We all know that getting older brings new health challenges. At least we have all the grace and wisdom of our years to take these problems in stride. Still, as mature as we might be none of us wants to come face to face with age spots every time we look in the mirror. Fortunately, you can not only prevent them from forming or darkening, but you can also use natural solutions to treat these troublesome signs of advanced age.
Spots in Many Forms
Age spots come in an array of shapes, sizes and colors. They may be brown or red; bumps or protuberances; smooth or rough and scaly. There are several different types of skin discolorations that are classified together because all are linked to sun exposure.
In reality, the sun is often a greater culprit than aging, but older people tend to accumulate more sun damage. Therefore, age spots are not merely a consequence of aging, but the results of years of unprotected sun exposure.
The most commonly recognized type of age spots are known as lentigines, or liver spots. They are brown in color and most often found on the face, hands and chest. They are produced when the skin makes pigment as a defense against the sun’s harmful rays.
Another aging spot similar in fashion to liver spots is Melasma. The difference is that they often have a patchy appearance and are triggered by hormonal changes. Pregnant women or women using birth control pills are at risk for Melasma, so sunscreen is a necessity.
Freckles are yet another skin condition caused by sun exposure. However, they often show up on young people and can fade on their own over time. Your freckles may even be darker in the summer and fade during winter.
Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation is a dark spot on the skin that may not be caused by the sun, but can grow darker when exposed to rays. These spots may be left behind where you have had a pimple, bug bite or other instance of skin inflammation.
Prescription drugs can also lead to dark spots on the skin. Some antiobiotics, diuretics and antipsychotics trigger excess pigment. Other unexpected culprits are musk or bergamot oil in scented lotions or fragrances. These substances can produce age spots if you apply them before going out in the sun.
Solutions for Spots
Everywhere you look you will see products that promise to “fade” age spots and sun spots, but often these creams can have little effect. In particular, you should be wary of topical treatments containing hydroquinone, which is simply a bleach solution for the skin. I know that many of my patients don’t even like to use bleach in their homes, so rubbing it on their bodies is out of the question. Aside from being too harsh for many people, some countries have banned hydroquinone due to studies suggesting a link to cancer.
Fortunately, there are natural options available which are known to diminish age spots. Some ingredients to look for are kojic acid (a by-product of malted rice), licorice extract, mulberry and soy. As manufacturers are turning to nature for active ingredients instead of using harsh chemicals, research supporting the healthy skin properties of these ingredients is accumulating quickly.
Vitamin C, a powerful antioxidant, is found in many skin creams and serums. It is known to promote even skin tone. Many products featuring these ingredients are widely available over the counter.
Another natural remedy for age spots is everyday white vinegar. Mix equal parts vinegar and onion juice and apply to dark spots for several weeks. This treatment has been known to fade age spots in some people.
As a dermatologist utilizing the latest technology in anti-aging treatments, I also treat age spots with pigment-lesion, Fraxel and Nd:YAG lasers which reveal clear, even skin after a series of treatments. Photo-facials and glycolic peels are also options for dealing with age spots.
If you notice a new or unusual spot on your skin that seems abnormal, visit your dermatologist to rule out the possibility of skin cancer. When it comes to so-called age spots, the first line of defense is sun protection, so remember your SPF, a wide-brimmed hat and light weight clothing to cover up when the sun’s rays are strong. With a few simple steps, you can enjoy the summer without adding any signs of aging to your skin.
Photo Credit: Arvind Balaraman