Age spot is the common name for a lentigine. This is a brownish area of skin discolouration, generally on the face, arms and legs, caused by the sun damaging fair skin. Age spots are similar to large freckles, which are also caused by the sun. As we age our body is less able to absorb the ultra violet rays that damage our skin and this causes the areas of darker pigmentation or melanin to occur more frequently as we get older. It is probably more correct to call these marks sun spots rather than age spots, as they reflect damage over time from the sun, rather than just the passing of the years.
It is important to have your skin checked as soon as you notice any new areas of pigmented skin. Consult your community pharmacist, who will advise you if you can wait until your next scheduled visit to your doctor or if you need to get it checked immediately.
Most sun spots can be prevented by regular, liberal daily use of sunscreen to all exposed skin. However we all slip up and occasionally forget to apply sunscreen. This means that most of us will have cumulative damage over time, resulting in freckles or sun spots.
Sun spots can be treated or lightened by laser or by careful use of skin bleaching preparations. Both of these treatments can damage the skin so must be used carefully as advised by your pharmacist, doctor or dermatologist. Treatment must be accompanied by sunscreen application every day, reapplied if sun exposure is extended beyond one or two hours.
If you are treating sun spots with bleaching preparations then be prepared for lengthy treatment over several weeks or months. These preparations act slowly in order to limit burning and further damage to the skin they are being applied to. Overuse of skin bleaching creams may result in scarring causing darkened skin areas, so care is essential or you may worsen what you are trying to reduce.
Exposure to ultra violet light through glass, such as through car windows, can also cause sun spots, so having a UV film applied to windows of vehicles is also a sensible precaution for those of fair skin or at an increased risk of skin cancer.
Remember you can prevent the sun from damaging your skin by using sunscreen and wearing protective clothing, sunglasses and a hat and avoiding unnecessary exposure to the sun, especially between 10am and 3pm.
Your community pharmacist can provide you with products and advice on managing and preventing sun spots and other skin marks and lesions. If you need to seek further diagnosis and treatment, they can refer you to the appropriate health professional to manage your condition.