Age spots are flat gray, brown or black spots found on the skin. They are sometimes referred to as "liver spots" and medically are known as solar lentigines, They vary in size and usually appear on the face, hands, shoulders, and arms - areas that get consistent sun exposure over time. While most of our sun exposure happens in our youth, they generally start showing up in our 30s and 40s... and beyond. Most age spots are harmless and do not require treatment, though some do require further evaluation.
There are a variety of treatment options aimed at lightening or removing age spots. These treatments are generally considered cosmetic by insurance. Because the pigment causing the discolored skin is located at the topmost layer of skin, or the epidermis, treatments intending to lighten age spots penetrate this layer of skin. Some available treatment options include:
Prescription bleaching creams applied over several months may gradually fade age spots. While undergoing this treatment, sun protection is required.
- Laser Therapy:
Laser therapy helps break apart the dark pigment. This treatment does not damage the skin’s surface and has few side effects. However, laser therapy generally requires several sessions.
- Freezing (cryotherapy):
During cryotherapy, liquid nitrogen or another freezing agent is applied to the age spots to destroy extra pigment. The skin appears lighter as the area heals. Cryotherapy is generally effective, though it does pose the risk of scarring or permanently lightening the skin in the area treated.
This procedure involves "sanding down," or planing the surface layer of your skin with a rotating brush. It removes the skin surface, and a new skin layer grows in its place. Side effects may include scabbing and temporary redness and irritation.
- Chemical Peel:
A chemical peel consists of applying an acid to the skin, which burns the outer layer of the skin to the age spot. As your skin peels away over the next several days to week, new skin grows in its place. There are many types of chemical peels. Superficial peels are milder and have less down time, though they require more treatments before you notice results. Medium-depth pees go deeper and the results become apparent sooner, though they can have some down-time.
Age spot are prevented by limiting sun exposure, and protecting the skin at all times when exposed. We recommend wearing sunscreen at all times, wearing protective clothing such as hats, and remembering to protect skin even when sun damage does not appear to be a risk, such as on a cloudy day, or while driving. It is never too late to begin wearing sunscreen and protecting skin, even if some damage has already occurred.