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Treatments for Age Spots

by Brad McHargue
  • Overview

    Age spots, also known as liver spots or solar lentigines, are flat spots on the skin that can appear in a variety of colors. They are incredibly common, especially in those over the age of 40, and are the result of excessive sun exposure leading to concentrated collections of melanin on the skin. The condition is harmless and merely an aesthetic issue, and treatment can involve a number of medications, both prescription and over the counter, as well as a variety of therapies.
  • Symptoms

    Age spots are found most often in those with lighter skin, giving the appearance of a flat, oval spot on the surface of the skin. They are typically brown, black or gray, and tend to occur in areas that receive excessive exposure to sunlight, such as the top of the head, shoulders and back. These spots can often be found in conjunction with other signs of sun damage, such as wrinkles, dry skin and conspicuous veins on the ears, cheeks and nose. If what you presumed was a liver spot has an irregular border, gets bigger, is accompanied by pain or is more than one color, see a doctor immediately, as this could be a sign of skin cancer.
 
  • Treatment

    A variety of treatments exist to help cover up age spots, ranging from medications to a number of therapies. These include: Cryotherapy, which involves applying liquid nitrogen to the lesion, causing it to lose its pigmentation as it heals. Although effective, there is a slight chance that scarring or permanent discoloration could occur. Dermabrasion, which involves using a rotating brush to literally "sand" down the lesion. Once the spot is gone, new skin will grow in its place. The only side effects are redness, discomfort and a temporary scab while the skin heals. Laser therapy, which involves the use of highly concentrated light to decrease the amount of melanocytes, which are the cause of the dark pigment. This treatment typically requires several sessions, and the spots will eventually fade. The biggest downside to this method of treatment is its expense, sometimes costing upward of $5,000, making it a less common choice. This is exacerbated by the fact that insurance will typically not cover cosmetic treatment. Discuss with your dermatologist the many types of laser treatments, which can include Nd:YAG lasers and a Ruby Q-switched laser. Medications, which include creams to bleach the skin, retinoids or mild steroids that cause the age spots to fade gradually over time. Examples include hydroquinone and tretinoin. It is recommended that you use sunscreen frequently if using any topical treatment. These can be found in either prescription form or over-the-counter medications. Chemical peel, which involves the use of an acid applied to the skin, causing it to peel off. New skin will then grow in its place. Like medications, sunscreen is strongly recommended to avoid further damage or irritating the new skin, and like laser therapy, requires several sessions.
  • Prevention

    The best way to avoid age spots is to avoid excessive exposure to the sun, especially during hours when the sun is at its brightest and strongest, between ten in the morning and four in the afternoon. If you find yourself outdoors during these times, be sure to wear clothing that covers the easily exposed area, or apply sunscreen liberally. Sunscreen should be applied up to a half hour before going outside, and then every hour.

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