When we’re young, it’s cute to have freckles. They can be a trait we love that makes us unique. As we get older, other discoloration can appear on our skin that doesn’t evoke the same positive feelings of those childhood freckles. Age spots, redness and even freckles that just don’t look as good on aged skin as they did when we’re young can be distracting and discouraging.
While the name alone suggests they only affect people later in life, even younger people can develop them if they spend a lot of time in the sun. These spots are caused by overactive pigment cells that produce too much melanin. Melanin is the pigment that gives our skin its color. The more melanin a person produces, the darker their skin.
It’s also our body’s way of protecting us from the harmful UV rays of the sun. Ultraviolet rays accelerate the production of melanin, which is why we can tan after long exposure to the sun. On people who have spent a lot of time in the sun, age spots develop when a small group of melanin clusters together. Over time, this will leave you with small, brown spots on areas that have been most exposed to the sun.
Age spots are often referred to as liver spots not because they have anything to do with the liver but because of their color. They can appear as any shade of brown but will sometimes appear as black. These spots are flat and are darker than the surrounding skin.
These spots can develop in clusters or may just appear as a one-off. They tend to be oval and are usually flat. These can range from the size of a freckle to over a half an inch. When they cluster together, they appear to take up even more space. You should see a doctor about any mark on your skin that concerns you or:
These spots are most likely to develop on people over the age of 40, but if you’re younger and have spent a lot of time in the sun, you may notice these spots appear much earlier. Anyone can develop these spots, but there are a few factors that can make you more at risk:
These spots are also most likely to develop in the areas of your body most exposed to the sun. You’ll find these spots on your:
Nobody wants to develop age or sunspots, so it’s important to take preventative measures. It’s never too late to start. Even if you’ve already developed these spots, you can prevent more from popping up if you protect your skin.
We’ve already told you the culprit of most age spots is the sun. How you protect yourself from the sun is the most important factor in preventing the discoloration of these spots. Wearing a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a minimum of SPF 30 every day is a good start. This includes the time you’ll only be in the car or at an office window.
The UV rays that change pigmentation are easily passed through the glass of most windows, so you’re at risk anywhere there’s a lot of natural light. Sunscreen is most effective if it’s applied at least 15 minutes before being exposed to the sun. Other measures you can take to protect your skin from the sun, and therefore from getting age or sun spots, include:
One day you may look at your skin, see a red spot and think it’s nothing more than a small imperfection. If you look closely and it looks like a small cluster of tiny, spidery veins called broken capillaries. These are most likely to develop on our legs and faces. When you see them on our face, you’ll likely see them on your nose, cheeks, and chin.
There are the things you can avoid and things you can’t that can lead to the development of broken capillaries. If you have fair skin or rosacea, you’re more likely to develop these little areas of red, visible veins. You can have a genetic disposition to them, too. Pregnancy can bring these on because of the hormonal changes, but they usually disappear after childbirth.
The biggest factor for developing these on your face is some kind of external factor. Just like age spots, damage from the sun can cause them because it enlarges the blood vessels, bringing them closer to the surface of the skin. There are several other causes that could cause these imperfections:
We’d be remiss if we didn’t talk about how collagen plays a role in both the formation and treatment of age spots. Collagen is the most abundant protein in the body and makes up 80% of our skin. When we’re young, we have an abundance of it. Not only is it responsible for our skin staying smooth and wrinkle-free, but we also have it to thank for our clear complexions.
Collagen promotes healthy cell turnover and keeps replacing damaged cells that are producing too much melanin with clear and healthy ones. Many young people don’t know the damage they’re doing when they’re young will show up as age spots when they get older. The reason for this delayed appearance has everything to do with our decline in collagen production.
As we age, we lose about 1% of our collagen production every year after the age of 25. By the time most age spots appear, after 40, our collagen can’t regenerate new and healthy cells as quickly as it used to. This means those damaged cells that produce too much pigment will now be brought to the surface because our collagen can’t replace it with an evenly colored cell.
The more collagen we lose, the more likely we are to develop even more age spots depending on the time we’ve spent and continue to spend in the sun.
IPL, which stands for Intense Pulsed Light, is a very popular treatment that rejuvenates the skin by addressing various skin conditions including:
This technology improves the appearance of these irregularities through a process called photorejuvenation and can be used on both the face and the body.
This technology uses short blasts of high-intensity, polychromatic light to penetrate down to just below the surface of the skin. This differs from ablative lasers because an IPL photofacial leaves the surface of the skin unharmed and intact. When this intense pulsed light reaches the deeper layer of the skin, it turns to gentle heat which then disrupts the clusters of melanin that make up age spots. The pigment of the melanin absorbs the heat that will destroy the unwanted pigment. It will also target the broken blood vessels that create the appearance of broken capillaries.
As the heat is applied to this area under the skin, it also heats the existing collagen fibers and disrupts them. Your body sees this as an injury, though it won’t look or feel like one. When your body starts its natural healing process, it produces more collagen and elastin, which can have a firming and smoothing effect on the skin.
IPL photofacials are not laser treatments. Lasers focus one wavelength of light on your skin, and many can be ablative, meaning they physically remove the top layer of your skin to resurface it and can require significant downtime.
IPL releases light from many wavelengths and this light is more scattered than that of a laser. IPL penetrates the top layer of your skin while leaving it unharmed because of the frequencies it uses.
There is great flexibility with this treatment, and it can be used almost anywhere you’re experiencing these kinds of irregularities on your skin. Most often, patients want to have an IPL photofacial on areas that have been most exposed to the sun like the:
You’ll have a consultation with your doctor to discuss your areas of concern and what you hope the results of treatment to be. After a physical examination of your skin to ensure this is the proper treatment to safely meet your needs, you’ll be given a set of pre-treatment instructions.
It’s true this treatment is non-invasive and non-ablative, so the pre-treatment instructions aren’t as restrictive as they would be with more invasive procedures. There are still steps you must follow for the most successful outcome, however.
Your doctor may have more specific instructions based on your skin’s conditions. General instructions can include avoiding the following for two weeks prior to treatment:
When you arrive for your appointment, your skincare specialist will cleanse your skin to make sure they’re working with a clean surface so you get the best possible results. After that, a cooling gel will be applied to the treatment area. This enhances the effects of the light waves and keeps your skin cool during treatment. You will be given protective eyewear to shield your eyes from the light of the IPL.
Your doctor will then deliver brief pulses of light to the skin using a special handpiece. The length of your appointment will depend on the area to be treated and can last anywhere from a few minutes to an hour. A full-face IPL photofacial will take close to 45 minutes. Once your session is complete, you can go back to your normal routine, there is no downtime.
There aren’t many post-treatment instructions because this is a non-invasive procedure. The most important thing to remember is to avoid the sun completely for a few days and consistently wear sunblock for at least two weeks post-treatment.
You will start to see improvements in the appearance of sun-related damage, age spots and broken capillaries about a week after your treatment. You will see the maximum results 3-5 months after your last treatment. Remember: you need to give your body time to build up collagen to really make a difference in not only the tone but the texture of your skin.
How long the results last depends on your skin aftercare and how well you protect it from the sun. If you’re diligent about sun avoidance and protection, you should be able to maintain your results and just need an annual maintenance session to keep the results seamless.
Each client is different, and only you and your doctor can really determine how many sessions will be right for your skin condition and the results you’d like to see. While some clients experiencing minor sun damage may be happy with the results they see after one session, it’s likely more than one session will be necessary.
If you have severe sun damage, you may benefit from a series of 3-5 treatments. You and your doctor can decide on the perfect follow-up schedule for your skin.
Only your doctor can decide if this is the right treatment for you. Lighter skin tones are more likely to be a good fit because the intention of this treatment is to destroy melanin. If you have a darker skin tone, talk to your doctor about other options that could be right for you and your level of sun damage.
If you look in the mirror and see things like age spots, sun damage, and broken capillaries, you don’t have to spend time an energy trying to cover them up. If they’re making you unhappy or affecting your self-confidence, why wait to see a positive change?
Call Radiant Skin Dermatology and Laser in New York, NY and make an appointment for a consultation. We believe everyone deserves to look as young and beautiful as they feel. We work with our clients to help them achieve a healthy, radiant and more youthful-looking appearance. We look forward to partnering with you to personalize your treatment to boost your skin health and appearance and help you achieve all your aesthetic goals.