Historically, clients would go to the spa at the sight of their first wrinkle. Now, however, age spots are driving in more and more clients. Not only is the incidence of age spots increasing, but the demographic is getting younger! As a primary manifestation of photo-aging due to exposure to ultraviolet light, hyper-pigmentation and age spots are a valid reality. The good news is that the appearance of age spots can be effectively diminished, both professionally and in conjunction with a good homecare regimen.
Age spots, or hyperpigmentation, are the brown, gray, or black spots that can appear on the skin. According to a study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, hyperpigmentation can make people look up to 20 years older than their true age.1 Age spots are often accompanied by an overall skin dullness. In another study, researchers found that this lack of luminance and contrast within skin tone also increased the likelihood of being perceived as older.2
Age spots can be caused by a number of factors, including sun damage, specific types of medicine, hormone changes, and post-acne scarring. In humans, melanogenesis is the darkening of the skin or an increased production of melanin. This darkening occurs when an excess of melanin forms deposits in the skin. The process is stimulated by DNA damage to the skin induced by UVB radiation. Stimulated by DNA damage when induced by UVB rays from the sun, keratinocytes signal melanocytes to initiate the production of melanin. Once the melanocytereceptors are attacked, it triggers tyrosinase, endothelium (ET-1), and alpha melanin-stimulating hormone (a MSH) to produce melanin. Melanosomes carry melanocytes to the keratinocyte, where they gather to deposit melanin.
There are two forms of melanin: eumelanin, which is black/brown pigment and pheomelanin, which is a yellow/red pigment. There are two types of hyperpigmentation: melanocyte hyperactivity, which brings about freckles and melanocyte hyperproliferation, which causes age spots.
Ultraviolet exposure can also contribute to uneven skin tone, hyperproduction of more yellow and gray pigments in the skin, and loss of opacity to the skin, leading to dullness. While ultraviolet light is the primary culprit when it comes to causing age spots, other factors can contribute to hyperpigmentation and loss of luminance to the skin. For example, smoking generates free radicals and nitrosamines, decreases the amount of blood flow to the skin, increases wrinkling around the eye and mouth areas, contributes to a sallow complexion, and weakens the blood vessels and immune system. Genetic and hormonal aging brings changes in estrogen and progesterone levels, which can trigger melasma. Post-traumatic hyperpigmentation is caused by stress hormones, which are also common causes for changes in skin color.
Sallow, dull skin, which often accompanies age spots, can be addressed at the same time and in the same way. Dull skin is often the result of reduced cell turnover and accumulation of dead skin cells on the skin’s surface. For this reason, skin exfoliation is often used to help reduce the appearance of age spots and improve the appearance of dull skin.
The skin naturally sheds every 28 days. While skin exfoliation is a naturally occurring process, most skin types can use some help. For example, the desquamation process slows with age, causing dull, tired-looking skin. Oily skin tends to saturate dead skin cells, making them difficult to naturally fall off. Dry skin tends to let dead skin cells accumulate too quickly, which can make skin look dry and dull. Most clients’ skin will fall somewhere between these two skin types; some type of exfoliation will be very helpful for improving the skin’s appearance.