Age spots are a normal part of the aging process of your skin. They're just something that happens as you get older, and there's nothing you can do about them.

Right?

Wrong!

The hyperpigmentation from age spots can be known by a host of other names: senile lentigo, lentigines, sun spots, or liver spots. These dark spots appear on the face, arms, and hands as we age.

They're only nicknamed "age spots" because they typically don't start to make an appearance until later in life, but they actually have very little to do with the "normal" aging process.

What they really are is evidence of your history of not taking very good care of your skin. They can be a major side effect of sun damage, appearing on the areas of our skin that get the most exposure to UVA/UVB rays.

Why Do Age Spots Appear?

There are a variety of factors that come into play, and your genetics and skin color are the two main ones. People with red hair and light skin or even olive-toned skin are more likely to develop them than darker-skinned people, though anyone's at risk. No matter your skin tone, if you spend enough time in the sun, these pigmentations will most likely appear.

Sun exposure is the biggest culprit, so those that live closer to the equator are at a significantly greater risk than those in more northern climes. When your skin absorbs too much sun, it produces extra melanin. That's the pigment that gives your skin color and makes you tan. Melanin's purpose is to help protect your skin from harmful UV damage. Over time, melanin clumps together forming age spots. Uncontrolled free radicals make things even worse.

While anyone can develop them, age spots are typically more commonly seen in people over 40. That's because the damage from sun exposure accumulates over time. In addition, some people produce more melanin as they age.

"Damage due to inflammation, UV exposure, and other environmental insults cause the cells to produce more pigment to protect themselves," says Carl R. Thornfeldt, MD, a dermatologist in Fruitland, ID. Changes in estrogen levels (due to pregnancy or birth control) can also play a role.

This results in uneven pigmentation, a common condition that can affect any skin tone, "but in different ways," says Elizabeth Tanzi, MD, Assistant Clinical Professor of Dermatology at George Washington University. Lighter skin tones tend to develop freckles and sun spots, while darker skin looks shadowed or patchy, she explains.

How Can You Prevent Age Spots

The absolute best way to prevent those unsightly spots from forming is to protect your skin from the sun - before they start to form! Wear protective clothing when you're outside. Many companies offer clothing with an ultraviolet protection factor (UPF). UPF 40 to 50 offers the best protection. Wear long sleeves, pants, and a wide-brimmed hat as much as you can, and stay in the shade when the sun is at its highest and most intense, between 10 am and 4 pm.

Any exposed skin should be covered with a generous portion of sunscreen. Apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen that's at least SPF 30. That should protect you from UVA rays, which cause aging and sun damage, and UVB rays, which cause burning. You'll want to be sure to apply it 15-30 minutes before you go outside to give it enough time to absorb. Re-apply it every two hours, or more if you're swimming or perspiring.

When you can, use physical protection from the sun, too. Stay under the shade of a wide beach umbrella, and wear a swim guard shirt to hide your skin as much as possible from the sun when you're out on the sand. If you're out enjoying a sporting event or hiking cover your face and neck by wearing a wide-brimmed hat, and enlist the help of UPF protective clothing since UV rays still have a tendency to make it through most regular fabrics.

Since free radicals are contributing factors to age spots, utilizing an effective skin care regimen that incorporates beneficial antioxidants (which neutralize free radicals) can be a great way to slow the process down.

How Else You Can Prevent Age Spots

Diet is a contributing factor, too. Cut out the polyunsaturated fats like vegetable oils, margarine, and nut oils and trade them for saturated fats like coconut oil, real butter, and animal fats. Get rid of excess iron in your diet. Most processed foods like grain products are fortified with iron. You shouldn't need that multivitamin if you're eating a good, balanced diet full of variety. Your body stores more iron when it's low on copper, so eat lots of foods like shellfish, liver, and dark chocolate. (You're welcome)

A diet rich in antioxidants can strengthen your body's defense system to combat the damage caused by free radicals. Ripe fruits and easy-to-digest veggies are great sources. Probiotics can help protect skin against damaging UV rays that can cause premature aging. Find good sources here.

Excess estrogen levels have been linked to age spot formation, and multiple factors can contribute. Be aware if you take synthetic hormones like birth control pills, have increased stress, or protein deficiency, because all of these are known to contribute to increased estrogen levels.

What Can You Do If Age Spots Have Already Appeared?

Maybe you started to think about prevention a little too late? There are some things that you can do to help treat or reduce the appearance of age spots. Some of them require a trip to the dermatologist, and some OTC treatments are effective at bleaching them.

Vitamin C is a good ingredient for treating skin pigment issues, as it brightens skin naturally and it can help to fade out hyperpigmentation. It can also help to prevent your body from creating too much melanin. GLOWBIOTICS Advanced Vitamin C Brightening Serum is a supercharged antioxidant serum that offers a dual complex vitamin C formula that can reduce unwanted pigmentation while defending your skin from free radical damage.

Be cautious of what products you're purchasing, as some may contain ingredients like mercury that can cause serious health concerns. When in doubt, it's best to consult your dermatologist.

Laser treatment is also effective and may provide longer-lasting results than the creams, though it has some temporary side effects like crusting or temporary darkening of the age spots. Those spots will usually fade quickly, though.

Other procedures tend to have more side effects. During cryotherapy, the spots are frozen, injuring the darkened cells. As they heal, the skin appears lighter. During microdermabrasion, the skin is essentially sanded down, allowing for a new layer to be grown on top. With chemical peeling, an acid is applied to the skin to burn the top layer off, also allowing new growth to take its place. While they can be effective, none of these are particularly fun. Side effects such as scarring can be limited when performed by a .

In this case, an ounce of prevention is definitely worth a pound of cure. Taking care of your skin while out in the sun will go far towards helping to prevent age spots, but if you're already starting to see them, taking proper care of your skin may help to lessen those undesirable visible effects.