What are age spots?
spots are also called sun spots and liver
spots. Age spots are harmless brown flat spots that
are commonly found on sun-exposed skin. They usually don’t
appear until middle-age and occur in all nearly all skin types.
Age spots are collections of a pigment (called melanin) that
have accumulated in the top layer of the skin (the epidermis).
Unlike freckles, which darken in the summer and fade in the
winter, age spots do not fade.
What causes age spots?
Age spots increase with
age and with increased sun exposure. They are more common in people
who freckle and who burn easily. It is important to know that if
you've had enough sun to develop age spots, you have a higher risk
of developing skin cancer.
Are there any symptoms of age spots?
Age spots have no associated
symptoms. However, if any of your age spots are changing or getting
bigger, you may need further evaluation by your physician
to rule out pre-cancerous or cancerous lesions.
What do age spots, sun spots and liver spots
Age spots are flat and vary in size from a small pea to a dime.
They usually are somewhat round and have irregular borders. They
are found on chronically sun-exposed areas such as the shoulders,
upper back, face, forearms, and the back of hands.
How is the diagnosis of age spots made?
Your physician can usually
diagnose age spots based on their appearance. It is very important
to distinguish age spots from melanoma (a form of skin cancer) which
can look similar. Let your doctor know if a particular age spot
is growing or changing. Sometimes, your physician may need to perform
a biopsy to rule out skin cancer.
What treatment options are available for spot removal?
The best treatment for age
spots is prevention. The key to preventing age spots is sun
avoidance and daily sunscreen use. For example, you won’t
find age spots on your inner thigh because of minimal or no
sun exposure. However, for most of us, it is too late for prevention,
and there are a number of treatment options available. Treatment
options include FotoFacial/IPL
resurfacing, bleaching creams and chemical
• What are
Over-the-counter creams contain
2 percent hydroquinone, a bleaching agent. Prescription creams may
use single agents, such as Retin-A (tretinoin) or combinations of
medications such as hydroquinone with tretinoin plus a cortisone
• What are the risks?
Over the counter bleaching creams
are usually well tolerated and may gradually lighten age spots over
a couple of months. However, they are not very effective. Prescription
formulations are often more effective but may have more side effects
(such as redness, drying, and peeling) and are expensive. Creams
may not work for everyone and the risks and benefits need to be
discussed with your physician.
• What are they?
Your physician can administer
a peel using a variety of different chemicals to remove age spots,
discoloration, wrinkles and fine lines. Chemical peels may smooth
and firm the skin and may lighten age spots gradually. The superficial
peels, such as a glycolic acid peel can be done during your lunch
hour, and there is no recovery time. Deeper peels are more effective
but require longer recovery. See more details under discussion chemical
• What are the risks?
Different kinds of peels carry
different risks. Superficial peels are usually quite safe. However,
you may need a series of superficial peels (done approximately once
a month) before you'll notice improvement. Costs can add up if you
choose a series of peels. The risks and benefits vary depending
on the kind of peel need to be discussed in detail with your physician.
• What is it?
Laser resurfacing is an in-office
treatment where age spots, wrinkles and lines are “burned”
off with a laser. Laser resurfacing usually removes most age spots,
age related discoloration, and wrinkles, often in just one treatment.
Some lasers, such as the CO2 laser are considered the gold standard
in terms of facial rejuvenation. With good sun protection, the effects
can last up to five years. See more details under discussion of
• What are the
Lasers actually remove the outer
portion of the skin- called the epidermis. Because of this, you
may experience some pain as well as redness and peeling. You may
even form scabs in the days after the procedure. Expect recovery
time of at least a week. Laser therapy is also expensive. One treatment
can cost anywhere from $1,000 to $5,000, depending on how much of
your face is treated. The risks and benefits of laser resurfacing
need to be discussed in detail with your physician.
• What is
IPL is one of the newer
forms of facial rejuvenation. Unlike lasers, which use intense,
focused light, IPL is intense broadband light. Although IPL delivers
energy to both the superficial and deep layers of the skin, the
epidermis is spared from damage. Thus, there is virtually no recovery
time. In the studies that have been performed so far, IPL can smooth
the skin and fade age spots, freckles, melasma, and even broken
blood vessels. Improvements usually last for about a year with good
• What are
IPL is safer than laser
therapy because IPL does not damage the epidermis. There may be
some pain during the procedure but no recovery time. Unlike laser
therapy, however, you may need multiple treatments (average is 4-6,
at three weeks intervals) to get the full benefit. The cost is variable,
but is usually more expensive than peels and less expensive than
lasers. The risks and benefits of IPL therapy need to be discussed
in detail with your physician.
Spots, Sun Spots & Liver Spots Information
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