What are age spots or liver spots?

Age or liver spots (lentigines) are small flat pigmented spots, similar to freckles, that are most often seen on sun exposed skin sometime after the age of 40. These benign acquired melanocytic lesions are usually dark brown to black and do not change in color as freckles do upon sun exposure. Freckles are areas where the melanocytes (pigmentation-making cells) are more active and responsive to UV radiation than in neighboring skin. Freckles (or ephelides) are common in lighter skinned individuals, and pigmentation may be pronounced in freckles by UV exposure. Age spots may occur anywhere but usually appear on sun exposed skin (i.e., face, shoulders, neck, ears, back of hands) as a result of sun damage. Lentigines may also occur in rare genetic disorders like LEOPARD, Peatz-Jeghers syndromes and xeroderma pigmentosum. Poor nutrition, abnormal liver function, and lack of exercise can also cause liver spots. Age spots are harmless and require no treatment unless they are growing more than surrounding age spots, cause discomfort or take on an irregular appearance. If there is a concern about the nature of any skin lesion, consultation with a dermatologist is warranted. Some lentigines might be melanoma, a skin cancer. Hydroquinone (3-4% solution) is most commonly used to lighten age spots but it can be irritating and will not work well on dark skin. In addition, hydroquinone is no longer considered as safe in Europe. Retin ATM applied once a day can cause large spots to lighten and even remove small spots when used over a six month period. High concentrations of hydroxy acids may be used for harsh facial peels.

Liquid nitrogen (freezing) can remove the spots but may leave a permanent scar. The age spot is frozen using a directed stream of liquid nitrogen and the spot then turns white within a month. Laser treatment is precise, very effective and less damaging to the skin but is also the most expensive means to remove age spots. The laser light selectively removes the melanin perhaps without damaging nearby skin. Recovery is less painful and faster than destructive treatments such as freezing or facial peels. Protection from sun damage is the best prevention for age spots. Use sunscreen (typically SPF 15) on sun exposed areas, wear protective clothing and avoid tanning beds. Reapply sunscreen after swimming or excessive sweating.

Age spots usually appear when we're in our early 30s on areas of the body that have been exposed to the sun, such as our back, chest, arms and hands. Although they may look similar to moles, age spots are very different. Moles are genetically predetermined, while age spots are the result of cumulative sun exposure throughout life. If you have age spots, you're at a higher risk of developing skin cancer, so it is important to see your doctor if they change color or appearance or if you are worried about them. Once your doctor gives you a clean bill of health, discuss the various options for minimizing the appearance of age spots. There are several over-the-counter and prescription treatments for age spots, available at your local chemist. Remember, though, that with whichever method you choose, results will vary depending on how severe the spots are, how much time you spend in the sun and how consistently you follow treatment. It's essential to protect your skin against new age spots and prolong the result of treatment by wearing sunscreen on all exposed areas of the body every day, even in winter. Fade creams like hydroquinone, gradually lighten age spots over a couple of months. They work best when used in conjunction with a glycolic acid moisturizer, also available over-the-counter. But there are some drawbacks. It will take a few months to see results, and these creams don't have much of an effect on darker, more stubborn spots. Retinoids which are prescription-strength vitamin A creams such as Retin-A and Retinova. They fade discoloration while stimulating the growth of new, healthy cells. They are often used with prescription-strength hydroquinone creams for a stronger bleaching effect. They have drawbacks too. Retinoids can be drying and harsh for some skin types, and it will take two to three months to see results.
(information resources include...www.age-spot.com and www.ivillage.co.uk/beauty/skincare/aging)