Sun Spots / Photodamage

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How are Sun Spots Caused?

The name says it all. While sun spots are sometimes referred to as age spots, they are nearly always related to excessive sun exposure. If you experienced more than one significant sunburn during childhood, you have a relatively good chance of developing sun spots during adulthood. These discolored patches usually show up on the face, chest, shoulders, arms, and hands due to the regular UV exposure these areas receive. The spots develop as the body attempts to protect the skin from additional sun damage. In response to excessive UV exposure from sunlight or tanning lamps, the body's pigment-producing cells become overactive. They increase the rate of melanin production. Melanin is the pigment that determines the color of the skin. Where melanin gets produced in high concentrations, spots appear on the skin. Sun spots may not appear for many years after sun damage has occurred. This is why most people do not notice them until mid-life.

What Treatment Options Are There for Photodamage?

Sun spots are flat areas of pigmentation that ranges from light tan to dark brown. These spots can be very small or can occur in groups that create a larger area of muddled discoloration. While there is no medical reason to have sun spots treated, many people seek treatment to improve the appearance of the skin. As California’s most comprehensive skin care center, we restore patients' innate beauty using the most advanced treatments available. Some of the options that may be considered for the correction of sun spots and other sun damage or pigment problems include:

  • Photodynamic therapy. This light-based treatment may be recommended when spots exhibit signs of cellular abnormality. Many of the spots that stem from sun damage can develop into actinic keratosis, which is an early sign of skin cancer. The PDT process involves the application of a topical medication that may be left on the skin for hours or days. This allows the medication to accumulate within the abnormal cells, making them more sensitive to light. During a second visit, light is then directed at the targeted spots, destroying the cells in the actinic keratosis.
  • CO2 laser resurfacing. Historically, CO2 laser skin resurfacing was known as the most intense rejuvenating laser treatment. Newer devices have decreased the intensity of the treatment without compromising its power to achieve remarkable results. Fractional CO2 laser treatments can correct the signs of sun damage and aging, including spots, fine lines, wrinkles, and enlarged pores, in a single session. After a brief recovery period of one to two weeks, patients can expect to look years younger, with smoother, more radiant skin.
  • IPL. Intense pulsed light is often listed with laser treatments, but it is not the same technology. IPL is an excellent light-based treatment that is commonly used to treat sun spots, as well as rosacea. During treatment, ultra-fast bursts of intense light get absorbed by discolored pigments in the skin. This causes the pigmented cells to break apart gradually and fade away. Three to five treatments may be needed to fully eradicate sun spots.

Do Sun Spots Go Away on Their Own?

No. In some situations, sun spots may fade over time. However, depending on habits, new sun spots may develop concurrently, so the skin continues to look muddled and spotted. With professional treatment, quality skin care, and good sun habits, the development of new sun spots may be inhibited.

What Preventive Measures Should I Take to Avoid Sun Spots?

The very best way to prevent new sun spots from forming is to avoid unnecessary sun exposure. In our area of California, that can be difficult. People who live here tend to enjoy time outdoors in the warmth of the sun! It isn't necessary to forego time outside to enjoy healthy skin throughout your lifetime. The use of broad-spectrum SPF 30 sunscreen can provide sufficient protection even for long days outdoors. That said, keep in mind that sunscreen must be applied properly and frequently to work as intended. Apply sunscreen before going outdoors. Apply about half a teaspoon of sunscreen to the face and neck, then one ounce of sunscreen to the rest of the body. If you sweat or swim, you must reapply to all areas. Even if you don't sweat or swim, you need to reapply sunscreen every two hours that you are in the sun. For enhanced protection, use clothing. A wide-brimmed hat can protect the face, neck, and ears from UV damage. Lightweight, long-sleeved tops can protect the chest, shoulders, and arms. Regardless of good habits, some amount of sun exposure is bound to occur. To promote your healthiest skin, schedule periodic treatments that support cellular turnover. Our team is proud to offer chemical peels, medical-grade facials, and other treatments that can help you reduce the chances of sun spots forming as you age.

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