Written by Kimberly Vaughn, MD
Sunday, 04 October 2009
Age spots are flat, brown patches of skin that occur in irregular shapes. They appear most commonly on the arms, face, and back of the hands.
What is going on in the body?
Age spots are caused by an increased number of pigment-producing cells in the skin. They are thought to occur in response to long-term sun damage and are associated with aging of the skin. They are not harmful and do not represent skin cancer.
What are the causes and risks of the symptom?
The skin tends to get thinner with age. This causes older people to have pale, translucent skin. The number of pigment, or color-containing, cells decreases. The color-containing cells that are left tend to get bigger and group together as age spots. Chronic sun damage speeds up the development of these spots.
What are the treatments for the symptom?
Age spots are not generally treated, unless the individual requests treatment for cosmetic reasons. Treatments to remove age spots include the following:
- application of a small amount of acid
- cryotherapy, which uses the cold from liquid nitrogen to remove the spot
- laser surgery
- bleaching cream, which is generally used over several months
What are the side effects of the treatments?
Sometimes scarring or excessive pigment loss occurs as a complication of treatment.
What happens after treatment for the symptom?
Methods of treatment that destroy the outer layer of skin create blisters and a fine peeling of the pigmented skin tissue. After recovery, an individual can return to normal activities.