One of the most common skin care complaints from women of all ages is hyperpigmentation, otherwise known as skin discoloration, whereby some patches are darker in tone. Hyperpigmentation comes in various forms, from birthmarks to acne scars, and can be quite unsightly and embarrassing.
Age spots, also known as liver spots, are one form of hyperpigmentation and are widespread among women over the age of 40. Age spots can be described as a cluster of freckles that are usually various shades of brown, gray, or black. They’re flat and seen mainly on the face, arms, shoulders, and hands. As common as age spots are, there are still many misconceptions about this skin condition.
Age Spots Myth #1: They’re Caused By Aging
Aside from the name, age spots don’t actually have much to do with aging as much as it has to do with the sun. Age spots are a direct result of the sun’s ultraviolet rays, which penetrate year-round. These rays cause a chemical reaction in your skin’s melanin, which is the substance that gives you your skin tone, eye color, and hair color. Being out in the sun darkens the skin’s pigment, giving you that tanned look. As new skin cells make their way to the surface, the tan fades. Unfortunately, as you age, your cell turnover rate isn’t as quick as it was in your 20s, resulting in these age spots that don’t fade with the rest of your tan.
Age Spots Myth #2: Cancer
Another myth about age spots is that they are cancerous when, in fact, they are benign. However, if you are not using proper sun protection, you may start seeing more age spots. Having more age spots can make it difficult to see discolored blotches that may be the beginning stages of melanoma (skin cancer). With very few distinctions, melanoma looks quite similar to age spots and, like all cancers, survival rates are much higher when it’s caught early and treated immediately.
Age Spots Myth #3: Your Liver
Although many people still refer to age spots as liver spots, they actually have nothing to do with the liver. Age spots no longer serve as an indication of liver disease, which used to be the common belief. Some still argue that the shape and color of age spots is similar to that of the human liver, but they actually appear in all shapes and sizes. So, even though you might hear the term liver spots, age spots actually don’t have any connection to your liver health.
Age Spots Myth #4: Age Spots are Inevitable
Fortunately, age spots are preventable. A regular application of a broad-spectrum sunscreen any time you are outside can protect you from dealing with discoloration and age spots later on in life—don’t forget to reapply every two hours. While it’s important to pay special attention to the main problem areas (face, arms, shoulders, and hands), it’s still important to protect any areas that are regularly exposed to the sun. Age spots could also be hiding on your scalp if you have thinning hair or bald patches. Habitual use of sunscreen can also protect you from an array of other skin damage as well.
Age Spots Myth #5: Age Spots are Permanent
If you already have age spots, there are numerous topical treatments available to help reduce their visibility. The easiest and most popular treatments for age spots are creams and serums that contain skin lightening agents, such as vitamin C, retinol, and hydroquinone. It is recommended that you do a test patch to ensure your skin agrees with the product. This option is quite convenient and available over the counter; however, results can take up to four to six weeks.
There are more intensive procedures for age spots available, such as chemical peels and laser treatment, which reveal results relatively quicker. However, they also tend to be more expensive and require more than one session. With any of these treatments, you should still follow it up with the application of a sunscreen that has an SPF of 30 or higher.
Before starting any treatment, check with your health care provider to ensure that your age spots are not anything more serious. It is imperative to confirm that any discoloration of the skin is benign to ensure that you’re making an informed decision with regards to treatment.
“Age spots (liver spots),” Mayo Clinic web site; https://www.mayoclinic.com/health/age-spots/DS00912, last accessed July 29, 2013.
Rivero, T., “Age spots: How to treat age spots,” Canadian Living web site; https://www.canadianliving.com/style/beauty/age_spots_how_to_treat_age_spots.php, last accessed July 29, 2013.