1. Sun spots generally are observed in almost all adults, particularly those over 55
Sun spots or age spots or solar lentigines (singular: solar lentigo) are harmless patches of darkened skin. They result from exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation, which causes local proliferation of melanocytes (specialized skin cells that produce the skin pigment melanin) and the accumulation of melanin within the skin cells. Solar lentigines are very common, especially in people over the age of 55 years. Sometimes, they are also known as an “old age spot” or “senile freckle”.
2. Sun spots are more prevalent in certain skin types
Sun spots occur in light and dark skin, but tend to be more numerous in fair-skinned individuals. The spots commonly appear on the hands, but they can be almost anywhere, especially sun-exposed areas, such as the face, back, arms, feet and shoulders.
A sun spot is a flat, well-circumscribed patch. It can be round, oval or irregular in shape. Their color varies from skin-colored, tan to dark brown or black, and their size varies from a few millimeters to several centimeters in diameter. They can be slightly scaly. A sun spot is often diagnosed on its clinical appearance. On occasion, it can be difficult to differentiate an irregular solar lentigo from melanoma, a potentially dangerous form of skin cancer, and the term 'atypical solar lentigo' may be used.
Sun spots can change in appearance due to inflammation, or thickening of skin or changes in textures which could make them more difficult to diagnose with the naked eye.
3. A board-certified dermatologist can diagnose a sun spot correctly
Examination using dermoscopy can clarify the diagnosis. If there is still diagnostic doubt, a skin biopsy may be performed for histological examination. It is important to get visible sun spots these checked to differentiate from much more serious conditions such as skin cancers. Spots in hard to see areas of the body may be undetected for years and could develop into serious skin conditions. A full body skin exam performed by a dermatologist will allow for detection of benign or more serious spots.
4. Prevention is the best cure
If left untreated, sun spots will most likely persist indefinitely. Cryotherapy and laser surgery can destroy them, but treatment may leave a temporary or permanent white or dark mark. Bleaching agents such as hydroquinone are not effective. Preventive measures include minimizing sun exposure and use of sunscreens, but this needs to start early in life.
5. Cosmetic treatments can help
Cosmetic treatments such as cryotherapy, microdermabrasion or chemical peels can help reduce or remove the appearance of sun spots.
During cryotherapy, the dermatologist carefully freezes the spot(s) using liquid nitrogen. As the skin heals it has a more even skin tone. Treatment is quick and it generally stings a little. After treatment there may be some blisters, temporary redness and swelling which disappear soon. If cryotherapy is not performed by a board-certified dermatologist, permanent effects such as darkening of the spot, lightening of the spot, uneven skin tone or even a scar, could result. These are rare if the procedure is performed by an experienced dermatologist.
During microdermabrasion, the dermatologist will carefully smooth away the spots. Studies show this can be particularly effective in combination with chemical peels. After a microdermabrasion treatment, you may see mild inflammation. This generally disappears in a few hours. Sometimes, the patients can also have flaky skin for three or four days.
During chemical peeling, the dermatologist carefully treats sun spots using approved, skin-friendly products. In a study that compared chemical peeling with cryosurgery, the researchers found that 47% of the patients receiving the chemical peel had a 50% fading of their age spots. While the patients who had cryotherapy (freezing) had slightly better results, the skin tends to heal faster after a chemical peel than after cryotherapy.