"Age spots, or Lentigines, are small patches of light brown or black skin. They are harmless blemishes that appear with age, usually after the 40-year mark. They appear on areas that are consistently exposed to ultra violet light from the sun, such as the face, back of the hands, shoulders, forearms and upper back," says Dr. Frielder.
What causes age spots and who gets them?According to Dr. Friedler, "When an area of the skin is exposed to excessive UV light, those skin cells will produce more melanin, the pigment that gives skin the dark look. In young peoples' skin, new cells regenerate rapidly to replace the damaged cells. However, this process slows down in older people and these damaged cells clump together and form these brown or black patches." Dr. Friedler also notes that people with fair skin develop age spots more often since their skin is more susceptible to damage from UV light.
Are age spots cancerous? "Before engaging in any treatment, the patient should consult a physician. It's possible that these dark patches are cancerous cells rather than benign spots of excess melanin. A trained physician will provide the proper diagnosis."
Treatment options for Age spots
Creams: Creams can be prescribed or bought over-the-counter. They work by bleaching the damaged area and slowly removing the color. The creams use hydroquinone with or without retinoids, such as tretinoin. This bleaching process takes months to complete. "It's crucial that people apply sunscreen to the treatment area during this period, since these bleaching creams can make the skin cells more sensitive to damage from UV light," adds Dr. Friedler.
Lasers: Lasers can target specific pigment cells (melanocytes) in the skin and leave the surrounding tissue unharmed. This process is quick and the effects are immediate. Other laser treatments resurface the skin by removing the damaged cells and reveal the healthy cells beneath. Both laser treatments are highly effective.
Microneedling: This treatment involves causing micro-injuries to the damaged cells with tiny needles. The body responds by producing new cells to heal over the damaged area, thus blocking the brown skin cells. Several treatments may be required to get the best results.
Chemical Peel: This process involves applying a patch of chemicals to the damaged cells. These chemicals burn off the top layer of cells and reveal the healthy cells beneath. Dr. Friedler stresses not to worry about any ill effects, "chemical peels not only remove the damaged cells, but also promote healthy collagen production."
Cryosurgery: This treatment is prescribed if the physician suspects that the spots could be cancerous. It involves applying liquid nitrogen to the damaged cells, which freezes and kills them.
Dermabrasion: This treatment involves sanding off the outer layers of damaged skin to reveal the healthy cells beneath.
Despite the slew of treatment options, Dr. Friedler stresses the importance of prevention as the best treatment. Wearing sunscreen throughout the year, even in the winter, will reduce the likelihood of developing age spots. Always make sure you buy a broad-spectrum sunscreen that protects against both UVA and UVB rays with an SPF of at least 15."
Suzanne J. Friedler, M.D. F.A.A.D., is a board certified fellow of the American Academy of Dermatology, with expertise in many areas of medical and cosmetic dermatology. She has been with Advanced Dermatology PC since 2002.
Advanced Dermatology P.C. and the Center for Laser and Cosmetic Surgery (New York & New Jersey) is one of the leading dermatology centers in the nation with 18 locations in New York and New Jersey, offering highly experienced physicians in the fields of cosmetic and laser dermatology as well as plastic surgery and state-of-the-art medical technologies.www.
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