What are they: Also called liver spots (although they have no relation to the liver), age spots are flat, brown/black oval-shaped spots that generally appear on sun-exposed areas of the skin. That’s predominantly the face, forearms, hands, shoulders, chest and upper back. They range in size from freckles to one-centimeter wide and can develop in patches, making them more prominent.
How are they formed: Age spots are a direct result of sun exposure. Our skin produces a dark-coloured pigment called melanin, which is present in the upper skin cells and naturally protects skin from UV rays by absorbing sunlight. When exposed to the sun’s UVA rays, melanin darkens, producing what we call a tan. But a tan is actually the skin’s attempt to prevent UV damage to the deeper skin layers.
As we age, our skin’s cell turnover rate slows down and the melanin’s ability to fight off UV rays deteriorates. As a result, there is an overproduction of melanin, which is unevenly distributed due to weakened cells, causing age spots to appear on the skin’s surface. In addition, hormonal changes due to aging can also trigger extra production of melanin, exacerbating the problem.
When do they appear: They generally begin to appear once people hit their 40s, but for some (those who worshipped the sun in their youth) it can be earlier. What’s interesting — and scary — is that age spots are a result of sun exposure from years before. It simply takes a while for the effects of that sunburn in Acapulco 10 years ago to appear on the surface of the skin.
Latest research: Scientists have discovered that that the dermis (the deeper layers of the skin) plays a key role in the formation of age spots, not simply the surface layers of the skin. Essentially, inflammation and oxidation occur in the dermis as a result of sun damage, causing fibroblasts (the cells that maintain the structural integrity of connective tissue) to send stress signals to the melanin pigment, causing them to overproduce. Therefore age spots must be treated with products that penetrate all layers of both the dermis and epidermis.
Look for these ingredients: Today, there are a host of new products containing pigment lightening ingredients — Vitamin C, micronized mother of pearl, glucosamine, kojic acid, azelaic acid, licorice extract, arbutin, alpha hydroxy acid and retinol — that also even out skintone without irritating the skin the way hydroquinone, the industry’s gold standard, does. The goal is to not only fade existing dark spots and brighten the complexion, but also regulate melanin production.
Speed up the fading process: Use a product one to two times a week that contains glycolic or salicylic acid (chemical exfoliants). These ingredients gently slough off dead surface cells and help to improve the penetration of the other active ingredients you are applying, making their pigment lightening results more effective.
Sunscreen: Always wear a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a minimum SPF 30, especially while using skin-lightening products because skin can become particularly sensitive to UV rays. It also prevents future damage.