Senior Health

When it Comes to Age Spots, Be “Berry” Careful

When it comes to eliminating “liver spots,” those unsightly skin blemishes that multiply with age, the oil and nutrients derived from berries, including lingonberries, seem to be all the rage. But I advise patients to exercise caution when it comes to treatment fads claiming to “lighten” or rid the skin of liver spots, also called age spots or solar lentigines.

Research published in 2017 in Plant Foods and Human Nutrition indicates that berries – lingonberries and blueberries, in particular – are rich in anti-oxidant properties beneficial to overall human health, including health of the skin. And, authors of another recent study report that women who daily applied topical compounds containing lingonberry extract attained younger-looking skin within a few months.

I agree that age spots can mar the skin’s appearance and impact self-esteem but patients in general, especially women wanting to “improve their look”, check with a dermatologist before engaging in treatments that may be costly, ineffective, even harmful to the skin.

Advances in medication and therapy have improved physicians’ ability to treat aging skin effectively.  In addition to prescribed topical medications like hydroquinone, more comprehensive approaches for eliminating age spots, she says, include:

  • Laser therapy
  • Chemical peels, which burn the outer skin layer, causing new skin to form
  • Cryotherapy, involving application of a freezing agent to blemishes
  • Dermabrasion, used to plane off the surface layer of skin.

Although heredity can play a role in the appearance of age spots, these flat, oval, tan or black areas of pigmentation are manifestation of years of insult to the skin due to personal habits, lifestyle and simply a failure to protect skin adequately from the sun’s ultraviolet rays.

That’s why these spots tend to appear on the face, shoulders, upper back, arms and backs of hands – places that have received the most sun exposure. Sometimes, skin spots are grouped together, making them more noticeable.

Persons age 50 or older are at increased risk of developing age spots, but they can occur at almost any age, she says. The blemishes develop when melanin, which is responsible for pigmentation, accumulates in the innermost layer of the skin’s epidermis due to aging of the skin, the skin’s response to the sun’s rays and environmental stresses, including heat.

Age spots pose no health threat, but patients frequently want to remove them – or, at least, reduce the number of them — for cosmetic reasons.

Makeup will conceal the spots temporarily, but not eliminate them. Over-the-counter creams may lighten or even eliminate some age spots but are not nearly as effective as ointments and medications prescribed by a physician.

All age spots are dark, of course, but not all dark spots are age spots.

What looks like a pigment splotch may sometimes be actinic keratosis (AK), a condition, caused by sun damage, that prompts skin cells to grow into scaly, discolored lesions. These patches may appear brown, tan, gray — even pink. They are not normally dangerous but can develop into squamous cells carcinoma – a skin cancer – and must, therefore, be monitored carefully.

Having your skin evaluated by a dermatologist is so very important,.

But, the best treatments in the world for skin spots – age or otherwise — are not as effective as prevention.  Dr. Hu offers these tips for maintaining healthy skin:

  • Limit exposure to the sun. When outdoors, apply a sunscreen with a protection factor of at least 30 or higher to exposed skin and wear a hat. Skin ages prematurely each time a person “gets a tan.”
  • Stop smoking. Smoking creates wrinkles and a sallow complexion.
  • Eat a well-balanced diet; drink less alcohol
  • Exercise — regularly
  • Cleanse the skin gently. Scrubbing can irritate it and speed the aging process.
  • Avoid skin-care products or makeup that irritates skin.
  • And, what about lingonberries?  Go ahead and eat them. Whether or not they make your skin brighter, doesn’t matter. They are simply good for your health.”

Judy Hu, MD, FAAD, a board-certified dermatologist and fellow of the American Academy of Dermatology, specializes in medical, surgical, and cosmetic dermatology with extensive experience in skin rejuvenation utilizing injections and laser therapy. 

Advanced Dermatology P.C. and the Center for Laser and Cosmetic Surgery (New York & New Jersey) is one of the leading dermatology centers in the nation, offering highly experienced physicians in the fields of cosmetic and laser dermatology as well as plastic surgery and state-of-the-art medical technologies.

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