Preventing Age Spots
By Joshua Wong, Guardian Senior Patient Care Pharmacist
Age spots, also known as liver spots, are a type of skin condition associated with prolonged exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays. Upon contact with UV rays from the Sun or from a tanning booth, the skin cells known as melanocytes will produce more melanin as a form of protection against overexposure to the rays. Over time, the melanin will concentrate at one area and will eventually develop into the dark patches that we call age spots.
As its name implies, age spots are common in adults above the age of 40. However, younger adults or even children may get it too. It was once thought that improper function of the liver is the main cause of its formation. Though that has been proven to no longer be true, the name “liver spots” is still being used interchangeably with “age spots”.
Age spots appear flat with regular borders and the colour varies between grey, red, brown, and black. They tend to occur at skin areas that are more exposed to sunlight; mainly the face, back of hands, shoulder, upper back, and even on the scalp if the person is bald. Often, age spots are accompanied by other skin conditions caused by UV ray damage such as deep wrinkles, dry and rough skin, fine red blood vessels (especially on the cheeks, nose or ears), or more translucent looking skin.
Age spots are more common in individuals who have fair skin or who have been working under the sun for prolonged periods. Certain medication can increase the skin’s sensitivity to sunlight, thus increasing the risk of age spot formation. Individuals who tan regularly under the sun or using artificial sunlight from tanning booths are also at a higher risk.
As with wrinkle prevention, sun protection applies to age spot prevention as well. Avoiding or minimising UV exposure from the Sun and tanning booths is the best way to reduce the risk of age spots formation. While under the Sun, use a broad-spectrum sunscreen and apply it liberally to the exposed skin areas at least half an hour before sun exposure. Continue to reapply at least every two hours or as often as recommended by the manufacturer for optimal protection.
Age spots are generally harmless and the only reason to remove it is purely for cosmetic reasons. However, some people may find it emotionally distressful to have age spots, especially younger individuals. Do consult your healthcare professionals for advice on prevention tips and treatment options.