How To Understand Age Spots

Age spots, also commonly known as liver spots or sun spots, are those flat, brownish black skin discolorations that are often seen on people who are advancing in years.  Age spots tend to appear on skin that receives a lot of sun exposure, including the back of the hands, forearms, feet, and shoulders as well as the neck and face (particularly the forehead).  Just for the record, even though age spots are sometimes referred to as liver spots, they have nothing to do with your liver.  Here are a few points that will help you to better understand age spots:

  1. The skin produces melanin in an effort to protect itself from ultraviolet rays.  Age spots are basically an excess of melanin concentrated in one area.  Age spots rarely appear in areas that have not been exposed to the sun. 

  • Skin thins as we age.  Because our skin thins as we age, it becomes less elastic and more fragile. Also, the thinner our skin, the more translucent, thus making age spots easier to discern.
  • Some photosensitive chemical compounds can make your skin more sensitive to ultraviolet light.  The photosensitive chemical compounds known as psoralens occur naturally in plants such as limes, lemons, parsley, figs, celery and parsnips.  Because these compounds are photosensitive, they make your skin more sensitive when you go out in the sun, and thus more likely to produce age spots.  Musk or bergamot oil has a similar effect, as does the antibiotic, tetracycline.  Some diuretics and antipsychotic medicines also have a similar effect.  It is best to wash one's hands after handling foods with psoralens in them and to avoid sun exposure when taking medicines that make the skin more photosensitive.
  • Age spots vs. skin cancer.  Look on the bright side:  You have age spots, not malignant skin cancer (melanoma).  Still, age spots are indicative of sun damage, and at times, can even mask or hide the early stages of skin cancer.  Thus, you should consult a doctor if anything looks out of the ordinary about an age spot.
  • Treatment options generally include using creams or having the spots surgically removed.  Creams include:
    • Bleaching creams
    • Fading creams
    • Medicated creams
    • Chemical peels

    and surgical options include:

    • Cryotherapy
    • Laser therapy

  • The least invasive way to deal with age spots is to prevent them from developing in the first place.  Because smoking contributes to skin damage, you should stop smoking.  You should also protect yourself from the sun.  Here are the best ways to protect yourself from the sun:
    • Wear protective clothing such as a hat, long-sleeved shirt and gloves.
    • Wear sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher.  Reapply sunscreen liberally.
    • Avoid midday sun.
  • Although I am not yet old enough to have age spots myself, and I may change my mind once I do, I have never once considered the spots ugly when seeing them on others' hands.  I know I'm probably in the minority here, but I have always viewed them as beauty marks of a sort, adding an element of depth and grace to an adult's hands. 


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