Saturday, October 25, 2008

Age Spots and Freckles

Lentigines (age spots) and ephelides (freckles) are usually dark, brown or black spots that show over time on sun exposed patches of the skin. These spots are normally on the back of the hands, face and legs. People who tan extensively may also have them on the shoulders, back, chest and several other patches of skin.

Markings such as lentigines are external accumulations of the skin pigment named melanin that have accumulated within the external layer of the skin, known as the epidermis.

Ephelides occur mostly in lighter skin types, particularly in individuals who get skin burns quickly when exposed to the sun. Lentigines typically appear later in life and can develop on all skin types.

Certain skin marks and age spots medically known as lentigos are often called “liver spots” or “age spots”. However, both of these terms are misnomers. While freckles do commonly show over time, they are not in and of themselves a sign of old age. Rather, they show up on the sun-exposed areas of those who have an inherited tendency to develop them.

When exaggeratedly exposed to ultraviolet rays, whether from a tanning bed, a sun lamp or years of going out without sunscreen, unprotected skin protects itself by producing an overabundance of melanin, resulting in uneven areas. Age spots or lentigos and seborrhoeic keratoses are brown patches that commonly appear on the back of the hands, face and the back. This pigment is accumulated as a type of response to injury, just like a scar is a response to a wound.

Even while this condition is harmless, it should not be confused with melanoma, a type of skin cancer. Lentigo affects both genders equally. Ethnically, the majority of cases happen in skin types I-II, but lentigo has been reported in all other types on rare occasions. The lighter complexion in Caucasians boosts one’s sun sensitivity and gives way for the increased danger of having the condition. Individuals that suffer from the inability to tan in natural sunlight are especially at risk and need to therefore tune into the daily practices that effect healthy skin. Genetic factors should also be considered; people with a family history of melanoma, or potential precursors to melanoma, are more prone to developing lentigos.

Lentigo-type freckles & Seborrheic Keratoses

Sometimes older people who have these lentigo-type freckles also have raised, brown, crusty blemishes named seborrheic keratoses. Seborrheic dermatoses are also benign (not malignant) blemishes of the skin. Although they are usually brown, they can vary in color and range anywhere from light tan to black. The unique characteristic of seborrheic keratoses is their waxy appearance. They look like they have either been pasted on the skin or can be physically similar to a drop of melted brown candle wax that dropped on the skin. Seborrheic keratoses can happen in the same areas as freckles, but since they are not made by sunlight, they can also be found on covered areas. When they first show, the growths commonly begin one at a time as tiny rough bumps. Eventually, they thicken and develop a rough, warty surface.

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- Valerie DeVette

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