With age frequently comes wisdom, grace, laugh lines…and pigmented marks on your skin. If it seems like those annoying brown things are multiplying with every passing year, you’re not imagining it. Age spots are extremely common and do often increase with, well, age. You already know the importance of sunscreen (yes, for every skin type). Here’s everything else you need to know about age spots-what they are, why they occur, how to treat them, and most importantly, how to prevent them in the first place.
What are age spots, exactly?
“There are many types of ‘spots’ that start popping up on the skin with age, but when most people refer to the term ‘age spots,’ they are speaking of the brown, freckle-like patches on the face, chest, arms, and hands that can darken and enlarge quickly,” explains Nancy Samolitis, M.D., FAAD, owner/co-founder of Facile Dermatology + Boutique in West Hollywood.
Why do age spots occur?
Remember how your mother always fretted over you wearing sunscreen? It wasn’t just about preventing nasty sunburns and future wrinkles. “I think we should all start calling age spots ‘sun spots’ because chronic, cumulative damage from the sun is the primary cause of these skin lesions,” says Dr. Samolitis. “If you look closely, they are much more populated in areas of the skin that are exposed to the sun on a daily basis-like face, neck, chest, hands, and arms-compared to non sun-exposed skin.” Ahem: like on your butt.
Are they hereditary?
Yes…and no. As with so many things in life, it’s a little bit nature, a little bit nurture. “Some people do have a hereditary tendency to develop more age spots than others,” admits Dr. Samolitis, adding, “but taking measures to protect your skin against the sun and environmental damage can prevent them.”
What’s the main difference between age spots and freckles?
“Freckles are pigmented spots that can occur in childhood and are made darker by sun exposure. With age and increased sun exposure, freckles can darken and aggregate creating lesions that later become known as age spots,” explains Dr. Samolitis. There are also different types of benign age-related growths that can appear, such as seborrheic keratoses, which might look like freckles or grow into thicker, wart-like bumps.
Okay, so how do you prevent them?
Once more for the cheap seats-let’s hear it for sunscreen. “Sun protection on a daily basis is essential! This means wearing a broad-spectrum sunblock-such as one with zinc and titanium physical blockers-every day on all areas of the skin that are not covered by clothing,” Dr. Samolitis says.
She recommends additional sun protection by wearing clothing like sun hats, gloves and long sleeves.
What's the fastest way to get rid of age spots?
While, yes, age spots can be annoying and you want to get rid of them quickly, it’s critical to ensure they’re benign first. “The most important thing to do first is to visit a board-certified dermatologist for a screening in order to rule out that any of the age spots are cancerous or precancerous. If the spots are deemed benign, they can be treated with laser or freezing with liquid nitrogen. Some age spots can be lightened with peels and prescription creams as well,” Dr. Samolitis explains.
What are the best products to remove age spots?
Popular products for gradually lessening the appearance of age spots often include lightening ingredient hydroquinone, such as Murad Rapid Age Spot Pigmentation and Lightening Serum ($72) and Neutrogena Rapid Tone Dark Spot Corrector Serum with Retinol ($17). Other effective products include SkinCeuticals Discoloration Defense ($98), with kojic acid and niacinamide, Burt’s Bees Skin Perfecting Serum ($19) with brightening but gentle daisy flower, and Kiehl’s Clearly Corrective Dark Spot Solution ($52) with activated vitamin C.
Does hydrogen peroxide work?
“There is a new prescription medication containing hydrogen peroxide that must be prescribed and applied at your dermatologist’s office for age spots once they are diagnosed as non-cancerous,” explains Dr. Samolitis. However, she cautions, “This product is different than over-the-counter hydrogen peroxide, which I do not recommend using at home.”
Speaking of, can you remove age spots at home?
Dr. Samolitis cautions against taking dermatological matters into your own hands. “Because it’s not uncommon for age spots to be confused with skin cancer, it’s important to see a board-certified dermatologist who will be able to properly examine the lesion and determine the best way to remove it while leaving a minimal scar. I don’t recommend removing these at home, as I have seen many cases of improper diagnosis leading to delayed recognition and treatment of skin cancers that could have been detected earlier.”
How does a dermatologist remove dark spots?
“There are many different techniques to remove them including a surgical scraping, laser, or cryotherapy. However, because removing these lesions is considered cosmetic, unfortunately the treatment will not be covered under medical insurance plans.”
How much does it cost to remove age spots?
Unsurprisingly, professional removal of age spots isn’t exactly cheap. Typical pricing can start from $150 - $350 per lasering or light therapy session, with multiple sessions recommended-ideally at least three. Cryotherapy typically runs between $50 - $100 dollars.
And remember, always do self-skin exams.
“It’s important to be aware of the types of spots that occur on your body and do a self-skin exam about every month to see if there are any new or changing spots that should be reported to your dermatologist,” says Dr. Samolitis, adding, “Age spots sometimes turn into skin cancer and early detection is key for optimal treatment.” And when it comes to your skin, of course, an ounce of prevention really is worth a pound of cure.
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