Essex skin expert talks sun spots and how to avoid them

Age spots, sun spots, actinic keratoses, senile lentigo or solar lentigines, call them what you like!

These flat, brown, gray or black spots are areas of sun-damaged skin found predominantly on sun-exposed parts of the body. These include the backs of the hands and forearms, the face, ears and lips, the scalp in balding men and the lower legs in women, says Essex nurse consultant in dermatology, Sue Ibrahim from Elan Medical Skin Clinics in Rayleigh and central London.

They are not contagious and are usually harmless but there is a very small risk of some sun spots developing into to a form of skin cancer called squamous cell carcinoma.

Seek professional help if you’re worried

If you have any doubts, visit Sue at Elan Medical Skin Clinics in Essex or London for a professional diagnosis. If there’s nothing to worry about she will happily let you know. However, if she is concerned, she will remove a small amount of skin (biopsy) and send it away for further analysis.

How do we get age spots?

Age spots are caused by an excess production of melanin or skin pigment. People of any age, sex or race can develop them, especially if they have had excessive sun exposure over many years from sunbathing, sunbed use and outdoor work or recreational activities. They are more common in older people. Fair-skinned, blue-eyed, red- or blonde-haired people, who burn easily but tan poorly, are at particular risk.

How can we avoid them?

You can’t always prevent age spots but you can reduce your chances of getting them by avoiding the sun between 10am and 3pm when the sun’s rays are most intense.

We would also strongly advise wearing a sunscreen every day. It should have a sun protection factor (SPF) rating of at least SPF30. Please remember to apply sunscreen at least 30 minutes before sun exposure and reapply it regularly, more often if swimming or sweating.

You can also protect your skin from UV rays by wearing protective clothing such as hats, long trousers, and long-sleeved shirts. UV-blocking clothes with an ultraviolet protection are also available. Avoiding sunbeds would also be advised.

Self-examination is also important to check if an age spot has started to bleed, itch or thicken. If you notice any of these things, please contact us immediately.

What can I do if I have sun spots already?

Elan Medical Skin Clinics can provide a range of treatments to help improve the appearance of sun spots, including cryotherapy, which freezes them with liquid nitrogen. This is an effective treatment that does not normally leave a scar, but it can be painful.

Cosmetic radiowave surgery is also effective. We use the latest advanced radio-wave technology, which is carried out under local anaesthetic and takes fifteen to twenty minutes. No stitches are required and scarring is minimal. It is normally possible to return to work immediately following the procedure.

Adequate sun protection is essential all year round and this will help prevent new sun spots from developing. We have a range of DermaActive products that have been specially formulated for sun damaged skin, such as our DermaProtect Day cream with SPF50, pressed mineral foundation that will help conceal age spots and our DermaRepair Programme that is ideal for ageing or sun damaged skin.

We have also devised a dermatology system containing prescription only products that are able to produce radical changes. Results start to appear around 6 weeks into the programme, although it can take up to 16 weeks for the full effects to be seen.

For more information please visit the British Association of Dermatologists, which also provides a range of patient information leaflets. Click here for more about actinic keratoses.