Age spots, as Lady Macbeth said in Shakespeare’s famous play –
“Out, Damn Spot!”
So frustrating, what causes age spots? When we are young our melanocytes are distributed evenly throughout the skin which explains why children get that nice even tan. However, the more we tan the more damage is sustained by the melanocytes, they tend to cluster sometimes as early as age of mid 30’s as demonstrated in our patient shown above. Some people are born with freckles and this is similar but a clustering of melanocytes that is hereditary.
Clustering of the melanocytes (along with loss of collagen and elasticity of the skin) is a normal aging process, however, lighter and medium skin colors are going to be much more prone to develop age spots and wrinkles with sun exposure and tanning beds.
I see the difference daily between skin of patients who have been “sun worshipers” and those who avoided sun on the face and chest. Besides helping to avoid potentially lethal or disfiguring skin cancer, sun avoidance and smoking avoidance are the best ways to preserve as long as possible youthful looking skin!
Age spots (the medical term is “lentigines”) can be treated. First line therapy is (have I said it enough?) avoid sun exposure – as this will turn light spots into dark spots. So good sunscreen (even if you are not out in the sun deliberately – because you get exposure just walking to and from the car) is a fantastic way to prevent and start treatment.
Next line of treatment will be skin care products that “lighten and brighten the skin” usually coupled with a retinoid such as tretinoin cream to cause light daily exfoliation that will ultimately help build collagen. Skin care products containing hydroquinone is a popular treatment for “lightening and brightening” skin. These by themselves will usually treat mild age and sun damage over time (like a year or more of daily use).
Intense Pulsed Light or IPL is a treatment that can substantially accelerate the reduction and/or elimination of age spots. People who want the skin to achieve similar results as long term treatment with skin care products can get there much faster with IPL such as the FotoFacial™ treatment we offer at Mountain Radiance Medical Spa.
IPL can provide several advantages over skin care products as well – we can usually reduce or eliminate broken capillaries on the face (and if they are small, on the legs as well). It can also tighten the collagen and give the skin a tighter look which works fantastically for early onset crepey skin on the face and cheeks – though sometimes this condition requires multiple modes of treatment.
IPL FotoFacial™ has those several advantages: reduction or elimination of age spots, treating broken capillaries and tightening the skin! This may take as many as 6 treatments and several months to achieve optimal effects. I highly recommend the use of the skin care regimen in addition to IPL as mentioned above.
If you have any questions about this including cost (usually $250 per treatment at the time of this writing) please do not hesitate to give us a call at 828 627 2711!
Allan Zacher, MD