Age Spots (Aging Skin Problems Part 1)

Structure of the skin

While there are many layers of skin, it is generally divided into 3 main layers:

  • The epidermis is the outermost layer, which contains the skin cells, proteins and pigment melanin. The melanin producing cells (melanocytes) are present in the basal layer of the epidermis.
  • The dermis is the middle layer, which contains the blood vessels, hair follicles, oil glands and nerves. The middle layer provides nutrients or food to the outer layer of the skin.
  • The subcutaneous layer or the fat layer lies beneath the dermis and contains blood vessels, fat, hair follicles and sweat glands.

In fact, each layer of the skin also contains collagen and elastin fibres (connective tissue), and these provide support, strength and flexibility.

Changes in the structure of the skin related to aging

Epidermis layer

As you age, the epidermis or the outer layer of the skin thins, though the total number of skin cells remains unchanged. The total number of melanocytes (cells that produce the pigment melanin) reduces. The cellular size of the melanocytes increases. Due to this, the skin of an aged person has less protection from harmful ultraviolet rays of the sun.

In comparison, the skin of an aged person looks thinner, more clear or translucent and paler. As a result of exposure to sun rays, there will also be the appearance of large hyperpigmented spots called age spots or liver spots or solar lentigos.

Reduced elasticity

Connective tissue changes decrease the elasticity and strength of the skin. This is called elastosis and is typically more pronounced in areas exposed to the sun. Elastosis results in the weather-beaten, leathery appearance of the skin that is common to sailors, farmers and other persons who remain outdoors for long hours.

girl pinching her face to show elasticity of skin

Blood vessels weakening

Due to aging, the blood vessels present in the middle layer of the skin becomes fragile. This may result in conditions such as easy bruising, cherry angiomas and senile purpura (bleeding under the skin) etc.

Marked dry skin

As you grow older, the oil glands start producing less oil (known as sebum). The change is more marked in females often starting post menopause; whereas, in males, this change occurs after 80 years of age. This results in symptoms of itching and dryness.

Dermis layer

The dermis also thins and the underlying subcutaneous or fat layer is also lost. Due to this, there is the appearance of sagging skin and wrinkles. Greying or whitening of hair is another sign of old age. The total number of nerve endings present in the skin reduces; hence, as you age your sensation is decreased. The total number of blood vessels and sweat glands present in the skin also reduce with age. This decreases the ability of the skin to respond to exposure of heat and cold.

Sun damage

All these changes in the skin make it more prone to damage and healing slower. Sun damage causes the majority of the changes in the skin that people associate with old age. When you are exposed to the harmful ultraviolet rays of the sunlight for long-term you get various age-related changes including wrinkles (both coarse and fine), hyperpigmented spots (solar lentigos), and rough and dry skin.

Skin flora decreases

Due to old age, the total quantity of skin flora also decreases. According to a study published in ‘The Journal of Investigative Dermatology,’ levels of anaerobic and aerobic bacteria residing on the face show a pattern related to age.

  • The quantity of aerobic micrococci and anaerobic diptheroids is higher in infants in comparison to children.
  • The quantity of these microorganisms increases during puberty and late adolescence.
  • The counts become highest during early adulthood. They remain constant till old age when they start declining.

The changes in the quantity of skin flora correlate with sebum production.

Skin flora is vital for maintaining the health of your skin. It does so by preventing the growth of pathogenic microorganisms (providing immunity), acting as a barrier to environmental toxins and allergens, minimizing oxidative damage caused by free radicals, promoting healing of wounds and keeping the skin plump and moist.

With old age, the quantity of skin flora declines and your skin becomes prone to infections and allergies. The immunity provided by the skin flora begins to decline, and hence, the skin becomes dry and itchy.

illustration of our skin changes as we age, where elasticity is reduced due to decrease in collagen content.

Changes in the skin due to old age

Wrinkles

As a result of the loss of elasticity and firmness of the skin over time, wrinkles in the form of crinkles, creases or furrows become present in your skin. They are a usual part of becoming old. They are also prominent on areas that are exposed to the sun including the neck, face, forearms and hands.

Although the structure and texture of your skin are mainly determined by genetics, exposure to the sun is the main cause of the formation of wrinkles, particularly in fair-skinned individuals. Other factors including smoking and pollutants can also contribute to the formation of wrinkles.

Learn more about how to treat wrinkles in medical and natural ways.

old woman with wrinkles

Dry skin

Dry skin is a common skin condition, where there is insufficient moisture in the epidermis or the outermost layer of the skin. The elderly, in particular, are more prone to developing dry skin. It is also important to note that the risk increases after the age of 40 years.

dry skin

As you age, your skin tends to contain reduced amounts of lubricants and oils. According to estimates, greater than 50% of the elderly people suffer from dryness of skin. Areas of the body that are more prone to develop dry skin include arms, hands and lower legs.

Learn more about how to treat dry skin in medical and natural ways.

Age spots

Age spots, also known as liver or sun spots are present in people who are more than 40 years of age.

Causes of age spots

The main cause of age spots is exposure to ultraviolet rays of the sun, which trigger melanin production in the skin, resulting in darkening of the skin. After years of exposure to ultraviolet light, melanin pigment builds up in certain areas of the skin leading to the development of age spots.

hyperpigmentation and age spots on a woman's face
Persons of any sex, age or race may develop sun or age spots. However, females are more prone to develop them as they have a comparatively fairer colour of skin than males and they are more prone to hormonal imbalances during their lifetime. The following factors increase the risk of developing age spots:

  • Above 40 years of age
  • Fair skin and blonde hair
  • Frequent exposure to the sun
  • Frequent use of tanning beds

Signs and symptoms of age spots

  • The colour of sunspots ranges from light brown to black.
  • Appear as flat areas of hyperpigmentation and have a similar texture as the surrounding skin.
  • Found in areas that are exposed to sun’s rays such as arms, face, hands, and tops of feet, shoulders and upper back.
  • They are painless.

How are age spots diagnosed?

Your doctor will diagnose them by inspecting your skin. If they suspect any dark spot to be anything other than sunspot, they may do a biopsy.

Treating age spots

Prescription medicines

Your physician may prescribe bleaching agents to lighten the sun spots slowly. Typically, these agents contain hydroquinone along with retinoids like tretinoin. You should use sunblock along with using these creams as they make the skin sensitive to ultraviolet rays.

Medical procedures

Some of the medical procedures that can lighten sun spots include:

Chemical peels

These remove the epidermis or outer skin layer so there is a growth of a new layer of skin that is free of age spots.

IPL (Intense Pulse Light Therapy)

It is a type of non-ablative laser therapy that stimulates collagen growth in the middle layer of the skin and usually produces good results in people with fair skin.

woman undergoing Intense Pulse Light Therapy

Dermabrasion

In this procedure, the epidermis is removed and in its place, a new skin layer grows which is free of age spots.

Cryosurgery

During this procedure, liquid nitrogen is used to freeze individual sunspots.

Home remedies (natural and organic ways)

Some of the natural and organic remedies for age spots are as follows:

Lemon juice

Lemon juice is rich in citric acid which acts as a bleaching agent; fading the age spots.

  • Apply fresh juice of a lemon on your age spots two times in a day and then leave it for about half an hour.
  • Usually, improvements in your age spots become noticeable after 1-2 months.

Apple cider vinegar (ACV)

It contains alpha hydroxyl acids that help to lighten age spots.

  • Mix equal quantities of ACV with olive oil and apply on the affected areas.
  • Leave for 20 minutes and then wash with water.

Apple cider vinegar
Horseradish

Horseradish is a rich source of vitamin C that slows the production of pigment melanin; thereby, reducing age spots.

  • Make a paste of horseradish and apply it to the affected area.
  • Leave for about 20 minutes and then wash with water.
  • Repeat a few times a week.

Papaya

Papaya contains alpha hydroxyl acids and certain other enzymes, which help to lighten age spots and exfoliate dead skin cells.

  • Mash the pulp of papaya.
  • Apply this pulp to the age spots and leave for about 15 minutes.
  • Rinse with water.
  • Repeat this procedure daily.

Natural & organic methods for anti-aging

Some of the natural methods for anti-aging are as follows:

  1. Take fish oil supplements to get plump, hydrated and supple skin. Fish oil supplements contain omega-3 fatty acids that help to strengthen membranes of the skin cells. This ensures that they perform some of their vital functions like uptake of nutrients, and removal of wastes. They also maintain the hydration of skin cells.
  2. Drink sufficient water to maintain an even texture, tone and radiance of your skin.
  3. Install a humidifier in your room at night and you will notice that you have smoother, plumper, more hydrated skin with fewer lines in the morning.
  4. Use egg whites face mask a few times in a week to tighten your skin and brighten your complexion.
  5. Add turmeric to your diet to decrease inflammation, as it has anti-inflammatory properties. As a result of inflammation, many signs of aging appear on the skin, including wrinkles, breakouts, saggy skin and uneven tone.
  6. Apply moisturizer to your face as many times in a day.
  7. Do regular aerobic exercise. Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise on most days of the week. You can do brisk walking, swimming, cycling, dancing, running etc.
  8. Do relaxation exercises such as yoga to relieve stress.
  9. Eat a balanced diet with good fats and enough proteins.
humidifier

Prevent aging of the skin

Follow the below-mentioned tips to prevent premature aging of the skin:

Protect your skin

  1. To protect the skin from excessive exposure to the sun, use a broad-spectrum sunblock of SPF 30 or higher. Additionally, wear sun protective clothing, a wide brim hat, use an umbrella or seek shade. Reapply sunblock every two hours and earlier when swimming and perspiring.
  2. Apply self-tanner instead of getting a tan. Every time you tan your skin, you are also aging it prematurely. This is also true if you are getting a tan from a tanning bed or the sun.
  3. Avoid making unnecessary repetitive facial expressions. While making a facial expression, the muscles lying underneath get contracted. On repeatedly contracting the same facial muscles over the years, the lines get permanent.
  4. While cleansing your skin, be gentle. You should avoid scrubbing the skin as it may irritate the skin, which accelerates aging of the skin. Instead, clean your skin gently.
  5. Wash your face two times in a day and immediately after perspiring heavily. Heavy perspiration may irritate your skin; hence, wash your face as early as possible after heavy sweating.
  6. Don’t use skincare and cosmetic products which burn or sting. Burning or stinging of skin implies that it is irritated, which can accelerate aging of the skin.
Woman washing face with not aggresive detergent

Green tea for sun damage

Use Green Tea to prevent and repair the oxidative damage caused to skin cells by free radicals. Green tea helps in clearing cellular damage and repairs wrinkles and age spots, because of the chemicals it contains known as catechins, which are antioxidants. When you apply green tea to your skin it reduces sun damage by decreasing inflammation and destroying free radicals. You can also consume green tea to reap its health benefits.

benefits of green tea for skin

Develop a healthier lifestyle

  1. Quit smoking. Smoking accelerates the aging of your skin, and it can result in wrinkles and a sallow and dull complexion.
  2. Engage in regular physical activity. Moderate intensity exercise when done regularly helps in improving circulation and boosting immunity. This helps in giving your skin a healthy and youthful appearance.

Adopt better nutrition

  1. Eat a well balanced, healthy diets, such as a diet that contains lots of fresh vegetables and fruits, good fats and proteins. Avoid eating a diet that contains refined sugars and carbohydrates as it may accelerate skin aging.
  2. Reduce the amount of alcohol you drink. Alcohol dehydrates your skin and accelerates aging of the skin. Hence, drink less amount of alcohol. Women should not drink more than 1 drink per day and men should not drink 2 drinks per day.
beautiful lady eating a bowl of salad

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Dr Ritu Goel

Dr. Ritu Goel is a homeopathic physician and a certified nutritionist. She did her graduation in Homeopathic Medicine and Surgery from Delhi University, India. She pursued a Post Graduate Diploma in Hospital and Health Care Management from Symbiosis University, Pune, India. She also did a certificate in dietetics and nutrition to enhance her knowledge on various aspects of fitness and nutrition.

She worked for more than 10 years in the healthcare industry in various organizations as a physician and fitness and nutrition expert. She is currently working as a freelance writer mainly providing content on various aspects of health, fitness and nutrition.