If you’re over 40, there’s a good chance the backs of your hands are sporting at least a few of the flat, darkened dots known as age spots. Age spots are common and present no danger, but they can be unsightly, making your hands look older than the rest of your body. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to prevent those spots from getting worse and even reverse the damage already present.
Age spots, also called liver spots, are flat, oval-shaped spots on the skin that may be black, brown or gray. They’re often seen on the backs of hands but are also frequently found on the face, arms, shoulders, upper back and any other body part that doesn’t receive much protection from the sun. Age spots can appear on anyone but are more common in people over 40 and in those with fair complexions.
When your body is exposed to ultraviolet rays, like those emitted by the sun and by tanning beds, it tries to protect the skin by producing more melanin. Melanin is responsible for giving skin its pigment and explains why you get a tan after spending time in the sun. When melanin is produced in high concentrations, it creates those dark spots on the backs of your hands and other places that have high exposure to the sun. Extra melanin may also be produced simply as a result of getting older.
Because age spots are harmless, treatment is unnecessary. However, if their appearance presents a cosmetic problem, you can have them lightened or removed through the use of laser therapy, freezing, dermabrasion, chemical peels or medications designed to bleach the skin. Your doctor can explain the benefits and risks of each solution and help you decide which is best for treating your skin.
The earlier you take preventative measures against age spots, the better, but it’s never too late to protect yourself against further skin damage. Avoid tanning and unnecessary sun exposure, and wear a broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher as well as protective clothing when you must be in the sun; protect yourself all year round, including in winter and on cloudy days. When you spend time outdoors, try to avoid the window of 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., when the sun’s ultraviolet rays are strongest.
Age spots are harmless and painless but may have a similar appearance to melanoma, a type of skin cancer. If an age spot is very dark in color, has a combination of colors, enlarges rapidly, has an irregular-shaped border or changes noticeably, see your doctor.