Have you got a large freckle on your face, arm, or hand that’s gotten a little out of hand? In most cases, these large freckles aren’t moles and aren’t anything to worry about (provided they’re not scaly or have any suspicious dark spots), they’re age spots. Like freckles sprinkled across your cheekbones, age spots are a result of sun damage, and you don’t have to live with them.
What are age spots?
Age spots generally appear on sun-exposed areas such as your face, arms, chest, the backs of your forearms and hands. These flat brown spots are also known as sunspots, liver spots, and medically, lentigo (singular), lentigines (plural).
You may notice a single age spot or a few might cluster together, and you’re more likely to develop them if you’re over 50 years old. They’re typically harmless and aren’t any cause for concern, but some people choose to minimize their appearance for cosmetic reasons.
Why do we get age spots
Age spots generally show up as a result of excess melanin production due to sun exposure. They may continue to appear on sun-exposed skin even if the main sun exposure happened years before. If you don’t like how your age spots look and would like to reduce them, we’ll take you through the four primary ways to remove them. Once you know the safest ways to remove age spots, you can decide which technique to use on your skin.
How can I get rid of my age spots?
- Laser and IPL (Intense Pulsed Light) removal: Here, the practitioner uses beams of light to remove the cells causing the age spots. It’s a popular treatment because it can be done, in many cases, without damaging the surrounding skin – it selectively kills the darker cells, which are then removed by the body. The more fair the skin (skin types 1 and 2), the better the results and safety. However, people with olive or darker skin (type 3+) may have a risk of rebound darkening of the skin, depending on which light source is used. IPL is safer with more fair skin types There are some lasers which are safe for all skin types. For these, multiple treatments are often necessary.
- Chemical peels: This treatment is most commonly used to get rid of age spots on patients’ hands. Here, the practitioner applies an acid-based solution that is designed to remove the problematic layers of skin. Over time, new skin will grow in its place. As with laser age spot removal, you may need to have this procedure done a few times to see the results you want. Chemical peels usually cause minor pain (such as some stinging) that can be easily managed with paracetamol and ibuprofen. The area needs to be kept clean to avoid infection and you should avoid sun exposure until the skin has fully healed, as the new skin will be vulnerable to sun damage. As above, this is safer for more fair skin types.
- Liquid nitrogen: Also known as cryosurgery, this procedure involves freezing off age spots with liquid nitrogen, just like you would a verruca or wart. In most cases, this is an easy procedure with little discomfort. Most people don’t experience long-term discomfort and this procedure is typically fast and effective at removing age spots. There is a small risk of discoloration. An experienced Dermatologist may have a lighter hand and can minimize this risk. Again, more fair skin types have less risk than darker skinned individuals.
- Bleaching cream: First, when we say “bleach”, these creams cannot actually bleach or lighten your skin beyond the natural background color. They will not remove all the pigment and make the skin white. Hydroquinone is the main ingredient of prescription-strength skin lighteners. It is no longer available in the weaker over-the-counter concentration. The classic “triple bleach” prescription formula contains hydroquinone, tretinoin (Retin A), and a weak cortisone to minimize the irritancy of the first two ingredients. There is one version available by prescription at pharmacies. Your Dermatologist may have a custom formulation available for dispensing from the office. Custom formulas may contain more than one bleaching agent. Many skin-lightening products are available at your local drug store or online that may help you lighten your skin. To find an effective bleaching cream, check the ingredients and look for creams that contain kojic acid, alpha hydroxy acid, tranexamic acid, and niacinamide. You may need to use these creams regularly for months before you see any results, so while it may be a low-cost option, it’s certainly not a fast one.
- Sunscreen: A broad-spectrum sunscreen must be used daily to prevent further pigment production and worsening or return of the dark spots you’ve been trying to get rid of. Even if a magic wand were used to instantly remove all the unwanted dark spots, they would quickly return without the conscientious use of sunscreen. Mineral-based sunscreens, with zinc and/or titanium dioxide are preferred by most Dermatologists. There are many formulas which work well and are clear. You don’t have to look like a Kabuki actor to safely protect your skin.
Do your research and, before using a non-prescription skin lightener, or going to a spa for treatment, have a check-up with your Dermatologist to be sure that the spots you are treating are definitely benign age spots, not melanoma or a melanoma pre-cursor.
If you’re looking for a dermatologist in Los Angeles, Dr. Brian Mekelburg will be happy to see you and help you with your age spot removal. To find out more about age spot removal or to book an appointment for an exam, click here.