As you get older, you may notice brown spots on your skin, which many people used to refer to as freckles, are appearing more frequently, larger, and in more areas. Any spot that changes even slightly in color or size should be checked by your primary care doctor or other trained professional.
The vast majority of the time, you will be told that they are nothing to worry about and that they are only “age spots”. Age spots, as they are commonly called, happen when the skin is exposed to ultraviolet light over a period of time. They can be tan, brown, or even black, and can vary in size.
They are most commonly found on heavily sun-exposed areas such as the face, neck, back of hands, arms, and shoulders. People who are 50 years old or older tend to have most of these spots, although we are seeing more younger people with similar spots because they are tanning bed users.
How do age spots actually develop? Your skin contains a substance called melanin that gives your skin its tone and color.
When melanin increases, the skin darkens upon exposure to UV light, giving you a tan. Age spots appear and persist when melanin essentially clumps up within groups of cells, and then literally stains those cells with a darker color.
The next more common question is this: What can I do to get rid of these spots that make me look older? Since the pigment that causes age spots is located within cells at the base of the epidermis (which is the top-most skin layer), any effective treatment used must be able to penetrate throughout this layer to target the pigment that is causing the problem.
I have outlined several of the options available to alleviate the heavily pigmented spots. Each treatment, regardless of its effectiveness, has its pros and cons:
1.) Over-The-Counter Fade Creams. These creams work best for only the lightest spots, but they need to be used consistently over the course of months to see results.
2.) Prescription Lightening Creams. Most of these creams contain stronger lightening agents such as hydroquinone in combination with retinoids and a mild steroid. These creams may also gradually fade spots over a longer period of time. Because these creams are stronger, they may cause irritation at the site of treatment.
3.) Chemical Peels. An aesthetician like Maine Laser Skin Care’s own Denise Gidney can apply varying strengths of several different types of acids to the skin. This treatment will essentially remove the top layer of pigmented cells to lighten the spots.
4.) Freezing or Cryotherapy. This method involves applying liquid nitrogen to destroy the pigmented cells. Some pain is involved. Once the area heals, the area may become hypopigmented, or significantly lighter than the surrounding skin. This process may also result in uneven tanning in the future.
5.) Lasers. Laser treatment specifically targets the melanin within the affected cells without damaging or scarring other non-pigmented cells. Over a series of treatments, the pigmented age spots will become lighter and lighter as more pigmented cells are exfoliated. Pain involved is minimal, and the skin after the treatment resumes its previous normal tone.
Regardless of which method you choose, the best approach is to have a trained health professional who is specifically trained in viewing skin review your spots and pigmented areas. Once it is determined that the spots are benign age spots from chronic UV sun exposure, a discussion of treatment can proceed.
Obviously, since I perform laser therapies daily, I prefer that approach. However, I can give an analysis of pros and cons of each method for your individual situation.
If you have age spots that are bothering you because of their appearance, please give us a call at (207) 873-2158. You can schedule a free and confidential consultation that will include photo analysis so we can develop an individual plan for you.