by Kathy Sena
Fear Not. Your Dermatologist Has Some Helpful Tricks Up Her Sleeve
Ugh. Age spots seem to arrive at an earlier age than we might expect them. Mine make me feel like I’m looking at my grandmother’s hands, back when I was a little girl. Who ever thought I’d get some of my very own? Age spots are flat, light- or dark-brown marks that develop on the skin as we get older.
New York City dermatologist Joshua Fox, M.D. says age spots, more correctly called lentigines, are caused by overexposure to the sun, which damages skin. They appear mainly on the face, hands, shoulders and arms. Once you start to see age spots, he says, you’ll often see other signs of sun damage, including deep wrinkles; dry, rough skin; fine red veins; and thinner, more translucent-looking skin.
Typically considered to affect people over age 40, younger people who spend a great deal of time in the sun may see age spots, too. While true age spots are harmless, they may resemble cancerous growths, says Fox. For that reason, “if you start to see age spots on your skin, ask your dermatologist to look at them to make sure they are not suspicious,” he advises. The good news, he adds, is that “most brown spots are not harmful and can be removed or easily treated to improve the skin’s appearance.”
Once your doctor has ruled out skin cancer, there are several different home remedies and in-office treatments that can help reduce or remove the age spots, Fox says. You can attempt to lighten them with over-the-counter skin-bleaching lotions and creams, but they typically offer minor improvement, according to Fox.
The treatment needs to penetrate the top layer of skin where the extra pigment is located, so these products must be used regularly over several weeks or months before noticeable results occur. When choosing a nonprescription fade cream, choose one that contains hydroquinone, deoxyarbutin, glycolic acid or kojic acid, Fox suggests.
If these over-the-counter products don’t do enough, your dermatologist can choose from an arsenal of other treatments that do a great job of reducing or removing age spots:
° Prescription creams. Bleaching creams containing hydroquinone, used alone or with retinoids and a mild steroid, when used regularly, can partially fade age spots over time.
° Laser spot treatment. Laser treatments, performed in a dermatologist’s office, can remove age spots. These treatments work by being very specific for brown color and selectively removing the spots.
° Laser skin rejuvenation.A popular cosmetic treatment, “Fraxel” is a powerful resurfacing laser treatment that smoothes and rejuvenates the skin, removes age spots and reduces the appearance of fine lines. “Pixel” is a more powerful resurfacing laser that also treats some of the deeper lines.
° Microdermabrasion. In this procedure, the skin is sanded with a special instrument. This procedure helps to strengthen and rejuvenate aging skin and also may help reduce fine lines and wrinkles.
° Cryosurgery. This procedure uses liquid nitrogen to freeze skin tissue and remove age spots.
° Chemical peel. Chemical peels are a powerful treatment that not only help reduce and remove age spots, but also can strengthen the skin to boost collagen production. A chemical peel involves applying an acid, which burns the outer layer of the skin. As skin peels, new skin forms to take its place.
Fox notes that reducing sun exposure is the best way to reduce the likelihood of getting age spots. Wear sunscreen all the time on all areas of exposed skin, no matter what the weather or season, he suggests. Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen, which blocks both UVA and UVB rays, with an SPF of at least 15.
Kathy Sena is an award-winning health and parenting writer and the mother of a 14-year-old son. Visit her website at www.kathysena.com and check out her blog, Parent Talk Today, at www.parenttalktoday.com.