Summertime Tips to Avoid Age Spots

Summer is a time made for outdoor activities, and while there’s nothing wrong with a little fun in the sun, if you have age spots, those warm rays of sunshine could wind up making them a lot darker and a lot more noticeable. Fortunately, there are some steps you can take to avoid age spot darkening and potentially even prevent new age spots from showing up this summer. All it takes is an understanding of what causes age spots, and just a little bit of planning.

Why age spots form

You may know them as liver spots or sun spots, but whatever you call those little dark patches on your skin, they all have a common cause: sun exposure. Your skin contains melanin, pigments that help protect your skin from sun damage. It’s melanin that makes skin turn tan when exposed to UV rays; of course, if you have fair skin and little melanin, you wind up getting a sunburn instead.

The sun exposure you have is cumulative; that is, it adds up over time. When you have a lot of sun exposure — even if it was during your childhood — your melanin cells can start to clump together, and dark spots (age spots) can start to form, especially in areas that received the most sun exposure.

Reducing the appearance of age spots

The reason they’re called age spots is because they tend to be more common when we’re older, after years of cumulative sun exposure takes its toll. Age spots are also more common among people with fair skin, and they can also appear more often in people who take medicines that make their skin more sensitive to the sun’s UV rays. That's why age spots form. Now here's how to prevent them from getting darker this summer.

Limit your time in the sun

The same type of light energy that causes sunburns — UV rays — also causes age spots to darken (and it causes new ones to form, too). Since the sun’s rays are at their most intense during the middle part of the day, it’s a good idea to avoid spending a lot of time outdoors in the sunshine from about 10 a.m. until about 3 p.m. Even outside of those hours, you should still aim to limit your direct exposure to the sun — especially when it comes to your hands, shoulders, neck, face, and scalp (if you have thin or no hair). And don’t think you’re safe with tanning beds. They also use UV energy, which means they can cause age spots to darken, too.

Wear protective clothing

Sunscreen soaks into your skin to provide an invisible barrier against the sun’s harmful rays. But to ramp up your coverage, you should look for clothing that keeps those rays from reaching your skin to begin with — especially during the hours when the sun’s rays are the most powerful. A brimmed hat can help prevent sun from reaching your face and neck; choose one that’s ventilated to avoid heating up your scalp. Long-sleeve shirts can help protect your shoulders and arms, while lightweight pants or skirts keep sun from your legs without making you too hot.

Use sunscreen

Sunscreen is a critical defense not only against age spots and sunburn, but against skin cancer too. Most people need at least an ounce (about the amount it takes to fill a shot glass, according to the American Academy of Dermatology) to achieve optimal coverage of their exposed skin, but you might need more, depending on your height and weight. Reapply sunscreen throughout the day, and always reapply after swimming or sweating a lot.

Consider light therapy

If you want to significantly reduce the appearance of age spots or maybe eliminate them completely, intense pulsed light (IPL) therapy could be just what you need. In an IPL treatment, a special light-emitting device transmits energy waves to the deeper layers of your skin, gently breaking apart excess pigments so your body can carry away the tiny fragments over time. IPL is performed right in the office, and there's no downtime afterward.

Age spots vs. skin cancer

Age spots are common, but they're not the only issue that causes dark spots to appear. Some dark spots can be caused by skin cancer, so it's a good idea to schedule a yearly skin exam to have existing and new age spots checked out. If you have any spots, freckles, or moles that change shape or size or start oozing, they should be evaluated immediately. To find out more about age spot prevention and treatment book an appointment online today with Dr. Melissa Schneider.

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