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Love sun? Here's how to avoid age spots

October 15, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
You may think age spots are a sign of growing old, but dermatologists warn they're showing up on younger and younger people all the time. Barbara Sullivan loves the sun.

"I'm outside all the time, as much as I can. I walk my dog. I play tennis, just working in the yard," said Sullivan.

She does what she can to protect herself, putting on sun-block daily. But she's still spotted something unwelcome on her arms and legs.

"I started noticing age spots about four, five years ago," said Sullivan. Sullivan just turned 40.

Dr. Ranella Hirsch, a dermatologist, says despite their reputation, age spots don't just hit those over 60.

In fact, they really have nothing to do with your age. Shocked? She sees them on people in their 20s these days.

"We're seeing them these days younger and younger and younger as more and more people go out into the sun without protection," said Hirsch.

Unlike freckles, which are genetic, these small to medium brownish spots are a product of sun exposure.

"Age spots most commonly appear on places that, well, get a lot of sun, the backs of your hands, your chest, your face," said Hirsch.

Medically, they're harmless, but if you want to prevent them, use a broad-spectrum sunscreen.

If you already have them, Hirsch says there are effective ways to cover them and prevent even more from popping up.

"There's a coverage makeup called Dermablend available widely at drug stores around the country that provides wonderful coverage and sun protection," said Hirsch.

Drug store options include: products with soy or NeOvadiol that contain retinols; or hydroquinone, a popular bleaching agent available both over the counter or by prescription. The American Academy of Dermatology says it is safe when used properly but the Food and Drug Administration is currently re-examining the hydroquinone safety.

And there are lasers.

"The most specific therapy is to use a laser which very specifically, like a smart bomb targets the brown spots in the skin, destroy only those areas that are damaged by the sun and leaving the remaining skin intact," said Hirsch.

Other effective ways to treat age spots: prescription retinoids that exfoliate and lighten the skin. Or you get a chemical peel, which is what Barbara Sullivan does.

If you notice something new on your skin and you're not certain if it's a freckle or an age spot, see your dermatologist to be sure it's not something more serious.