Sun spots, age spots or liver spots are a common concern for our middle aged patients. Regardless of your skin type or where you live, these small, brown, circular spots can crop up and make putting on your makeup a chore. We hear from patients like you about how liver spots interfere with photos and create an unpleasant sense of aging. They tell us, “I feel young, but I don’t look young with these spots”. After a few laser treatments, we help patients like you completely remove these troublesome brown spots.
Sun damage, another common name for these brown spots or freckles, is caused by long term ultraviolet (sun) exposure. The brown spots are the body’s way of protecting the skin from harm. Dark colors absorb light more easily so your skin uses age spots to shield the collagen layer (dermis) from the sun’s rays. Sun exposure degrades collagen and causes thinning of the skin as we age.
There are several types of benign sun related lesions including Lentigines (small, flat brown spots), seborrheic keratosis (slightly raised brown lesions) and Melasma (large patches of pigment). Lentigines are what are commonly referred to as age spots and these small, flat brown lesions are simple to remove with light based procedures like IPL, q-switched lasers and Laser Genesis. Depending on the device used and the number of treatments we can permanently remove these spots. Seborrheic keratosis lesions are slightly different because they can be raised and bumpy and are more resistant to treatment with lasers. We often use cauterization to remove these lesions safely and effectively.
The most common way of treating sun damage is with a device called IPL (Intense Pulsed Light). Although this device is not a laser, it may be effective when treating more mild forms of sun damage. Typically 3-5 treatments are required for best results. Flaking or peeling is normally after treatment and the recovery process may take up to a week. Although not required to stay inside this whole time, we do describe the recovery as “social downtime” where you may not want to have any parties, wedding, or special events during the week after treatment.
Laser Genesis and q-switched lasers are generally better at removing dark spots because they are lasers and thus more powerful forms of light than Intense Pulsed Light. To highlight the differences between IPL and q-switched lasers we use the example of birthmarks and tattoos. Q-switched lasers can easily remove tattoos and birthmarks and this makes removing age spots very straightforward. IPL is not able to remove a tattoo or birthmark because it is a different intensity of light. In general, most patients will need two treatments for the permanent removal of age spots with q-switched lasers whereas 4-5 treatments with IPL. Either way, the results are extremely rewarding as the spots clear up and the texture improves.
Melasma is a form of facial pigmentation, but should not be confused with sun damage. Melasma, also referred to as the pregnancy mask, is related to changing hormonal conditions and often appears after a pregnancy or when birth control is started or stopped. Laser treatments are not the best choice for treating Melasma and instead bleaching creams containing hydroquinone are preferre.
Although most forms of sun damage are harmless, there are brown spots that should be evaluated by your dermatologist. If you have suspicious looking spots that are growing very quickly or have irregular colors, borders or texture (raised and bumpy) then it is advisable to get them checked out by your dermatologist.
If you have sun spots or brown spots that are making you look older than you feel, consider contacting a dermatologist or plastic surgeon experienced in laser treatments. You’ll be glad you did.