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Age Spots: Spotting the Best Treatments to Fade Skin Discoloration
"Dr. Fairfield, are these age spots? Help! Make them go away!" This is something I've heard from my clients forever. Fortunately, now there are effective treatments to fade, or even abolish, these unsightly darkened blotches that appear on the face and the backs of hands. It's true that the tendency to get age spots runs in families, but you may get them even if none of your cousins did. And, with modern cosmetic technology, you can finally do something about it. We'll take a look at two methods – mechanical and light treatments – but first, I have to plug prevention.
We probably can't completely prevent age spots, but something we should all be doing anyway will help ward them off. That something is sun protection. Sun damage definitely causes skin pigment cells to go wonky, and that brings on the age spots. Do the right thing: keep the sun off your skin as much as possible with protective clothing. Invest in some great hats, and use a UVA/UVB sunscreen, at least SPF 30 daily. And, don't forget that solar radiation can penetrate right through clouds and windows.
But I'll admit it – even if you do everything right, you may still get age spots. So, let's take a look at some treatments you can discuss with your cosmetic dermatologist, to see what's best for you.
The leading mechanical age-spot remedy is microdermabrasion. Rubbing the skin with extremely fine crystals, either on the tip of a wand or in a stream that blows against the skin and is suctioned away, microdermabrasion removes the dead cells of the skin's outer layer where the discolored cells reside. The treatment brings bonuses: increased blood flow, stimulation of new cell growth and collagen, reduction of fine wrinkles, deep cleansing of blackheads, and improvement of mild acne scarring – all are microdermabrasion benefits.
Further advantages to microdermabrasion are convenience and safety. With few side effects and no anesthetic, microdermabrasion is quick enough to take in over your lunch hour. Effective on all skin types and colors, it's perfect for chemical-sensitive skin. You'll see immediate results that increase over a series of treatments.
But, for longer-lasting results, your cosmetic dermatologist may recommend treatments that operate below the skin surface, to work directly on the age-spot culprit – the cells that produce melanin (skin pigment). It's when these cells start cranking out too much pigment that age spots result. To go deeper and destroy these cells, your cosmetic dermatologist may suggest light-oriented treatments, using either laser or broadband light. The best of these technologies pass right through the skin's surface cells, causing no damage. An added benefit? No recovery time at all.
Intense Pulsed Light Therapy (IPL), adjusted by the cosmetic dermatologist for your skin, delivers microbursts of broad-spectrum light energy to skin cells. In the darker skin cells, the light converts to heat energy, destroying them. One variant of this procedure uses LED light (for example, the GentleWaves® system) to emit coded pulses of low-intensity light with less energy than a 25-watt light bulb. In this treatment there is no heat energy involved and no discomfort at all. These broadband light treatments combine well with microdermabrasion, producing an even skin tone, reducing fine wrinkles, and leaving the skin softened and refreshed.
Laser treatments use an intense light at a single frequency. Some laser treatments do damage surface skin cells and cause them to exfoliate. This can leave the skin reddened, increasing recovery time and possibly yielding uneven results. So, for my clients, I prefer to use the Fraxel™ laser. With this breakthrough device, the energy passes through the surface skin to target darkened and damaged middle layer cells. This process stimulates the skin to create new cells and produce collagen for elasticity and overall skin rejuvenation. With the Fraxel laser, too, there is no recovery time. This is the treatment I have used on the backs of my own hands, and I'm very impressed with the results.
If you see these little blotchy marks of age appearing on your skin, don't despair. I haven't found a way to keep them from showing up, but the science of cosmetic dermatology is definitely giving us ways to show age spots to the door.
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