Age (Sun) Spots

Overview

Age spots are also known as sun spots, liver spots, lentigos, or lentigines and may appear as discoloured pigmentation. These lesions are flat, tan, brown, or dark brown spots on sun-exposed skin. As people age, sun spots most commonly appear on the backs of the hands, the forearms, neck, chest, and face. Sun spots are associated with cumulative sun exposure. The pigment producing cells in the skin (called melanocytes) are activated to produce more pigment (melanin) by ultraviolet rays. While these spots are not themselves cancerous, you may be at risk for skin cancer if you have them.

What causes Age or Sun spots?

Age spots increase with age and with increased sun exposure. They are more common in people who freckle and who burn easily. It is important to know that if you’ve had enough sun to develop age spots, you have a higher risk of developing skin cancer.

What do Age or Sun Spots look like? 
Age spots are flat and vary in size from a small pea to a dime. They usually are somewhat round and have irregular borders. They are found on chronically sun-exposed areas such as the shoulders, upper back, face, forearms, and the back of hands.

What treatment options are available for Age, Sun or Liver Spots?
The best treatment for age spots is prevention. The key to preventing age spots is sun avoidance and daily sunscreen use. For example, you won’t find age spots on your inner thigh because of minimal or no sun exposure. However, for most of us, it is too late for prevention, and there are a number of treatment options available.

Top Age or Sun Spot Treatment Options:

  • Chemical Peels
  • Laser Resurfacing
  • Intense Pulsed Light Therapy
  • Bleaching Creams

How does the Intense Pulsed Light (IPL) system work?

Laser equipmentIntense Pulsed Light systems release precisely controlled short pulses of filtered light that stimulate the fibroblast cells within the skin that produce collagen and elastin.

The light emitted from the IPL system delivers a special range of wavelengths of light in customizable pulses through a sapphire tip gently onto your skin. The light is absorbed either superficially by broken capillaries and dark pigment or deeper by larger vessels and collagen. Dilated capillaries coagulate, pigmented lesions darken and then slough off and new collagen fibres are laid down, giving the skin a renewed and more youthful appearance.

Consultant Plastic Surgeons and Nurses with Aesthetic Surgery Ireland use the Lumenis One® laser system.

Generally patients will need to undergo a series of IPL treatments to achieve the desired effect. Clinical studies suggest that for most people, maximum results are realized in just 3 – 5 sessions, which are usually spaced 2 – 6 weeks apart.

The following description outlines the general procedure a patient undergoes before, during and after an IPL skin treatment. The procedure you may undergo for your specific condition may differ and can be more fully explained by either by a Consultant Plastic Surgeon or Nurse.

What happens before your IPL treatment?

It is important that your skin is properly prepared for the treatment. This may include application of lighting cream and sunscreen for dark skinned or tanned patients: this is a precaution to ensure that the laser is not absorbed by the tan.

Similarly the Consultant Plastic Surgeon or Nurse may decide to apply a water jet to cleanse your skin of any impurities. The use of the JetPeel® water jet will help optimize the outcome of your IPL treatment by cleansing your skin.

Similarly microdermabrasion treatment can be conducted to prepare the skin for the IPL treatment. Microdermabrasion uses a highly controlled flow of fine, medical grade crystals to remove the dead, outermost layer of skin. This skin exfoliation process reveals the new, living skin cells that are soft, smooth and receptive to nutrients.This treatment would need to be performed a few days prior to your IPL treatment.

If necessary a topical anaesthetic cream can be applied to relieve any discomfort.

What happens during your IPL treatment?

Protective goggles must be worn during laser treatmentPatients are generally required to wear protective goggles. The light applicator is placed onto the skin and a short pulse of light is released. The handpiece is then moved to the adjacent area and the process is repeated until the entire area is treated. During the treatment the patient may feel a snapping or skin-pricking sensation which provides minimal discomfort.

Depending on the area being treated the IPL treatment usually can last from 30 minutes (hand) to up to an hour (face).

What happens after your skin rejuvenation treatment?

Your skin may be cooled or soothed immediately after the IPL treatment. Depending on your particular condition and the specifics of the IPL treatment there may be some darkening of the treated area, redness, and in very rare cases, crusting or weeping. Generally any such effect is very temporary and will disappear after 3-4 days. Patients can return to work immediately although some patients may decide to apply some form of camouflage make-up to hide any temporary discoloration: it is not possible to apply standard make-up immediately after the treatment.

You may be provided with non-stick dressing and anti-biotic creams to be used for up to a week after your treatment.

What are some of the Potential Complications?

IPL treatments can leave skin blisters or burns. While this is very rare, it may lead to mild scarring and changes in skin colour or pigment. When you have laser treatment around your eyes, you will experience temporary eyelid swelling.

IPL rejuvenation treatments may not be advised for darker skin tones. If you have a dark complexion, your Consultant Plastic Surgeon or Nurse can recommend the optimum IPL treatment for you.

IPL treatments are not for everyone. Your Clinician may advise you against IPL treatment if you are prone to scarring or have a history of light sensitivity that causes a rash or other reaction. Similarly IPL therapy is not recommended if you have cold sores or other skin infections at the site of the planned treatment.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is IPL Skin Rejuvenation?
IPL Skin Rejuvenation therapy helps stimulate your skin’s collagen production by deconstructing underlying blood vessels using lasers, helping to ‘plump up’ the skin and minimise the appearance of fine lines. Skin rejuvenation therapy is considered a non-ablative treatment, which means that the surface of your skin shouldn’t be damaged by the process.

What is Intense Pulsed Light (IPL) treatment?
IPL works by heating the skin below the surface to stimulate the cells. IPL revitalises dull-looking skin, reduces the appearance of flushed skin and sun discolouration, minimises thread veins, and reduces fine lines. It is most effective for people with fair to medium skin tone. IPL helps stimulate new collagen development when it’s absorbed by the skin.

What skin problems do IPLlasers treat?
In general, IPL used in rejuvenation therapy can reduce the appearance of uneven pigment and small thread veins on the face. There is also some evidence that these devices can improve the appearance of wrinkles, mild scarring, and large pores.

How often would I require treatment?
Initial treatment may require four or five sessions over a few weeks to achieve the level of improvement you desire. Afterwards, you can get treated every six months for maintenance, as required.

Are there any reactions to treatments?
IPL treatments can leave skin blisters or burns. While this is very rare, it may lead to mild scarring and changes in skin colour or pigment. If you have laser treatment around your eyes, you may experience temporary eyelid swelling. Some types of laser rejuvenation therapy aren’t advised for darker skin tones. If you have a dark complexion, your Consultant Plastic Surgeon can recommend the most appropriate laser treatment for you.

Are laser treatments painful?
Depending on the type of device used and the brand, you may experience mild stinging or burning during the procedure. The area treated may also feel hot for about 15 minutes or so after treatment.

After laser treatment, can you go out into the sun again?
You can still go out in the sun, but you should protect yourself by using a high-factor sunscreen (minimum 30+ SPF), regardless of what season it is. Wearing an appropriate sunscreen is always recommended for everyone for summer months when you spend the most time outdoors.

Will I have noticeable facial redness for months after laser treatment?
In most cases your skin will be very slightly pink for one or two days. As long as you are treated by an experienced consultant using the correct energy settings, any skin discoloration should last only a few days.

Does this procedure carry a high risk of skin infection?
IPL therapy does not carry a high risk of infection as the skin surface is not broken during the treatments.