You’ve likely heard that mantra before but it’s important to know its application is far reaching - even as far as the sun. That’s because although we need the sun for survival, our exposure to it - particularly our skin - should be in moderation. It’s important for sunbathers, sun worshippers and those whose jobs require excessive sun exposure, to be educated early about the significant effects ultraviolet (UV) rays have on the skin and body. One of those effects is age spots.
What is an Age Spot?
Age spots are the brown, flat and somewhat oval marks that appear on the upper body when it is excessively exposed to the sun’s UV rays over a period of years. These curious and sudden markings resemble over-sized brown or tan freckles or large moles, and are generally found on the hands, shoulders, neck and face - areas of skin exposed to the sun in warm weather. It is easy to see how the name “age spots” evolved. It is attributed to the time of life when most people first begin to see them - in the middle years, around age 40 and older. These spots, however, can appear at any age in people who have had significant and extensive exposure to the sun’s powerful rays. Age spots have been found prematurely in teenagers.
How Are Age Spots Made?
Although some people seek out the sun for the perfect tan, it’s important to remember that a suntan is nothing more than the skin trying to protect itself from damaging UV rays by producing more melanin to absorb the radiation. Over time with repeated and excessive exposure to the sun’s harmful UV rays, the body produces extra melanin (or pigment) to defend the skin’s deepest layers. This extra pigment looks like large brown, tan or even gray spotting, or age spots. In addition to the name age spots, this skin condition also is called liver spots and sun spots.
How Can I Prevent Age Spots?
To prevent age spots, it’s important to stay out of the sun as much as possible.
If you expect sun exposure, adhere to the following:
1. Any time you plan to be outside, even on a cloudy day, wear a broad-spectrum sunscreen that has an 30 SPF or higher to protect against UV rays and UVB rays.
2. Remember that UV rays are strongest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. and plan your outdoor activities accordingly.
3. Know that it is important to follow the same sun protection guidelines whether it is summer or winter: the sun’s rays reflect off the snow as well as the water. So limited outdoor activity and sunscreen is just as important in January as it is in June.
4. Sunscreen can wash off with perspiration or water, so don’t forget to reapply it periodically. Also, cover your lips with a lip balm that has UV protection, as sun spots can appear near or on the lip area as well.
5. Know that even if you already have age spots, wearing sunscreen can prevent more from appearing and will prevent existing spots from getting darker.
Find out next month how to get rid of age spots in our February blog.