Looking after your skin’s health in later years
Retirement is a time to be enjoying the outdoors and soak up the sunlit adventures Australia’s climate and geography has to offer. Exposure to intense sunlight is inevitable if you enjoy being outdoors, so looking after your skin’s health is a routine that should be instilled in the early stages of everyone’s life.
Due to our proximity to the equator, Australia encounters some of the highest levels of UV radiation. According to Sunsmart, ‘UV radiation is strong enough to cause sunburn in just 11 minutes on a fine January day’ (source: Sunsmart website). Unlike sunlight, UV radiation cannot be detected by the naked eye, so there's a high risk of unwilling overexposure to UV radiation.
As our skin ages, the need to maintain and increase our protection regime to protect against UV radiation becomes more vital. ‘The basal cell layer of the epidermis slows its rate of cell production and thins the epidermis’ and the remaining pigment cells tend to increase in number and cluster in certain areas, forming age and sunspots (source: Victoria’s Better Health website). If you’re enjoying your senior years spending time outdoors, your skin is more susceptible to skin damage, including sunspots.
What are sunspots and are they harmful?
Sunspots are patches on the skin’s surface caused by excessive exposure to ultraviolet light from the sun. They are premalignant skin lesions, meaning they may turn into skin cancer at a later time (source: Sydney Melanoma Diagnostics Centre). The skin becomes prone to additional sunspots on highly exposed areas such as the back of the hands, face, chest and forearms.
Although sunspots can be harmless, there is a risk that they can develop into skin cancer. In patients with more than 10 sunspots, there is a 10-15% chance of the patient developing skin cancer. Skin cancer is the most common cancer in Australia and approximately two in three Australians will be diagnosed with a form of skin cancer before the age of 70. To manage this risk, sunspots are generally treated, both for cosmetic and health reasons (source: Know Your Own Skin).
Always consider seeking professional advice in the first instance. There is a whole range of treatments for sunspots available including natural, over the counter, and professional treatments. Treatments can be used for both cosmetic and health reasons:
1) Natural cosmetic methods The acidity in fruit can aid in the lightening of skin spots. Lime and lemon juice are a common remedy, and when rubbed over the spot for 10 to 15 minutes per day can fade the sunspot.
In addition, the antioxidants in green tea have been known to help the skin heal naturally. After boiling the tea bag and letting it cool down, the tea bag is rubbed on the spot twice a day for results.
2) Over the counter products Products containing kojic acid have been known to reduce the appearance of sunspots. Kojic acid is a by-product extracted during the fermentation of sake.
Additionally, products containing azelaic acid have been proven to fade skin pigmentation through the acid sourced from natural grains.
Aloe is another natural remedy that can assist with sunspots, and can be purchased over the counter and applied as a cool gel.
It is recommended to seek pharmacist advice prior to purchasing over-the-counter products.
3)Professional services There are many professional services available to assist with the reduction or removal of sunspots.
Laser resurfacing is a process that removes thin layers of skin. Similarly, chemical peels can be undertaken to also remove thin layers of skin.
Sunspots can be removed completely by freezing the sunspots with liquid nitrogen; excision, where the sunspot is cut out of the skin; or cauterised, where the spot is burnt off the skin.
However, prevention is always the best remedy. Applying sunscreen of at least SPF 15+ fifteen minutes prior to going outside or being exposed to the sun in some way will assist to protect skin against UV radiation. While outside it is also recommended to seek out shade and wear protective clothing to protect the skin against direct UV radiation.
As we age, it is critical we look after our skin every day and protect it from our harsh Australian outdoor elements. Our skin is our largest organ after all.
Never delay investigating any sunspots that are causing you concern. Should you feel any level of worry related to moles, sunspots, or other skin conditions, seek medical advice as soon as possible.