Age spots, also known as liver spots or solar lentigines, are small dark areas on your skin. They are the result of exposure to the sun and usually appear in areas frequently exposed to the sun like the face, hands, shoulders, and arms. Identifying age spots is the first step towards understanding their causes and seeking appropriate treatment. In this comprehensive guide, we delve into the details of age spots and how to identify them.
Age spots are flat, brown, grey, or black spots on the skin. They usually occur in people over the age of 50, but younger people can get them too, especially if they spend a lot of time in the sun. These spots are quite common and harmless but can be a cosmetic concern for many.
Age spots are the result of an excess production of melanin, the pigment in your skin that gives it colour. They are usually caused by years of exposure to the sun or other sources of ultraviolet (UV) light.
As we age, our skin's ability to recover from sun damage decreases, and the effects of prolonged UV exposure start to show, often in the form of age spots. Tanning beds and sun lamps can also contribute to the development of these spots.
Age spots are usually:
1. Flat, oval areas of increased pigmentation
2. Usually tan, brown or black
3. Often appear on the face, back of the hands, shoulders, forearms, forehead and scalp
4. Usually 5mm to 15mm in size, though they can group together, making them appear larger
5. Appear more often in areas frequently exposed to the sun
Though harmless, it's important to distinguish age spots from more serious skin concerns, like melanoma, a type of skin cancer.
Though age spots are harmless, they can sometimes look like melanoma. To distinguish between the two, dermatologists often use the ABCDE method:
- Asymmetry: Benign moles are symmetrical, meaning both halves look the same. If you draw a line through the middle of a melanoma, the two halves don't match.
- Border: The edges of an age spot are usually smooth, while melanomas have irregular, notched, or scalloped edges.
- Colour: Age spots are usually a single shade of brown. A melanoma may have different shades of brown, tan, or black.
- Diameter: Age spots are usually smaller in diameter. If a mole is larger than 6mm, it could be a melanoma.
- Evolving: Age spots remain the same over time. If a mole starts to change in size, shape, colour, or texture, it could be a melanoma.
If you have a spot that meets any of these criteria, it's essential to consult with a dermatologist as soon as possible.
Preventing age spots involves reducing sun exposure and protecting your skin when you're in the sun. Here are some ways to do this:
- Sunscreen: Always apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of at least 30 to all exposed areas of your skin before going out in the sun.
- Clothing: Wear long-sleeved shirts, long trousers or skirts, and a wide-brimmed hat to protect your skin from direct sunlight.
- Avoid Peak Sun Hours: Try to avoid going out in the sun when its rays are strongest, typically from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
- Sunglasses Wearing: sunglasses protects the delicate skin around your eyes from sun exposure.
If you're unhappy with the appearance of age spots, treatments are available to lighten or remove them. They include prescription lightening creams, laser therapy, freezing (cryotherapy), dermabrasion, and chemical peels.
It's crucial to remember that these treatments can have side effects and may not remove the age spots completely. Also, they don't prevent the development of new age spots. Sun protection and regular skin examinations remain the backbone of managing age spots.
In conclusion, age spots are a common part of ageing and sun exposure. While they are harmless, it's essential to identify age spots correctly to distinguish them from more serious skin conditions. Regular skin self-examinations can help you identify any new or changing spots. If you find anything suspicious, don't hesitate to seek a dermatologist's advice.
Remember, prevention is better than cure. Always protect your skin from the sun, avoid tanning beds, and embrace your natural skin colour. Your skin will thank you for it in the long run!