Got Age Spots? Here’s What a Dermatologist Would Do
Two leading dermatologists provide their expert advice on how to approach this dark subject. (See what we did there?)
Understand what age spots are
Credit: iStock/Manuel Faba Ortega
Throughout your lifetime, you’re bound to develop new freckles, moles, and discoloration, including age spots. Your task is knowing what they are and the differences between each. “Age spots can refer to a variety of skin lesions that develop with age and/or cumulative sun exposure,” says Deanne Mraz Robinson, MD, board-certified dermatologist of the Connecticut Dermatology Group. “Sun freckles or liver spots are tan or brown, flat lesions on sun-exposed areas,” she explains.
Always take preventative measures
Since age spots directly result from sun exposure, you should always protect your skin from harmful UV rays by slathering on broad-spectrum sunscreen. And if you already have age spots, you can still benefit from daily sunscreen wear because it prevents existing spots from darkening and keeps new ones from appearing. The La Roche-Posay Anthelios Clear Skin Dry Touch Sunscreen is one of the best sunscreens out there, and it’s especially great for those with sensitive skin, as it’s 100 percent oil-free and won’t cause breakouts. It also contains a powerful antioxidant complex to protect against damaging free radicals that can accelerate skin aging. Another smart idea is to invest in sun protective clothing, which make sure you never miss a spot and is easy to pull on when you’re running out the door in the morning to walk the dog or get the kids to school. Solumbra by Sun Precautions has a range of stylish choices, including tops, cover-ups, pants, and hats. Remember that while age spots are most common during your 50s and beyond, they can appear on someone who’s had significant sun exposure as early as the late 20s or 30s, so it’s never too early to start wearing daily sunscreen year-round, even in winter!
Make sure your spots aren’t malignant
It’s completely normal to notice age spots form on your body as you age, but are they signs of skin cancer the way new moles can be? The scary fact is: Yes, age spots definitely can be cancerous, and therefore require long-term monitoring for any warning signs and changes. “Lentigines (aka age spots) are benign growths that aren’t dangerous,” says Dr. Robinson. “However, if any new spot appears on the skin or a lesion is changing in size, shape, color, or becoming symptomatic in terms or itching or bleeding, it should be evaluated by a dermatologist as these can be signals or skin cancer.”
Investigate treatment options
Try at-home products for lightening
There are some incredibly effective skincare products on the market specifically designed to treat noticeable discoloration, including age spots. A product like Garnier Clearly Brighter Dark Spot Corrector is a good place to start, and it won’t break the bank. It has antioxidants, plus pine bark essence and lipo hydroxy acid to speed your skin cell turnover. For next level help, invest in dermatologist favorite SkinCeuticals Phyto+ Botanical Gel for Hyperpigmentation. It contains kojic acid, derived from mushrooms, a potent skin brightener, plus hyaluronic acid, which makes it soothing and tolerable for even sensitive skin.
Consider microneedling as a solution
You may have heard of the benefits of microneedling, also called collagen induction therapy, for anti-aging. And, it turns out that it’s also excellent at treating age spots. “Microneedling with platelet rich plasma (PRP) is also a great procedure,” says Dr. Russak. “Microneedling creates ‘injury’ to the skin, therefore tricking the body into healing itself, and creates direct channels for the PRP, which regenerates healthy, new skin tissue,” Dr. Russak explains. “These growth factors then stimulate stem cells within your skin activating new, healthy tissue.” Basically, by doing microneedling, you can intentionally damage your skin on a microscopic level, in order to force new, healthy, and bright skin to regrow.
Research if a laser is right for you
Consider your treatment’s downtime
As much as we all wish we could waltz out of our derm’s office with renewed, perfectly youthful skin, you’ll want to time your treatment so you’re not doing it the day before a big event—or possibly even weeks before, especially if you’re being treated with a fraxelated laser. “There is a little bit of downtime for laser treatment of brown spots,” says Dr. Robinson. “With spot treatment, the brown spots will become crusty and peel off over the course of one to two weeks. Additionally, with IPL or Broad Band light laser treatment (BBL), the brown spots darken like coffee grinds and slowly slough off over the course of one to two weeks.” You’ll also need to return for three to four treatments for optimal results. Finally, your results will be better if you stay out of the sun immediately afterwards, so consider booking appointments in the fall or winter.
Be realistic about the results you can expect
Always ask about potential risks
Know that there’s a good chance brown spots may return
By Aubrey Almanza
This article first appeared in Reader's Digest.