Age spots — which are also known as liver spots, and in medical terms, solar lentigines — are tan, brown or black spots on the skin. They are flat, vary in size and are most likely to appear on the face, hands, shoulders, and arms, as those are the areas most likely to be exposed to the sun. They usually occur in people over the age of 50, although younger people who spend a lot of time in the sun can also get age spots. Age spots are not cancerous, but simply a cosmetic issue.
Sun exposure is the primary cause of age spots. Melanin, the pigmented substance in the skin that provides its color, is produced more rapidly when people spend a lot of time in the sun. Ultraviolet light accelerates the production of melanin (which is why people become tanned if they are out in the sun for any length of time). Commercial tanning lamps and tanning beds can have the same effect as sunlight. Age spots occur when the melanin “clumps” in high concentrations in certain areas.
Age spots don’t have to be treated from a medical standpoint, as they do no harm. However, they do increase the appearance of age, especially when they occur on the face and hands, which cannot be covered by clothing. They can be treated with bleaching medications, laser therapy, freezing (cryotherapy), dermabrasion (sanding down the skin layers) or a chemical peel with acid. Of these, laser therapy is the fastest, least uncomfortable, and least likely to result in side effects, especially when the laser is the Enlighten Laser.
The laser hand-piece is passed slowly over the target area while patients sit or lay comfortably. Patients wear protective eyewear for the entire procedure. Following the procedure, the doctor may prescribe a special ointment to protect the skin and keep it moist. The length of the procedure typically takes between 10 to 30 minutes depending on how many areas need to be treated.
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