Seeing (Age) Spots

Last Editorial Review: 1/31/2005

Our skin naturally acquires age spots, dots, bumps, and scales. The good news is, we can remove some and lessen others. 

By Daniel DeNoon
WebMD Feature

Reviewed By Charlotte Grayson

As we age, our skin acquires an interesting collection of spots, dots, bumps, scales, and protuberances. We call them age spots. Doctors have a lot of different names for them. Julie Ann Winfield, MD, calls them barnacles.

The Problem

"We say, 'Oh that? That's just a barnacle of life," the Mill Valley, Calif., dermatologist tells WebMD. "They tend to be more concentrated in areas that rub -- where skin meets skin in the neck, under the breasts, in the groin -- and in sun-exposed areas. Some are called lentigos, and some are called sebhorreic keratoses. Some are skin tags. The ones that look like little red moles are cherry angiomas, and the ones that look like little red spiders are spider angiomas."

If you don't yet have age spots, here's the best way to prevent them: Stay out of the sun. But Winfield says that if our parents had a lot of age spots, the odds are that we will, too.

This doesn't mean you shouldn't pay attention to strange spots on your skin. It's a good idea to see your doctor to make sure the lesions aren't cancers.

The Solution

No matter what kind of age spots you have, they can all be treated.

Removal is the only way to make unwanted spots disappear totally. Doctors have many techniques at their disposal, including freezing with liquid nitrogen, laser removal, or surgical removal. Acid-based creams can also help.

"There are many options, and some are very simple," Winfield says. "You can numb the area so it doesn't hurt much. And things like age spots on the hand can be easily treated with laser surgery, with no downtime for the patient."

Also, creams can help reduce the roughness and visibility of age spots.

"There are some nonprescription creams like Amlactin that, if you have a lot of the rough raised spots, it will make them softer and smoother," Winfield says. "It may not make them go away totally. And the brown spots, the liver spots, if you use an exfoliating cream it may make them lighter."

But beware. People often spend a lot of money on creams that don't work, Winfield says. For example, some "fading" creams don't do a thing; others help some people but not others. If you're trying a new product, Winfield advises that you try it on a small area first. It's very common, she says, for people to come in to her office with a bad reaction to a product they've spread all over their body.

"It's a good idea to go to a dermatologist to get some advice," she says. "And by all means, bring (the products) you are using with you so your doctor can tell you which ones are useful. It won't help if you just say, 'Oh, I'm using the white one in the white bottle.'"

The bottom line: If you don't like your age spots, there are simple ways to remove them.

Published August 2003.

SOURCES: Julie Anne Winfield, MD, dermatologist, Mill Valley Calif. The American Academy of Dermatology.

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