Also known as sunspots, age spots are small areas of hyperpigmentation (discolouration) that frequently appear on the face,décolletage, hands and other parts of the body regularly exposed to the sun. They often range in colour from tan, brown or black, and can vary in size from 0.2 cm to 2 cm.
Overexposure to Ultraviolet (UV) light from the sun is the primary cause of age spots. Tanning beds, though an artificial source of UV light has the same effect. Melanin is a protective pigment in the skin that absorbs the UV radiation from the sun’s rays. Therefore, when you are frequently exposed to a lot of UV, melanin is produced in high concentration and often ends up clumping together. In return, this brings about the appearance of age spots.
Ageing is another contributing factor to the formation of age spots. As the skin ages, the number of melanocytes (melanin-producing cells) in the skin decreases. With the remaining ones increase their activity, there is overproduction of melanin in specific areas of the skin. These physiological changes explain the increase of age spots in those over 40.
Age spots are often harmless and don’t require medical care. Most people opt to get rid of them for cosmetic reasons. In many instances, age spots tend to group together, making them more noticeable. This makes a lot of people self-conscious.
On the other hand, if you’re worried that a dark area isn’t an age spot, you should talk to your general practitioner. Doctors can usually identify age spots by a visual inspection. If unsure, your doctor might do other tests, such as removing a small skin sample for examination in a lab (skin biopsy).