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When Are Age Spots More Than Cosmetic? CareMount Doctor Explains

Age spots can sometimes be a sign of dangerous cancer growth says CareMount Medical's Dr. Ross Levy.
Age spots can sometimes be a sign of dangerous cancer growth says CareMount Medical's Dr. Ross Levy. Photo Credit: Contributed

As we age, our skin can undergo various transformations. Due to sun exposure, genetics and other environmental factors, dark blemishes can appear on the face, arms and other exposed areas. Often times, these "age spots" are no more than a harmless overproduction of pigment, but sometimes they can be a warning sign of a larger problem.

"Age spots appear as freckles," said Dr. Ross Levy, a dermatologist at CareMount Medical. "These flat, oval areas occur when skin cells increase the production of pigment as a protective mechanism against the sun’s ultraviolet rays or environmental stresses." In most instances, they form on high-exposure areas such as the face, shoulders, upper back, arms and backs of hands.

Although most age spots pose no health threat, patients oftentimes elect to treat them for cosmetic reasons. "Makeup will conceal the spots temporarily, but not eliminate them," said Levy. "Although advances in medication and therapy have improved physicians’ ability to treat aging skin, each approach has its pluses and minuses." Treatments can include over-the-counter creams, freezing agents as well as laser therapy.

While age spots usually are no more than a cosmetic nuisance, some sun-influenced marks can be a sign of a more dangerous development. "What looks like a pigment splotch may be actinic keratosis, a condition, caused by sun damage, that prompts skin cells to grow abnormally into scaly, discolored patches," said Levy. "Although not normally dangerous, the lesions can develop into squamous cells carcinoma -- a skin cancer. Therefore, blotches should be carefully monitored by a dermatologist."

Unsurprisingly, the best age spot treatment is avoiding their development altogether. Taking simple steps such as drinking plenty of water, gently cleaning skin, using sunscreen and facial moisturizer daily and avoiding tobacco can go a long way to preventing the growth of age spots. "It's important to remember that skin is the largest organ in our body, and the main barrier between us and the environment," said Levy.

For more information on the skin care services offered at CareMount Medical, click here.