It happens. One day, it hits you that you appear to be on track to have arms not unlike your grandmother’s. Those pesky aberrations she called “liver spots” appear to have commenced their creeping conquest on your once pristine flesh. Do not fear, my dear. There are tools in the dermatologist’s arsenal to keep them at bay and lifestyle choices you can make to manage them.
What are “liver spots”?
Liver spots, age spots, lentigo (plural: lentigines) – they are all the same thing. And just to be clear, liver spots have nothing to do with the liver! Usually occurring in those over 40, age spots commonly appear on the shoulders, chest, forearms, hands and face and are a damage response, in the form of pigmentation, to UV light exposure.
Are they dangerous?
Although age spots are generally considered harmless, they should be checked by your dermatologist if they change or their color or border become irregular. They also are a marker for sun damage meaning they could indicate a higher risk for skin cancer.
How are they prevented?
The best way to prevent the eventual development of age spots is to have a consistent and ongoing practice of sun protection from an early age. Application of a good quality sunscreen whenever venturing outside and being mindful to avoid the sun during peak UVB hours between 10am and 2pm is critical.
Be aware that elevation, ozone, and latitude are factors in the intensity of the rays. Also keep in mind that UVA rays, present at about the same intensity as UVB rays during daylight hours, can penetrate clouds and glass. So, sitting in the car on a cloudy day does not mean you are not being exposed.
What is the best way to get rid of them?
Some people don’t develop age spots, and some people who have them don’t mind them. But for others, age spots are an unsightly distraction and a harbinger of doom! There are a variety of techniques used to remove age spots. Topical treatments such as hydroquinone and tretinoin can help lighten them to some degree. Freezing with liquid nitrogen can be effective, but may leave white spots. By far, the most effective way to treat is with Q-Switched lasers.
Q-Switched Lasers deliver ultra short pulses (nanoseconds) of light to the affected area to gently remove the extra melanin. The skin generally returns to its original complexion, free of age spots. The risk of white spots is lower than with freezing. Q-switched lasers are also used in tattoo removal as well as for non-invasive skin rejuvenation using laser genesis techniques and via carbon peels.