially mindful of UV protection, there are even some clothes that provide sun protection between 40 – 50 SPF. Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the US, and even though genuine sun spots aren’t skin cancer they’re still a sign of sun damage. Schedule your annual skin check today or make an appointment for the aesthetic removal of sun spots by calling Spectrum Dermatology at (480) 948-8400.