By Deirdre Shevlin Bell, Natural Solutions
Aging provides plenty of perks—greater confidence, more wisdom, and discounted movie tickets, to name a few. But growing older also brings a few downsides: age spots, for instance, which boldly advertise your more mature status.
Age spots—benign, flat areas of hyperpigmentation—usually pop up on the hands and face, most commonly on the forehead. These tan, brown, or gray flecks are also called “sun spots” because they occur largely as a result of sun damage. Ultraviolet (UV) rays activate the skin’s pigment-producing cells, called melanocytes. Too much UV exposure damages the melanocytes, causing them to crank out excess pigment (also called melanin) or to clump together and form dark spots on the skin.
But the true cause of age spots begins deep within the skin, believes Benjamin Johnson, MD, founder of Osmosis Pür Skin Care. “Excess UV exposure causes damage to the dermal-epidermal junction, which prevents delivery of antioxidants to the epidermis,” he explains.
“The skin ages sporadically, and we can’t always say why a spot shows up in one place versus somewhere else.” However, Johnson suggests that spots form in areas that have endured so much trauma from excess sun exposure that they no longer receive adequate anti-oxidant supply from the dermis. This results in free-radical damage to the melanocytes, which triggers irregular melanin production and compounds the problem.
Conventional treatment for hyperpigmentation includes bleach, specifically hydroquinone or tretinoin (Retin-A), which carry serious health risks like cancer, reproductive toxicity, and skin allergies. Also common are cryotherapy (freezing) and light therapy (either laser or intense pulsed light). Although effective and relatively safe, both of these treatments can cost thousands of dollars.