In spite of their name, age spots—AKA liver spots and solar lentigines—may have little to do with age.

These small, brown, flat patches of heightened pigmentation are usually present on the face, neck, upper chest, and back of hands. They are formed by too much sun exposure. Calling them “age spots” can be deceitful because they are not a cause of aging alone. They are due to the increasing effect of sun exposure over the years. A 30-year-old- can develop age spots as well as an 80-year-old.

Heredity also has a factor in who will develop age spots. Some people may be exposed to the sun a lot and never get age spots and for other people, they appear after very little exposure.

Formerly, age spots mirror a freckle or a small mole. But over time, they take on their one size, shape, and color characteristics. So what is the distinction between age spots, freckles, and a mole?

Early on, they look very similar. But moles tend to blacken over time and often rise above the skin, when freckles and age spots stay flat. Freckles usually stay small and fade away during the cold months, but age spots never disappear on their own without some type of treatment and grow bigger and darker as you spend more time in the sun.

Preventing age spots

You can prevent getting age spots. In fact, future generations will hardly get age spots if they put on some sunscreen.

Adequate sunscreens weren’t available until the early part of the 80s. Anyone who was born before 1980 was likely to get age spots. Those who were born after 1980 had a good chance of never developing them. Count yourself lucky if you don’t have a single age spot. To keep your skin free of them, follow these do’s and don’ts.

  • Buy sunscreen and use it abundantly. Look for products that have an SPF of 15 or higher and that protect the skin from ultraviolet-A (UVA) and ultraviolet-B (UVB) rays. UVB rays are the primary cause o sunburn and prompt skin damage. UVA rays have a lower strength, but they go through the skin’s surface and cause long-term damage
  • Lose the tanning attitude. I apologize, but wearing a sunscreen does not translate to more time to bask in the sun. Even with the best and most expensive sunscreens out there, you will still be getting some type of sun damage, so lying in the sun and baking in it is a terrible mistake.
  • Stay out of the sun from 10am to 3pm, when they sun’s rays are at its peak.
  • Cover up. The clothes you wear will provide some protection from the sun’s harmful rays so try to wear shorts that are longer, long-sleeved shirts, and wide-brimmed hats. If you have a lighter skin complexion, you may want to look at special lightweight clothing with an SPF of 30 that blocks out UV rays.
  • Ditch the perfume. Some perfumes may contain a strong photosensitizer called oil of bergamot. This oil can cause a distinctive dark discoloration of the skin known as berloque dermatitis after being exposed to sunlight. Oil of bergamot has been stripped off most perfumes and lotions, so this condition is now practically extinct.
  • Be on the lookout for other products containing photosensitizers. Drugs such as Retin-A, tetracycline, and blood pressure and diabetes medications can make your skin more sensitive to sunlight. The most likely reaction is that similar to sunburn. But photosensitizing drugs make you prone to develop age spots with multiple unprotected sun exposure.

Fading age spots

If a few birthdays and summers in the sun have left you with age spots, OTC fade creams may be beneficial. Patience is a virtue—age spots don’t appear overnight, and you are not going to lose them overnight either. Here is what doctors are suggesting.

  • Select a fading cream that contains 2% hydroquinone. While not 100% effective, these ointments can help diminish age spots, mainly the darker ones. Apply the ointment accord to the package directions, and after a couple of months, the spots should begin to fade. However, age spots will return once exposed to the sun, even with sunscreen on.
  • Try alpha hydroxyl acids (AHA). These natural mild fruits can assist fade spots by flaking off dead skin cells and speeding up cell renewal. Integrated in skin creams and lotions in amounts of up to 8%, alpha hydroxyl acids strips away dead skin cells and speed up the growth of fresh, new cells. For better results, look for AHA product containing glycolic acid.
  • For delicate areas around the eyes, use an AHA preparation containing more than 5% acid. Be sure not use it directly on the eyelid.
  • Protect, fade, and shed off. Creams and lotions containing hydroquinone, glycolic acid, and sunscreen battle age spots on three fronts—but they are attained by prescription only. You can enjoy some of the same perks; however, by applying sunscreen throughout the day in addition to 2% hydroquinone OTC fade cream in the morning and over-the-counter AHA lotion or cream at night.
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