Sunspots

Have you noticed a sudden increase in freckle-like patches on your skin? Sunspots, which may resemble freckles, become increasingly more common after the age of 30.

What are sunspots?

Sunspots, also known as age spots, liver spots, or solar lentigenes, are blemishes in the skin with defined borders that are commonly associated with aging. In reality, however, the blemishes are more of a reflection of cumulative sun damage from years of exposure.

What causes sunspots?

Sunspots are caused by an increase in melanocytes which reside on the upper layers of the skin. Melanocytes are the cells that produce the pigment melanin, which is responsible for color in human skin. Melanin production is a mechanism that is designed to protect the skin from UV exposure, and is a response to sun damage. Put another way, the presence of sunspots is evidence that the body recognizes it is being overexposed to the sun.

Why do sun spots suddenly occur?

Many people observe that sunspots seem to come out of nowhere, and suddenly appear without warning. Sun spots are evidence of sun damage and there are two factors at work in the appearance of sunspots. The first is years of total sun exposure; the second is the slowing of the skin`s ability to regenerate from damage. These two factors produce sun spots, often concentrated in an area of the skin that is typically exposed like the face or the outer arms. While it is a common observation that sunspots seem to appear quickly and all of a sudden, in reality, they were likely occurring over time with accumulated sun exposure and with the slowing of the skin`s ability to recover from sun damage. Once the sun spots are numerous enough or defined enough, people may become more self-conscious of them too, making it seem like they appeared suddenly.

Do sunspots go away with time?

Sunspots often resemble freckles in appearance, but unlike freckles, sunspots will not fade during the winter, and are semi-permanent. The good news is that most sunspots can be treated with over the counter treatments. Generally, the treatments inhibit melanin production, or bleach the skin directly. When treating sunspots, it is very important that you use sun protection as many of the ingredients used to treat sun spots are photo-sensitizing, which amplifies the effect of sun exposure. Sun protection is therefore a necessity if you hope to make gains with treatment.

Dr. Shannon Humphrey talks about some available treatment options for sunspots: