There’s nothing that a bit of sunshine can’t fix! Well, not quite. While a game of tennis is better for you than long hours in front of the TV, too much exposure to the sun can be more harmful in the long run.
One of the most common side effects of spending too much time in the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays are sunspots, also known as solar lentigines. Even though they are more commonly found in people with fair skin and light eyes and those older than 40, they can affect anyone at any age, especially if they tend to spend most of their time in the sun.
Ultraviolet rays are also emitted by tanning beds and UV lights used to set manicures in nail salons, so people who frequently use these appliances may also get dark spots on the skin.
Sunspots are flat and tan, brown or discoloured hyperpigmented lesions on the skin that vary in shape and size. They usually occur on areas of your body that are more frequently exposed, like your face, shoulders, forearms, and backs of your hands, although they may be found on the back and chest as well.
Sunspots on the skin are also called solar lentigines. They are formed when UV radiation causes pigmented skin cells called melanocytes to multiply and accumulate in the epidermis or the outermost layer of the skin, as hyperpigmented areas.
What are the different types of sunspots?
Lesions called keratoses are formed when keratinocyte cells in the skin’s layers are damaged, causing actinic keratosis and seborrheic keratosis.
Actinic keratosis produces sun damage and results in scaly or crusty growths. It is considered a pre-cancerous lesion and can develop into skin cancers like squamous cell carcinoma.
Seborrheic keratoses are commonly recognized for their waxy, scaly, and raised appearance. These growths typically occur in people aged 50 and older and are more common if they have a family history.
Spotting the Difference: Sunspots versus other dark lesions on the skin
- Melasma is another common skin problem that affects areas that get a lot of sun exposure, mainly the forehead, cheeks, nose, and upper lip. It causes brown or grey-brown patches on the skin, usually on the face. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, it is more common in women, triggered by hormonal changes and is generally non-cancerous. It is also called “the mask of pregnancy”, as many expecting mothers develop melasma. Melasma is non-cancerous and more of an aesthetic concern than a medical one.
- Freckles (Ephelides) are an inherited feature most often seen in fair-skinned people, especially those with red hair. They are small (usually less than 3 mm in diameter), red or light- to dark-brown macules that become more prominent in the summer when you get more sun and fade or disappear in the winter.
- Birthmarks can be flat or raised, big or small, and present in various colours: tan, brown, purple, red, and pale blue. Most birthmarks are harmless.
- Skin cancer results from the uncontrolled growth of abnormal skin cells. There are several types of skin cancer. Basal cell carcinoma is the most common type, and melanoma is the deadliest.
When Spots become Serious
It is important to show your doctor any spot on your skin that concerns you, especially one that has changed in appearance or is dark, growing in size, has an irregular border, itchy, painful, red, or bleeding. They could be signs of a more serious skin condition.
How to get rid of sunspots: Choosing the Right Treatment
At Integrity, we assess skin lesions to determine the best method of removal of the sunspots based on their location, size, and the skin’s condition. Then, we choose the treatment most suited to our patient’s needs and measures to be taken during and after the procedures.
Here are some of the options available:
- Laser ablation: An intense beam of light energy is directed at your skin which destroys the outer layer (epidermis). The laser also heats the underlying skin (dermis), which stimulates collagen production over time, giving better skin tone and texture. Ablative laser treatments take between 30 minutes and two hours, depending on the technique used and the size of the area treated. A series of treatments are typically scheduled over a few weeks or months. They can treat age spots quickly but may cause crusting or temporary darkening of the sunspots, which will fade away quickly as the skin heals.
- Diathermy: This involves using a high energy current through a needle to produce heat which destroys the tissue in the lesion so that it disappears.
- Cryotherapy: During this procedure, liquid nitrogen is used to freeze the age spots causing the darkened skin to peel away. As the skin heals, it has a more even skin tone. After treatment, you may experience mild discomfort, a blister, or temporary redness and swelling.
- Plasma arc or Plasma fibroblast therapy: This fairly new treatment is offered as an alternative to laser, injections, or surgical therapies to tighten and improve the appearance of skin.
Fibroblasts are skin cells that produce collagen and proteins in the dermis or deep layer of the skin. It helps wounds to heal while maintaining skin firmness and tightness. Plasma fibroblast therapy uses a pen-like device that discharges a high-frequency electric current to small areas of the skin. The plasma tip doesn’t directly touch the skin but instead releases a targeted current just above the skin. The hot current creates small holes, or micro-injuries, in the skin’s layer, which breaks down proteins, encourages tissue regeneration, stimulates fibroblast activity, and causes tissue contraction or skin tightening.
- Electrocautery uses heat from a mild electric current to destroy abnormal skin tissue. The current is delivered through a pen-like instrument with a heated tip to localize its effect to a very specific, targeted area on the skin.
DermaSweep Md: It can be used to smooth away age spots, using a special applicator with a brush surface to gently sweep away the thick outer layer of the skin and rejuvenate it. Short term effects may be skin redness. This may be accompanied by chemical peeling to reduce hyperpigmented areas on the skin. A peptide solution is then trans dermally infused for melanocyte (melanin producing cells) suppression.
Time is the Best Healer
Sunspots may need more than one treatment sitting as the length of the procedure and the time it takes to see results vary, depending on the specific type of treatment you receive. Several factors could affect your treatment, such as your skin type, medical history, family history and any medications you take. Therefore, some patients may need more than one treatment to achieve the best outcome. Healing time depends on individual lesions and may range from 7-30 days after the procedure.
Post Procedure Skin Care
Sun protection may help reduce the incidence of sunspots and reduce red or brown discolouration after skin treatments to help the scar fade faster. However, sunspots tend to return, or new ones will form if you don’t protect your skin from the sun.
- After treatments, medical-grade silicone gel is suggested to assist with healing. Silicone gel slows down the process of hyperpigmentation and cell ageing due to sun exposure. Due to its oil-free and non-greasy formulation, it is lightweight, water-resistant and non-comedogenic. It suits all skin types, including sensitive skin.
- Protect the treated area by applying a recommended sunscreen.
- Makeup is not recommended on the treated area until the lesion has healed.
- Do not pick any small scabs that may form.
- Do not scratch the lesion should it get itchy as it heals.
- Avoid smoking as it delays the body’s healing process and increases the chances of irritation or infection.
Prevention is Better than Cure!
Spending time in the open air is great for your physical and mental health. But you can still protect yourself from the sun’s damaging effects while enjoying yourself outdoors. While sunburn is an immediate reaction, deep-seated damage from the sun occurs over a lifetime.
A few precautions can go a long way in preventing this:
- Always wear sunscreen. Apply it on your skin as a daily habit, 15 minutes before sun exposure and reapply it every two hours. SPF or sun protection factor tells you how well the product will protect you from UVA and UVB rays, the sun’s burning rays. The higher the SPF number, the more protection it provides. Sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 is recommended for all skin types, but many new sunscreens have SPFs of 45 or higher.
- Avoid the sun in the middle of the day, from about 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. The ultraviolet rays, which cause sunburn, are strongest during this time
- Wear protective clothing if you do go outdoors. Wide-brimmed hats, sunglasses with UV light filters, and long-sleeved garments with an ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) label all help protect your body against the sun’s harmful effects.
These small but consistent daily habits can prevent the occurrence of sunspots. If you are looking for treatment options for dark spots on your skin, contact Integrity skin clinic, where we have a wide range of procedures available, provided by our very skilled and caring practitioners!