Age spots have always given people pause. Little is known about why they appear the way they do and look like they do. Centuries back, physicians thought they may be due to problems with the liver, thus the nickname “liver spots.” “Senile freckles” is another name for age spots because they usually strike older men and women, although really, anyone can develop them.
There isn’t even a technical medical term for age spots. The name “solar lentigines” became popular when doctors realized they were mainly caused by sun exposure and they’re often shaped like tiny lentil beans. Some dermatologists use the softer, gentler term of “wisdom spots.”
All symptoms and skin findings should always evaluated with a thorough consultation and physical examination for an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan in order to exclude any underlying serious condition.
No matter what you call them, it’s true that age spots can give away your age because they are much more prominent on the elderly. Appropriately named, age spots are those flat brown, black or tan spots that appear on the backs of your hands, on your face, arms and shoulders — the areas that get the most ultraviolet ray exposure over the years.
And while people over the age of 50 commonly develop the spots, younger adults who spend a lot of time outside without UV protection often begin to show them earlier. Age spots can be mistaken for cancerous melanomas, so you should have them checked out by a New York City dermatologist if you have concerns. True age spots, however, are harmless. The only damage age spots make is to your appearance.
How You Can Tell
Mostly, you see age spots when you have fair skin, but they’re no strangers to darker skinned people. Typically, they can range in size from the size of a freckle to as big as one-half inch in diameter. Additionally, age spots tend to show up in groups, which make them even more noticeable and unsightly.
Other characteristics of age spots include:
- They show up on those areas that have gotten a lot of exposure to the sun.
- The color of age spots tends to run from light tan to medium brown or black.
- Usually they’re flat, not raised. They’re just darker pigmented skin.
- They are sharply defined.
- They often are hereditary; if you parents had age spots, there’s good chance you will too, no matter how old you are.
You should have any skin discoloration evaluated by your NYC dermatologist. But absolutely make an appointment if you have any doubts or if the spots:
- Present an unusual combination of colors
- Are irregular or jagged around the edges
- Are very dark or change over time
- Start growing in size
- Become itchy or red
- Get tender
- Start to bleed
Where Age Spots Come From
Dermatology researchers have learned that age spots happen in the melanin, the top layer of your epidermis. Melanin darkens as it’s exposed to the harmful ultraviolet rays of the sun. All over, you get a tan when you spend time unprotected in the sun. But most often certain spots on your skin get more exposure and the color tends to clump together — creating age spots.
You may inherit a tendency to get age spots, but by not wearing sufficient sunscreen, you encourage the spots to grow. You’re also at a higher risk of getting them if you have lighter skin or have a history of getting sunburned. Extensive time outside unprotected or time spent in tanning booths increase your chances of getting age spots too.
An experienced Manhattan dermatologist sees age spots almost every day. Such doctors usually can tell just by looking at them if yours are indeed age spots. When in doubt, however, your dermatologist may take a small sample of the skin and send it to a lab for confirmation. To take the sample in the office, your dermatology doctor first numbs the area and then shaves off a tiny sample. It takes less than a minute, and you won’t need more than a Band-Aid when you leave.
Spots that look a lot like age spots also are easily recognizable to your dermatologist. In fact, you may have one of the conditions that closely resemble the brown age spots:
- Seborrheic keratosis: These are very close in color to age spots, but they look more like warts. They also have a waxy feel and seem to be pasted on your skin rather than part of it, whereas age spots don’t feel any different from the rest of your skin.
- Moles: Sometimes, moles are flat, like age spots, and often mistaken for the senile freckles. But moles usually are slightly raised.
- Melanoma: A certain kind of skin cancer called a lentigo maligna, melanoma is really similar in size and shape to age spots. However, it has more a jagged edge and changes shape and color over time.
Treating the Spots
It’s good news when your dermatologist tells you that you don’t have skin cancer, just age spots. It’s bad news, though, when your insurance company refuses to pay to have them removed. Since it’s primarily a cosmetic procedure, you’ll most likely be on your own for any treatment you choose to reduce the appearance of aging on your body.
Your dermatologist offers some of these most common procedures to eliminate your age spots:
- Intense pulsed light with lasers: You’ll have few, if any, side effects from laser treatment, although you’ll most likely need several sessions to rid yourself of the unsightly spots.
- Bleaching creams: As prescribed by your NYC dermatologist, these topical creams are stronger than those you can get over-the-counter in the drugstore.
- Dermabrasion: This procedure actually sands your skin down to erase the dark spots. It works over the course of six to 12 weeks as your skin grows a new outer layer.
- Chemical peel: This is another way to reduce the appearance of age spots by removing the top dermis. It’s a chemical treatment that burns away the top layer of your skin.
- Cryotherapy: The process of freezing specific areas of your skin with liquid nitrogen effectively encourages your age spots to fall off. While effective, this procedure can leave scars.
While you’re still young, stay out of the sun to prevent age spots. Wear at least 30 SPF sunscreen, as well as protective clothing. And once you do develop age spots and go through any kind of treatment, it’s even more important that you follow the directions of your dermatologist and protect your skin.
Important Reminder: This information is only intended to provide guidance, not a definitive medical advice. Please consult dermatologist NYC about your specific condition. Only a trained, experienced board certified dermatology doctor or pediatric dermatologist can determine an accurate diagnosis and proper treatment.
Do you have any questions about Age Spots? Would like to schedule an appointment with an internationally recognized, best dermatologist in NYC, Dr. James Taft of Manhattan Dermatology Specialists, please contact our Midtown NYC office for consultation with cosmetic and laser dermatologist.
Dr. James Taft (Laser Cosmetic Dermatology of NY)
New York, NY 10010
(Between Madison Ave & Park Ave)
☎ (212) 889-2402