Spots – love ‘em or leave ‘em?

Loving the skin you’re in can be easier said than done. In a society obsessed with perfection and airbrushed photos, loving our slight skin “imperfections” can be difficult. We make choices every day to fight signs of aging and acne. What about spots and discolorations? Are they an inevitable part of aging? Should you be worried about them? Should you try to eliminate them?

Age spots, also called liver spots and solar lentignes are flat tan, brown or black spots. They vary in size (from a freckle to ½ inch across) and usually appear on the face, hands, shoulders and arms, the areas most exposed to the sun.


Age spots are caused primarily by years of exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light from the sun, tanning beds or tanning lamps. UV light exposure accelerates the production of melanin, creating a tan to protect your deeper layers of skin.

On areas of the skin that have years of frequent and prolonged sun exposure, age spots appear when melanin becomes “clumped” or is produced in particularly high concentrations.

Some people have a hereditary predisposition to age spots. Age spots may develop at an early age, even in childhood, though they are more common in people older the 50 (hence the name age spots), especially in those who have spent too much time in the sun.

To prevent age spots, you should use SPF cover up and avoid the sun.

Age spots are not cancerous, nor do they lead to cancer. However, since age spots are caused by sun damage, you should be on the lookout for any discolorations that are scaly, red and elevated. These may be precancerous actinic keratoses. You should also have your doctor evaluate spots that are darkly pigmented, have changed in appearance, are rapidly increasing in size, have an irregular border, an unusual combination of colors, or are accompanied by itching, redness, tenderness or bleeding. These can all be signs of skin cancer.


So should you love your sun spots or leave ‘em? Since most sun spots do not pose a health risk it is a cosmetic decision. If you barely notice your age spots or think they add character, then keep them! If you are embarrassed by your age spots, are consistently trying to cover them up because you feel they are aging you prematurely, then maybe it it is time to leave ‘em. There are many options to lighten or remove age spots:


There are creams, serums and treatments available in department and drug stores and online that claim to lighten age spots. These types of treatments may improve the appearance of age spots, depending on how dark the spots are and how often you apply the cream. Regular use over several weeks or months may be necessary to produce noticeable results.

If you opt for an over-the-counter treatment, choose one that contains hydroquinone. If hydroquinone irritates your skin, other ingredients to look for are glycolic acid, kojic acid, alpha-arbutin, licorice extract, and vitamin C,

By a professional

If OTC treatments aren’t strong enough to lighten your spots or to completely remove age spots you should visit a dermatologist. Because age spot treatments are considered cosmetic, your insurance may not pay for them. And because the procedures can have side effects, discuss your options carefully with your dermatologist. Also, make sure your dermatologist is specially trained and experienced in the technique you’re considering.

  • Prescription bleaching creams (hydroquinone) – used alone or with retinoids (tretinoin) and a mild steroid may gradually fade the spots over several months. The treatments may result in temporary itching, redness, burning or dryness.
  • Laser – Ablative laser resurfacing is a procedure that uses a wand-like laser instrument to remove the upper layers of skin. It removes old skin cells in order to reveal newer, more youthful cells. The laser heats the skin layers underneath to promote collagen production, which stimulates skin in the treatment area to heal in a smoother, more even appearance. Healing can take 10-21 days and patients may experience swelling, itching and peeling skin. The procedure is also expensive, costing up to $2300.
  • Freezing (cryotherapy) – This procedure involves applying liquid nitrogen or another freezing agent to the age spots to destroy the extra pigment. As the area heals, the skin appears lighter. Freezing is typically used on a single age spot or a small grouping of age spots. The treatment may temporarily irritate the skin, but any irritation usually subsides in a few days after treatment. The treatment poses a slight risk of permanent scarring or discoloration. The average cost is between $500-$900
  • Dermabrasion – This procedure consists of sanding down (planing) the surface of your skin with a rapidly rotating brush. This procedure removes the skin surface, so that a new layer of skin can grow in its place. Temporary redness and scab formation can result from this treatment. New growth is expected within five to eight days, with skin fading to normal tones within six to eight weeks. Costs can range from several hundred to several thousand dollars,
  • Chemical peel – A chemical peel involves applying an acid, which burns the outer layer of your skin, . As your skin peels, new skin forms to take its place. Several treatments may be necessary before you notice any results. Temporary irritation is likely, and there’s a slight risk of discoloration. Irritation includes redness, followed by scaling that will last for three to seven days. Deeper peels could take 7-14 days to heal.

Whatever you decide to do with your agespots, we are here to help you on your journey to skin health.  Your personal skin care coach OKU is here to help you understand your skin from below the surface and to give you tips on how to improve your skin health.

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