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Age, Sun & Liver Spots

Age Spots
Liver spots on the hand
Discolouration on the face


Age spots/Lentigines located on the face, tops of the hands, upper back, shoulders, legs and arms develop due to a variety of reasons, including years of unprotected exposure to the sun.  While these marks are usually considered harmless, it's important to ensure they're not masquerading as a potentially harmful condition known as actinic keratosis, or a cancerous growth such as lentigo maligna melanoma.  Your skin should be evaluated by a doctor, who is trained and skilled in the diagnosis and management of skin conditions.

While older age and genetics play a role in the changes to these patchy spots, the most common cause is an overproduction of melanin (brown pigment) in the top layer of the skin due to the harmful effects of ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun or from tanning lamps. This can result in an accumulation of sun spots known as solar lentigines.  Since your age spots are most likely due to this type of exposure, let's discuss photo aging.  This term is used to describe skin changes that have most likely occurred as a result of persistent and unproteced exposure to the sun.  These skin changes might include the following, "liver spots" / sun spots / age spots.  These are usually flat, gray, brown or black spots.  They vary in size and usually appear on the face, hands, shoulders and arms, areas most exposed to the sun.

Age spots are very common in adults older than age 40, but they can affect younger people as well.  True age spots are harmless and don’t need treatment, but they can look like suspicious growths.  It may take years of sun exposure for these dark spots to occur, they develop very slowly over time.

In addition to sun exposure, simply growing older can cause age spots. Family history also plays a part in how likely you are to the develop age spots.

Indications for Cryotherapy:

  • Patches of brown or black areas (solar lentigos) or uneven skin tone due to changes in pigmentation
  • Benign changes such as melasma and seborrheic keratosis
  • Precancerous skin changes actinic keratosis (small and rough textured reddish/brown areas located on sun-exposed areas of the skin) and actinic cheilitis (which usually, but not always, appears as white scaly patches on the lower lips)

The melanocytes (cells that produce the melanin) may also "short-circuit" and stop the production of melanin, leading to patchy areas of white spots on sun-exposed skin areas.  As you can tell, there's more to age spots than meets the eye. The damage leading up to its obvious appearance may have occurred silently and gradually over the course of many years.

Erasing the damage

This simple procedure usually takes less than a minute and is done in the treatment room. Once you have confirmation that the age spots are truly benign and require no further treatment, you may want to consider Cryotherapy, proven to be a very effective "spot" remover.

Cryosurgery is a highly effective treatment for a broad range of benign skin problems. Utilizing liquid nitrogen to freeze and destroy the tissues in the pigmented area, leading to a gradual re-growth of new and lighter skin.  Sun spots have the potential to grow and become a cosmetic concern, especially if located on your face or hands. If this occurs and concerns you, visit a physician skilled in cosmetic and aesthetic medicine.

Does it hurt?

Most people experience a very small amount of discomfort lasting only a second or two during treatment. It is common to feel a slight tingling or burning sensation for up to two hours after treatment. Blistering and throbbing may be experienced for 24-48 hours. Redness, swelling and blister formation are expected over the treated area. Blistering usually subsides within two to three hours. Do not lance the blisters or otherwise touch the treated areas after treatment unless it is for the purpose of cleansing. Do not rub or scrub with washcloth or any other abrasive. Some people take an analgesic to decrease any discomfort, while some have found relief with cool packs.  Polysporin is helpful in controlling bacteria, keeping the skin moist and relieving any minor discomfort.

What should I do after treatment?

Keep the area clean, but do not scrub it or pick at it. You may not notice anything for days or weeks and then all at once you may feel a crust or scab develop. Never pick it off. Let it heal on its own. Picking, not the treatment itself, WILL cause scarring. It is imperative when treating hyperpigmented spots to always use a sunscreen to decrease the likelihood of reappearance.

How long does it take to heal?

Most head & neck area treatments heal in 4-6 weeks, body areas take longer. Legs take the longest to heal. A dark or red spot may form and will usually fade within no more than six months and in the vast majority of cases within a few weeks.

Is this safe for all ethnicities?

While Cryotherapy has been used safely for all ethnicities, people with more melanin (pigment) in their skin sometimes develop a condition called Post-Inflammatory Hyper-pigmentation. This is an uncommon reaction, and usually temporary. It can be reduced with proper skin care products and treatments.

Cryosurgery has been used to treat skin lesions for approximately 100 years. Liquid nitrogen became available in the 1940's and currently is the most widely used cryogen.

Cryotherapy causes little or no scarring, though some people, particularly those with darker skin, experience permanent skin-color lightening. Talk to your doctor to see if cryotherapy is right for you.

It is important not to pick at the scab as this will encourage scarring. A dressing or plaster is not usually necessary,

Tips to prevent recurring age spots

Many people feel a sense of relief after the sun spots fade or disappear. However, the risk factors that produced the spots still exist and should be minimized. Otherwise, new or recently erased spots will reappear. One or more of the following approaches should be considered for spot prevention:

  • Sun safety: Avoid or limit direct sun exposure, especially when sunlight is most intense between the hours of 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.
  • Sunblock: Use proper sunscreens that are considered broad spectrum and protect against both UVA and UVB radiation. UVA penetrates deeper into the skin and causes the majority of photoaging, while UVB is the major cause of sunburn. Use at least an SPF of 15 (30 for fair-skinned individuals) and apply 15 to 30 minutes before going outside.
  • Sun-protective film: Apply this film to your car and home windows. This filters UVA radiation from the sun (UVB does not penetrate windows as easily), thus decreasing its potential to photo-age the skin.
  • Sun protective clothing: (Sun Precautions, Coolibar, EcoStinger, and others) Specially designed clothing can block a large percentage of UV radiation from penetrating the material and reaching the skin. Also, use broad-rimmed hats to protect the scalp and forehead. It is also important to wear wrap-around sunglasses with 100 percent UV protection to protect your eyes, lids and skin in and around that region.

True age spots are benign. However, they do signal that skin damage has already occurred, and those affected areas should be examined yearly to ensure they are free and clear of any pre-cancerous or cancerous skin changes.

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