Now that summer is winding down, we asked Great Neck, N.Y.-based dermatologist Adam Bodian, M.D., what to do about those dark spots you may be noticing on your face, hands, chest, back and even feet.
THE BASIC FACTS
Melanocytes, cells found in the outer layer of skin (epidermis), produce melanin, the pigment that gives skin its color. Sunspots are areas of the skin where excess pigment has been released as a natural defense mechanism against exposure to the sun's ultraviolet (UV) light. Sunspots are usually several shades darker than your natural skin tone, flat and irregular in shape.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
The following are what sunspots are--and aren't:
* Sunspots are signs of cumulative sun damage that appear as we age.
* They are more common in people with darker complexions or those who tan easily.
* Sunspots are not melasma, large, flat, splotchy brown areas that develop on the faces of women who are pregnant or taking birth-control pills.
You can minimize these imperfections. Beauty Rx:
1. Apply a skin-lightening cream, such as prescription Tri-Luma (triluma.com), which contains the lightening agent hydroquinone; it works in just three to four weeks. Over-the-counter products usually contain 2 percent or less hydroquinone or other lightening agents (kojic acid and/or azelaic acid); they're gentler but take longer to work. Try DDF Fade Gel 4, $47; ddfskincare.com.
2. See a dermatologist to discuss laser treatment. Directing a beam of concentrated light at the sunspot causes laser energy to be absorbed by melanin in the skin, develop a thin scab, then slowly fade. Usually one treatment (from $150, depending on the area treated) is needed. One potential side effect: In rare cases, the treated area may become even darker.
3. Always wear a broad-spectrum sunscreen. Look for an SPF of at least 15 and the ingredients zinc oxide, titanium dioxide and/or avobenzone (Parsol 1789), which block the sun's UVA and UVB rays. Unprotected sun exposure can trigger sunspots to reappear or get darker.
RELATED ARTICLE: EPIDERMIS
4. sun's UV light
RELATED ARTICLE: WHAT WORKS
Sunspots are not just a cosmetic concern; like moles, they also can become cancerous. "There is no way to predict which sunspots will become cancerous," says Adam Bodian, M.D., co-director of Bodian Dermatology Group and Medical Day Spa in Great Neck, N.Y. That's why Bodian recommends having your dermatologist conduct a full-body exam every year--whether you think you have any problem pigmentation or not. The danger signs: any changes in color or texture. "Consistent checkups will help identify (and remove, if necessary) any suspect lesions," says Bodian, who adds, "If the lesion in question is not malignant and simply a cosmetic problem, it can be lightened with creams or a laser."
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