All that fun in the sun may have you seeing red — red age spots, that is. Years of sun exposure can cause red age spots on your skin, giving your complexion an uneven, blotchy appearance and making you look older. Red spots aren’t merely unsightly, though. Some are precancerous and need medical attention. See your doctor for treatment and put together a prevention plan to cut your risk of age spot-related skin cancer.
Red Age Spots
Cherry angiomas and actinic keratoses are common red spots associated with aging. Cherry angiomas are bright red, benign growths of tangled or burst blood vessels. They grow to one-fourth of an inch in diameter, but they’re harmless, according to the National Institutes of Health. Actinic keratoses are red, scaly, precancerous patches that peel and sometimes bleed. Actinic keratoses are “the first step” leading to squamous cell carcinoma, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. Up to 10 percent of squamous cell carcinomas spread to internal organs and become life-threatening. Actinic keratoses also indicate risk for other skin cancers, including melanoma and basal cell carcinoma.
Why They Happen
If you’re fair-skinned or have family members with age spots, you’re predisposed to cherry angiomas and actinic keratoses. Add years’ worth of skin damage from sunbathing, hiking or swimming, and red age spots kick into high gear. Once you reach 40, your skin is more fragile and prone to age spots. Sun damage can take decades to appear on the skin, which is why patients are at least middle-age before spots proliferate. If you see an especially big cluster of age spots, you may have a genetic disorder that keeps your body from repairing sun damage. Such diseases are rare, but ask your doctor if they’re causing your problem.
The National Institutes of Health recommends leaving cherry angiomas alone, but if you have angiomas on your face, your doctor can burn them off with a cauterizing tool or freeze them with liquid nitrogen. As the spot heals, the angioma peels off and reveals fresh skin. Burning and freezing also treat actinic keratoses. Skin peels with lasers or chemicals such as trichloroacetic acid can remove multiple actinic keratoses over a large area in one treatment. Topical medications containing the chemotherapy drug fluorouracil work for occasional age spots, though the drug causes crusting, bleeding or scabbing during treatment. Dermabrasion also removes actinic keratoses.
Red age spots result from a lifetime of sun overexposure, so prevention is difficult once spots emerge. However, curb future outbreaks by avoiding damaging sunburns or tans. Stay out of the sun when its rays are most intense, between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Apply sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher at least 20 minutes before you go outside and reapply it every two hours. Wear a broad-brimmed hat and clothes with tight weaves or apparel designed to provide sun protection. Eat a balanced diet rich in antioxidants such as vitamin C to boost skin health. Check skin regularly for new growths.