Age Spots? Sun Spots? Skin Cancer?

By Kevin C. Smith MD FACP FRCPC

What is that Spot?

As time goes on, we start to notice brown spots and freckles -- “souvenirs of Florida” -- on the backs of our hands and on other sun exposed areas like the upper chest and face. At first these brown spots are small and light colored, but eventually they become a cosmetic problem -- an obvious sign of premature aging of the skin because of ultraviolet damage from sun exposure or from tanning beds. (Learn more about Sun Damage)

By using modern high-SPF sunscreens like Ombrelle-60™ or Anthelios-60™ we can safely enjoy outdoor activities like gardening, golf and boating, and greatly reduce the rate at which our skin deteriorates. Patients who get into the habit of applying Retisol-A 0.01% cream (a prescription product which combines a retinoid and an SPF-15 sunscreen) to their faces every morning will usually see a considerable improvement in the appearance of their skin after 1-2 years, and if treatment is continued long-term patients will notice that their skin ages more slowly.

Hats and sun protective clothing can also slow down the rate at which “age spots” appear – and also reduce the chance that we will develop skin cancer. You can learn more about how to prevent sun damage, learn about the early warning signs of skin cancer and see photos of typical skin cancers at Skin Cancer Guide.ca.

The early warning signs of skin cancer include:

  • new and unusual growths on the skin
  • moles and freckles which have unusual colors or mixtures of colors
  • moles and freckles with irregular borders
  • growths on the skin which bleed, or which form an open sore which does not heal within a few weeks.

It is not too late for those of us who already have sun spots and age spots. I have seen many patients who had sun damage improve gradually over a period of 3-5 years simply in response to daily sun protection. For those who want more rapid and complete improvement in their sun damaged skin, one or two treatments with the Medlite™ laser can fade or eliminate brown “age spots” on the face, chest and hands within a few weeks.

Intense Pulsed Light (IPL) treatments, for example with the Cutera Xeo-600, can be used in cases where there is a background of tiny freckles and brown discoloration – sometimes erasing 20 years of irregular pigment with a series of 20 minute treatments! Where there is severe sun damage or when a person wishes the most rapid improvement (for example, if a daughter is getting married in two months) a medicine called Levulan™ is applied to the skin for one hour before treatment with the Cutera Xeo-600. Levulan™ is absorbed by cells in the skin which are misbehaving, and then is activated by light from the Xeo-600. The abnormal cells are shed from the skin over a period of 1-2 weeks, revealing fresher, healthier skin – and giving the patient a “fresh start”.

What ever the type of spot – if you have concerns, or if you see changes in its appearance, it is important that you have it inspected by your family physician or dermatologist.


About the author:
Dr. Kevin Smith is a dermatologist in Niagara Falls, Ontario with a particular interest in protecting the skin and in correcting skin problems resulting from aging, rosacea and sun damage. He is an expert in the use of Botox®, fillers, lasers and intense pulsed light to maintain and enhance the appearance of the skin, and have lectured on those subjects across North America, and in Europe, Asia and Mexico. Read more at www.smithlaser.com


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