Age spots are called lentigines seniles in Latin and are among the pigmentation disorders of the skin. They are light brown, sharply edged spots, which most frequently appear on the back of the hand, the forearms and on the face. The cause of the appearance of age spots is a long-term exposure to sunlight, which increases with age, so that the age spots usually appear only at an advanced age; hence the name.
Age spots are caused by pigment deposits in the skin and are completely harmless. Responsible for the discoloration of the skin are so-called melanocytes, specialized cells in the skin, which produce melanin, whose presence in the skin determines our individual skin color. In particular, age spots are accumulations of lipofuscin (so-called ageing pigment), which is produced by the oxidation of fatty acids of the cell membrane.
The cell is not able to break down this substance, so that many of the particles are visible from the outside as age spots. Age spots have no disease value and can usually be removed for purely cosmetic reasons. However, there is a subspecies of malignant melanoma (so-called lentigo-maligna melanoma), which is very similar to age spots, so that a regular check-up by the dermatologist is recommended in some cases.
Age spot removal options
Age spots have no disease value; the costs of removal for purely aesthetic reasons must therefore be borne by the patient himself. For this purpose, there are a multitude of more or less effective procedures in different cost situations. The easiest and cheapest way is to prevent the development of age spots already.
For this purpose, a cream with high sun protection (SPF 50) should be consistently applied to the arms and face as well as the décolleté and neck at a young age, both in summer and in winter. The most effective method is currently considered to be treatment with laser beams. Here, the treatment is carried out by a dermatologist who uses a special device to shoot a beam of light at the uppermost layers of the skin, causing the pigment deposits to disintegrate and be cleared of immune cells.
Another option are bleaching creams with active ingredients that lighten the age spot or stop the renewed formation of pigment. These include hydroquinone or rocinol. Here the success is only visible after a few weeks.
Another option are chemical peelings with fruit acids (AHA = alpha hydroxy acids) which remove the uppermost discolored skin layers so that they can form again. Trichloroacetic acid, a somewhat stronger acid, is also suitable for this purpose, but the treatment should only be carried out by an experienced dermatologist, as these peelings can irritate and injure the skin very severely. Another method is the so-called dermabrasion, where the dermatologist, under local anaesthetic, cuts off the uppermost discoloured skin layer with a kind of file.
A similar mechanical procedure is cold therapy (cryotherapy), in which the uppermost skin layers are frozen by liquid nitrogen. These subsequently die off and a new, uncoloured uppermost layer can form. Here too, the treatment should only be carried out by an experienced dermatologist, otherwise the result will be uneven and there is even a risk of injuries with scarring.
Regardless of the method of treatment, sun protection after the therapy is indispensable. Depending on the procedure, the sun must be avoided completely for a few weeks to months, and a cream with a high sun protection factor (SPF 50) should be applied daily. The reason for this is that the skin irritated by the treatment will regain increased pigmentation.