What Are the Causes of Age Spots?

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  • Written By: Drue Tibbits
  • Edited By: PJP Schroeder
  • Last Modified Date: 23 August 2019
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Age spots are small, darkened areas of the skin caused by increased pigmentation. There are several causes of age spots, including exposure to ultraviolet light, increasing age, and hereditary predisposition. People with fair skin are more likely to develop age spots than those with dark skin. Sometimes, the causes of age spots cannot be determined. These darkened areas of skin are only an aesthetic issue; they are harmless and are not indicative of a serious medical condition.

The upper layer of skin, or epidermis, contains pigmentation that darkens upon exposure to sunlight. This darkening is a natural process that helps protect the skin from damaging ultraviolet rays. Age spots develop when the pigment, or melanin, does not develop evenly on the skin but instead forms into groups of high concentrations of pigment. These highly pigmented areas are flat, painless, and usually smaller than a fingertip. They are darker than the surrounding skin, appearing in shades of brown, gray, and black.


Sun exposure is one of the most common causes of age spots, but the sun is not the only generator of dangerous ultraviolet rays. Tanning beds and commercial tanning lamps also emit ultraviolet light and can cause the development of age spots in susceptible people. The darkened spots can appear at any age, although they occur more frequently after the age of 40. One of the causes of age spots is hereditary; some people have a predisposition to uneven pigmentation development. The exact mechanism behind this is unknown.

Doctors diagnose age spots by close visual examination. A doctor may biopsy any spots that appear suspicious to check for skin cancer. Patients should contact their doctors if there is any change in color, shape, or texture of an age spot. Danger signs include raised spots, darkened areas with uneven edges, or spots that contain a combination of colors. Age spots are painless, so spots that are itchy or tender indicate a possible medical issue.

Although several of the causes of age spots are beyond control, some of the pigment changes can be avoided by using sun block preparations. Once the spots develop, several treatments can help reduce their appearance. Bleaching creams, either prescription or over the counter, lighten the spots with repeated use. Laser therapy vaporizes the dark pigmentation, while cryogenic freezing of the spots diminishes their appearance. Both dermabrasion and chemical peels remove part of the outer layer of skin, lightening the spots or removing them entirely.


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Post 2

I didn't know that there were so many different ways to lighten age spots. I guess if you had them all over, you might want to do something about lightening them. But since I only have a couple, I think I'll wait and see if I get more.

I wonder if chemical peels or laser treatments are safe procedures. I would have to check into that to make sure.

Post 1

In recent years, I have noticed some age spots developing on my hands. I guess that the hands would be the likely spot for age spots to develop because the hands get so much exposure to the sun.

I also had freckles as a youngster. They have faded, but they must develop the same way as age spots. I think that people are born with that uneven pigment under the skin, and as a small child is exposed to the sun, the areas of heavy pigmentation come out as freckles.

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