How to erase age spots
What’s in a name?
When it comes to age spots, a name can indicate any number of things. It can distinguish the difference between being sun-caused (“lentigines”) or age-induced (“seborrheic keratoses”); it can determine the diagnosis between being cancerous (“lentigo maligna”) or benign (liver spot); or it can simply be an interchangeable term–mole, freckle, birthmark, brown spot–used among friends to bemoan an inexplicable skin discolouration that has recently made an appearance on your skin.
The bottom line on age spots Regardless of what we call it, a trip to the dermatologist is in order if you find age spots your concerned about. “Before self-diagnosing it as just being a brown spot, or choosing to go a spa and self-treat with a bleaching treatment, it is so important to get a proper diagnosis by a dermatologist,” insists Dr. Lisa Kellett, dermatologist, DLK on Avenue. “If you don’t catch something like malignant melanoma early enough, you’re dead within six months.”
Don’t hit the panic button just yet though. This doesn’t mean that every spot that appears on your skin is inherently hazardous and should be removed immediately. “An actual age spot isn’t dangerous; they’re the result of prolonged UV exposure or your skin aging,” comments Dr. Kellett. “If that’s the case, then it’s up to each individual to decide whether they want to lighten or remove the brown spot.”
Best skin care mantra: Protect at all costs
Hands down, protecting your skin from the sun is the number one way to prevent the appearance of age spots. Covering up when you know you’re going in the sun for long periods of time, wearing sunscreen and being sure to reapply it–putting it on once does not mean you’ve cloaked yourself in an shield of never-ending UV-blocking protection–will go a long way in helping to keep your skin looking youthful and spot-free.
If age spots are already part of your skin’s DNA, Dr. Kellett recommends two colour-fading agents: retinol solution and vitamin C. If you want to take removal to the next level, there are several procedures out there. “Your dermatologist will help you make the
decision on which treatment is best for you, based on a number of factors including the depth of the lesion, where on your body the spot is, healing time and your age,” explains Dr. Kellett.
At DLK on Avenue, there are two procedures–Q-Switched Ruby Laser and Lumenis 1–that target brown spots using light energy, which absorbs the colour and destroys the brown spot. The difference between the two is that the Q-Switched Ruby Laser requires one to two treatments and about one week to heal, whereas the Lumenis 1 takes approximately six sessions to be successful, but has no down time.
“We treat what we see and so while these procedures will remove the brown spots that are currently on someone’s skin, it’s not a cure-all in terms of preventing future age spots,” Dr. Kellett cautions. “That’s up to each person.”
Keep in mind
Age spots are the result of overproduced or concentrated levels of melanin, the pigment that gives your skin colour. Sun exposure and age are the two primary causes for the flat brown, gray or black spots that appear on body parts that are most frequently, and excessively, exposed to UV rays (think hands, face, shoulders and arms).
While age spots are common in those 40-plus–their skin has simply had that much longer to be exposed to the sun; plus, as skin ages, it can begin to produce extra melanin–those under 40 are not exempt. The use of tanning beds and the non-use of sunscreen accelerates the production of age spots, causing them to make a premature appearance on younger skin.
—From “Anti-Aging: The skinny on age spots” by Jennifer Hainstock, Elle Canada Online, June 2012.