Age spots are discolored areas of the skin that develop as people age. Many age spots are caused by sun damage that accumulates over years. Age spots can appear anywhere on the body, but they’re most common on the face and other areas that are regularly exposed to direct sunlight. Both men and women can get age spots.
Melasma is also a condition in which people develop discolored patches of skin. The tan and brown blotches, however, aren’t caused by sun damage. They’re triggered by hormonal changes, namely estrogen and progesterone. These hormones stimulate melanocytes, which are in the epidermal layer of the skin. When exposed to the sun, the melanocytes produce extra melanin. Melanin gives skin its pigmentation. The additional melanin can collect and create dark-colored spots. Because estrogen and progesterone are both female hormones, melasma is more common in women than men. Women who are going through hormonal changes, such as those brought on by pregnancy, hormone replacement therapy, and some oral and patch contraceptives are especially susceptible to the condition.
If caused by hormonal changes, melasma might resolve itself on its own once a woman's estrogen and progesterone levels return to normal. When these hormonal levels can’t be reduced, there are ways to cosmetically treat them. The same aesthetic treatments also work on age spots. Laser treatments, like Cynosure®, can lighten dark-colored blotches so that they don’t stand out. Cynosure is a non-invasive, outpatient procedure that takes only part of a day, so most people with age spots or melasma are able to undergo treatment.
Patients who are interested in having age spots or melasma blotches treated should look for a licensed aesthetician. Aestheticians are trained in many cosmetic treatments, including laser treatments, and are fully qualified to lighten spots with such treatments.