As we age, many of us know all-too-well how susceptible we are to getting wrinkles, fine lines and saggy skin but there is another sign that we may not know about, or be prepared for – age spots, also known as dark spots or hyperpigmentation.
Many of us have, or will get, dark spots on our hands and faces as we get older but instead of being a direct result of our body’s response to the ticking of time, this so-called photoageing is instead caused by exposure to sunlight and ultraviolet light. In fact, this exposure is responsible for 90% of visible changes to the skin.
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Luckily, aspects of photoageing are preventable. To help understand how to prevent changes in pigmentation from appearing on your skin, aesthetic specialist at Candela Medical, Chanele Rosa has explained to mamabella what causes dark and age spots, and the different ways you can treat them.
Pigmentation is, put simply, the colour of your skin.
WHY DO WE NEED PIGMENTATION?
Pigment is important because it protects our skin by creating a barrier around the nucleus of our skin cells to stop sun rays attacking our DNA.
Pigmentation can, therefore, affect patches of your skin or your entire body but mostly areas that are exposed to the sun such as the face, chest, arms and legs.
Hyperpigmentation refers to the darkening of the skin, and skin pigmentation disorders can cause changes to this skin colour.
A pigmented lesion is caused by an abnormal production of melanin (pigment) which makes it visible to the skin surface such as sunspots or age spots.
After our skin is exposed, we might get a few freckles which then fade in the winter, this is the body’s effort to protect skin cells from UV damage.
Freckles might become permanent and the UV damage might be not visible until we get older when they rise the surface as age spots on either your hands, face or cleavage.
These can be darker and permanent if preventive measures aren’t taken.
Sun exposure and tanning beds are the biggest factors which rapidly darken existing pigment and stimulate the melanocytes to produce more pigment.
This pigment is also granular, so the more we produce, the thicker our skin becomes, in an attempt at making it more resilient. This is why sun-worshippers tend to have thick, leathery skin in later life.
When the melanocyte cell itself becomes damaged, it can continue to make excess pigmentation, leading to dark spots that may not appear for years after exposure.
However, hormonal changes can also influence pigmentation, appearing as symmetrical, blotchy brown facial pigments. This type of pigmentation is known as melasma or the pregnancy mask. Other factors include inflammatory conditions such as acne and various forms of dermatitis like eczema.
If you don’t already have dark spots or age spots, you can help prevent them from appearing by avoiding direct sun exposure and tanning beds. These can lead to long term effects of pigmentation.
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Even if you’re not going outside for long periods, or even it’s raining, look for products with SPF. And we’re not just talking about suntan lotion. Look for moisturisers, foundations and body creams that have an SPF of 50+, where possible, or any SPF rating. After all, some protection is better than none at all.
These products should be worn daily and reapplied throughout the day, even when the sun isn’t visible. Also, avoid picking and scratching at the skin to prevent hyperpigmentation. You can read more in our What is SPF? guide.
If you’ve left it too late to prevent dark age spots, the most advanced way to get rid of them is via lasers and intense pulsed light (IPL) treatments. These can safely and effectively remove pigmentation.
Chanele Rosa recommends people with pigmentation problems find an accredited salon that uses The Nordlys by Candela system. By using narrowband IPL, the system has three wavelengths at 400nm for resistant pigmentation and 530nm or 555nm for deeper pigmentation.
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The treatment works by the light being attracted to the melanin within the lesion. Light is converted into heat and heats the pigment to 70℃, which effectively shatters the pigment via what’s known as a phototoxic reaction. As your skin naturally sheds in the process of skin cell turnover, the pigmented skin will flake off and any remaining pigment will appear lighter. Most pigmentation problems will disappear after three treatments, administered over a 12-week period.
A cheaper, easier solution – albeit one that takes a lot longer – is a three-step, dark spot corrector treatment.
We recommend SkinCeutical’s Advanced Pigment Protector – a small tube is a staggering £95 but, trust us when we say that this price is substantially cheaper than many dark spot correctors on the market.
A mid-range alternative is Kiehl’s Clearly Corrective Dark Spot Solution, available for £37, or the multi-purpose Ageless Throat and Decolletage Serum from PRAI, on sale for £30.
While a cheap version is Revolution’s £9.95 Dark Spot Corrector treatment.
You can get more recommendations for the best dark spot corrector on our Best Buys list.
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It’s also worth using products that contain hydroxyphenoxy propionic Acid, ellagic acid and salycilic acid. You can read more about the latter in our guide on the truth about the acids in your skincare.
If this routine is combined with clinical treatments, results could appear as soon as six weeks, however, the likelihood is that you may not see a big difference for a few months. In summary, don’t wait until dark spots become a problem – act now!
The promising thing is that this routine doesn’t just get rid of hyperpigmentation and dark/age spots. It’s also good for balancing skin tone generally, giving you a fresher complexion.
Victoria is founder and editor-in-chief of mamabella, freelance journalist and Mum. She has a passion for empowering people to feel beautiful whatever their age, size, skin type and budget