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What Are Age Spots And What Causes Them?

24 Apr 2021

Are emerging brown spots on your face and body preventing you from having the even, youthful looking skin you desire? Then you’re likely dealing with age spots. Most common in current or reformed sun worshippers, age spots typically start appearing from the 40s1 onwards. And, unfortunately, these pesky pigment spots can be just as ageing to the appearance as wrinkles and loss of volume. 

Also known as sunspots, liver spots, senile or solar lentigines, age spots are – thankfully – usually quite harmless. But what are age spots, exactly – and what causes them to appear? For answers to these questions, plus some anti-pigmentation skincare advice to tackle the appearance of dark marks, read on. 

What are age spots?

Small, flat and typically round or oval-shaped, age spots are areas of darkened skin resulting from an overproduction of melanin. Tan to dark brown in colour, they have a similar appearance to freckles. However, age spots tend to be a little larger and usually occur from the 40s or 50s onwards.  

Varying in size from a few millimetres to around 1.3cm in diameter2, age spots also have another distinction – they do not fade on their own. While harmless, age spots are often perceived as a blight on the complexion. There are therefore countless products and professional treatments designed to help fade them. We’ll discuss some of these later, but first, let’s talk about the causes. 

What causes age spots?

There are two main factors contributing to the appearance of age spots. Firstly, there’s your natural skin tone. While anyone can develop these pigmentation spots, light-skinned individuals are most impacted. Add a lifetime of sun exposure to the mix and your skin is even more vulnerable. 

In the introduction, we mentioned that age spots are also referred to as sunspots. This is no misnomer as sun exposure is, hands down, the biggest cause of age spots. According to the Cleveland Clinic, even a single significant sunburn will increase your risk of this type of hyperpigmentation. And it all comes down to the protective role of melanin. 

You’ll no doubt have heard of melanin – the natural pigment that gives your skin (and hair) colour. Melanin production naturally surges in response to UV exposure. And, with frequent or intense bursts of sun exposure, excess melanin can clump together to form age spots. 

Why sun protection is your best defence?

Like most types of sun damage, sunspots don’t appear overnight. In fact, they can take many years, even decades, to appear. We unfortunately can’t outrun our past skin mistakes, and, even if you’ve been sun-smart for decades, those teenage sunburns will most likely show up as age spots in your 40s or 50s. So, whatever age you are right now, make today the day you commit to daily use of sunscreen! 

The number one anti-ageing product in your arsenal, sunscreen really is your best defence against age spots – alongside covering up and minimising sun exposure. While sunscreen unfortunately won’t get rid of your existing age spots, it can help prevent new ones from forming. However, it’s recommended that you choose a product that delivers broad-spectrum protection while being lightweight and comfortable for everyday wear.  

Providing protection against both ageing UVA and burning UVB rays, La Roche-Posay’s Anthelios range caters to all skin types including sensitive ones. With mattifying, ultra-light and nourishing formulas, the range includes options suitable for dry to oily and acne-prone skin.

Preventing age spots on the face

To prevent age spots on the face, it’s essential to apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen each morning – and remember to reapply it throughout the day. An antioxidant serum can also help counteract free radicals and reduce the effects of visible sun damage while boosting skin radiance and brightening the complexion overall. 

Other steps to avoid sunspots include staying inside during peak UV times. And if you do go outside? Always seek shade and stay protected with a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses. 

Preventing age spots on the body

Age spots aren’t restricted to the face, however. Appearing either as solo spots or clusters, age spots also commonly occur on the areas of the body that catch the most sun. These include your shoulders, hands, arms, legs, top of feet and upper back. 

Here are a few tips to help prevent age spots in different areas…

Age spots on hands

The hands are a real sunspot hotspot, partly due to our reliance on cars. UVA radiation can penetrate through glass – including your driver’s side window – so make sure you apply sunscreen to the back of your hands before driving. 

Age spots on legs & top of feet

While most of us are vigilant with our anti-ageing facial sunscreen routine, the same often can’t be said for our legs and feet. These parts of our body are so often exposed in summer, so don’t skip them when you apply sunscreen. And if the risk of age spots isn’t enough of an incentive? Perhaps you’ll be motivated knowing that most melanomas in women occur on the lower legs3. 

Age spots on arms, back & shoulders

The back is another problem area for age spots, as it can be tricky to apply sunscreen if alone. To protect it, as well as your arms and shoulders, wear a long-sleeved, tightly woven shirt when out in the sun.

Are age spots dangerous?

Age spots are mostly harmless; however, it’s important to monitor them as they can have a similar appearance to melanomas. It’s, therefore, crucial to have regular skin checks and keep an eye on your own skin as well. Get to know your sunspots, freckles and moles and seek immediate advice if you notice any changes.

Spots that are black or multi-coloured, growing or changing shape, bleeding, itchy or with an irregular border should be seen to quickly.

While age spots are fine to be left as is, some people want them faded for aesthetic reasons. There are various professional treatments to help remove or fade them, such as laser, IPL and chemical peels. 

How to manage age spots with skincare?

Thankfully, there are also active ingredients and products you can use at home to help improve the appearance of hyperpigmentation and sunspots. The following simple steps are easy to incorporate into your AM and PM routines. 

1. Use a broad-spectrum, SPF 50+ sunscreen every day

We can’t stress enough the importance of applying a high protection broad-spectrum SPF each morning, especially when the UV Index is predicted to reach 3 or above. 

2. Add retinol to enhance and renew skin cell turnover (PM)

While antioxidants such as Vitamin C can help brighten skin, retinol fights dark marks by enhancing skin cell turnover and repair. Refining the skin and helping improve the look of wrinkles, it’s the key ingredient in the La Roche-Posay Retinol B3 Anti-Ageing Serum. Lightweight and easily absorbed, the serum combines pure and progressive-release retinol with barrier-boosting niacinamide (Vitamin B3) to promote more even skin – without the irritation. 

Also targeting irregular skin tone, wrinkles and age spots is the Redermic Retinol Anti-Ageing Cream Gel. This light, non-sticky retinol cream also contains Neurosensine and soothing La Roche-Posay Spring Water formulated for sensitive skin. And for a brighter, smoother eye contour? There’s Redermic R Anti-Wrinkle Eye Cream

(All retinol products are for PM use only and should be combined with daily sun protection.)  

3. Use targeted brightening products

Those with dark spots may also benefit from a brightening and correcting serum, such as La Roche-Posay Pigmentclar Serum. Combining exfoliating LHA and an anti-dark spot complex of PhE-Resorcinol + Ginkgo + Ferulic Acid, this anti-pigmentation serum targets dark marks for a more unified, even and radiant looking complexion. Use AM or PM. 

4. Camouflage with a BB Cream

A camouflaging BB cream is an excellent option for covering age spots and hyperpigmentation and providing a more even, radiant-looking skin tone. Available in three shades, Uvidea Anthelios Tinted BB Cream SPF 50+ provides added broad-spectrum sun protection while helping disguise dark spots. 
 

Explore the La Roche-Posay website for more Sun Safety advice and advice on How to Prevent & Treat Pigmentation.

ALWAYS READ THE LABEL. FOLLOW THE DIRECTIONS FOR USE.

Apply 20 minutes before sun exposure. Sunscreen is only one part of sun protection so wear protective clothing and seek shade. Avoid prolonged sun exposure. Reapply every 2 hours and after swimming, towelling and perspiring in accordance with directions.

References

1. Dermnet NZ, ‘Solar Lentigo’, 2014.
2. Mayo Clinic, ‘Age Spots’. 
3. Mayo Clinic, ‘Skin Cancer’. 
 

 

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