age spots in older people

Age spots: What are they and treatments

6 min read |
Alistair Clay Author

Author 15.03.2022

Alistair Clay

As we get older it is only natural that our bodies change and we may develop age spots on our skin.

Age spots are common, and usually, nothing to worry about. They are generally not harmful, though should be monitored for changes that could, on rare occasions, indicate skin cancer.

Here we'll take a closer look at age spots, their causes, preventions, and any treatments.

Here’s a summary of what we will cover in this blog

  • Age spots are usually a result of sun exposure throughout life. They are also known as sunspots, liver spots or solar lentigines
  • They are not harmful unless they change significantly in size, shape or texture
  • People with fair skin are usually most prone to age spots
  • While age spots are normally harmless, see your GP if you are concerned
what are age spots

What are age spots?

Age spots are flat, darker coloured patches on faces, backs of hands and shoulders. 

The risk of developing them can be minimised by staying out of the sun in our youth.

This will also minimise any risk of skin cancer and sun damage in general.

Age spots appear as a result of melanin in the skin changing and getting darker. They can appear on the skin at any age, but are more common in the over 50s.

As a rule, they affect people with fair skin more than those with darker complexions.

Those with fair skin may have had freckles in their youth that have faded over time.

These freckles occur because of sun exposure, causing melanin to clump together. Age spots will not fade over time like freckles do.

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older person age spots

At what age do age spots appear?

Generally, age spots are most common in the over 50s. They can appear in people as young as 20, but this is less common. 

Age is not the only factor in developing age spots.

People who have spent a prolonged amount of time in the sun are most likely to develop them. Sometimes, they just appear even without prolonged sun exposure.

As people with fair skin age, they are more likely to get increased numbers of these spots.

Women are more likely to get them than men, but both genders are susceptible to them.

It is more common for age spots to appear slowly, however, they can also pop up suddenly. While this might be alarming, age spots are usually harmless.

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What causes age spots?

Melanin is a substance that exists in all of our skin cells – it is a pigment that gives the skin its colour.

The rays of the sun affect melanin, as we see when we get a suntan and our skin gets darker.

Everyone will find their skin growing darker from exposure to UV rays. However, darker-skinned people are less likely to find that they get age spots. 

Age spots are really a form of skin damage. They are where melanin pigments have collected in an area of the skin.

They may also develop because of excess melanin production in these areas, not just from sun damage.

It isn’t just natural sunlight that can prompt them. The use of sunbeds can also encourage their production. 

You don’t need to be a sun worshipper or a beach bunny to be prone to age spots. People who are easily sunburnt are also more prone to getting age spots as they get older.

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Are they dangerous?

Age spots are really just patches of discoloured skin. They present no danger to you as they are. 

Some home treatments can be dangerous though.

Using strong lightening creams without a prescription, for example, is not advisable.

Treatment of age spots should always be under the instruction of a dermatologist or GP.

It pays to keep track of your age spots yourself, though. All skin has the potential to develop cancer, and an age spot is no different. 

If your spots change in size, colour or texture, you should always consult a medical professional.

protecting your skin from age spots

Can I prevent age spots?

There are some tips and tricks you can use to minimise your risk of developing age spots. 

You may also want to prevent new spots appearing after a course of prescribed lightening cream, or laser treatment. 

It is important to note that the points below do not guarantee prevention, only help to reduce the risk…

  • Use sunscreen daily if you are spending time outdoors. Factor 30 is recommended to protect the skin from harmful sun rays. 
  • Try to find broad-spectrum sunscreen that protects against all the harmful rays of the sun. Apply it at least 15 minutes before going out in the sun, and reapply after swimming. 
  • Usually after 2 hours, you will need to reapply sunscreen. 

What can I wear?

  • Cover up with loose cotton clothing on bright sunny days. Any tightly woven fabric will protect you from the sun’s rays, but cotton is a very cool fabric. 
  • Wear a hat with a wide brim or peak to keep your face in the shade and out of the brightest rays. 
  • A sarong wrap or a parasol are good ideas for spending time on the beach safely. 
  • You can also buy clothing with an SPF, which is helpful if you are planning to be outside for extended periods of time. Look for a ‘UPF’ of 40-50 to minimise your chance of sun damage. 
  • Stay in the shade and out of the sun’s rays between 10am and 2pm. This is when the rays of the sun are most intense. 
There are many treatments for age spots. Some are ‘folk’ treatments with no real scientific basis. More are available from a dermatologist.

Dermatologist treatments:

Lightening creams and steroid creams, topically applied.

These treatments can take months to show improvements, however, they are a relatively low cost and low-impact way of treating age spots. 

Beware – they will almost certainly result in sun sensitivity in the short-term, and possibly longer. You will need to stay out of the sun for some time during and after treatment using lightening creams. 

Cryotherapy treatments (using liquid nitrogen to freeze ‘off’ the affected area, similar to wart treatments)

Once the age spot is ‘frozen’ using liquid nitrogen, the skin cells will die. They will scab over and eventually fall off. This should cause the age spot to disappear. You will need to be very careful of the new skin ‘under’ the age spot, applying sunscreen frequently.

Microdermabrasion (an intense exfoliation treatment using tiny crystals to slough off skin)

After microdermabrasion, the skin will look and feel fresher- as the protective older layer of skin has been removed.

Several treatments may be needed to buff away enough of the age spots. Your skin may feel slightly tender for a day or two. It may also be a little inflamed, but this should go down after a few days.

Dermabrasion (using a tool or instrument to buff away layers of skin)

Similar to microdermabrasion, after treatment, your skin may be a little tender and pink for a day or so. This won’t last for long, however, and recovery will be quick.

Targeted laser treatment

A laser is used purely on the age spot itself to break down the melanin in the skin. A few treatments may be needed to get rid of the age spot completely.

Again, skin will be new and tender underneath, but it is less dramatic than a full laser or chemical resurfacing treatment.

Laser skin resurfacing (using laser or pulsed light to remove the topmost layers of skin)

This treatment is more invasive than the previous ones. The laser penetrates the skin, killing the top layers and stimulating the layers below to grow new cells.

The layers of skin treated take around a week to dry out and peel off, revealing new skin underneath.

The treatment area can be extremely red for weeks or even months after treatment.

New skin underneath will need to be kept well protected from the sun

Chemical peel resurfacing (using a chemical compound to remove several layers of skin)

Much like laser resurfacing, this treatment removes the top layers of skin, including some layers of hyperpigmentations.

It will also take a week or so for the top layers of skin to peel away to reveal new skin underneath.

Once again, redness, tenderness and sun sensitivity are likely to be side effects.

However, many people report a reduction in fine lines and a softer texture to the skin.

This treatment might do double duty for you if this is what you are looking for. 

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Other (non-medical) treatments

Applying apple cider vinegar to the age spot. The acids present can act as a chemical exfoliant, sloughing away some skin cells. 

Lemon juice, or the acids it contains, is said to act as a bleaching agent on melanin in age spots.

Aloe vera is good for the skin in general. Its nourishing properties are said to reduce the colour of age spots.

Buttermilk applied to age spots can fade them somewhat, due to the lactic acid it contains.

Oats, honey and milk mixed together are a gentle exfoliant that can gradually reduce the appearance of age spots.

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Be cautious of bleaching agents

Skin lightening creams that can be purchased without prescription can include any of the below-bleaching agents: 

  • retinoid
  • vitamin C
  • azelaic acid
  • glycolic acid
  • 2% hydroquinone
  • kojic acid

Many of these ingredients can cause skin irritation.

Medical supervision is recommended in treating age spots. This will prevent further issues from occurring because of irritation to unsuitable treatments.

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Alistair Clay Author

Author 15.03.2022

Alistair Clay

Alistair is a founding Director of Sweet Pea Care and the Managing Director of social care communications agency Arc Seven where he advises some of the UK’s biggest care providers.