Sun Spots, Age Spots and Skin Protection
Hyperpigmentation, by any name, is usually the result of cumulative sun exposure with repeated melanin or skin pigment stimulation and deposition into the cells of the skin’s top section or epidermis.
The epidermis actually has five sections and many layers in those sections. There are two main cell types in the epidermis: keratinocytes and melanocytes, in a ratio of about 20 to 1. We make new layers of keratinocytes every four weeks or so and these layers slowly travel up and become the top oldest layer that sheds or flakes off over time.
Located beneath the epidermis is the much thicker dermis, which produces collagen and elastin, supporting or holding up the epidermis. The primary function of the epidermis is to protect the body from the outside environment, including heat, cold, dehydration, germs and ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun.
Melanocytes inject our genetic skin color into the new layers of keratinocytes and then add more pigment into these cells when injury is sensed, such as from UV rays, a scratch, acne pimple or excess hormones. Unlike keratinocytes, we do not make new melanocytes, and so over time these cells may get worn out. The lighter our skin color, the less resilient our melanocytes may be, since our ancestors probably did not come from areas of the globe with high UV exposure. As these pigment cells age, it appears that the amount of melanin injected increases, resulting in concentrated areas of hyperpigmentation.
One thing to be mindful of is that if the melanocytes continue to get over-stimulated, they may die, leaving white spots or areas where there is no skin color—hypopigmentation. It is not possible to reverse this process, so prevention is essential.
It is critical to use sunscreen daily—with a minimum sun protection factor (SPF) 30—on all exposed skin areas and protective UV-rated clothing if planning more than a five-minute walk or drive in the sun. Car side windows, unlike windshields, are usually not polarized, so significant UV exposure may occur during your daily commute.
An annual skin check with a dermatologist is also recommended, since the most common areas for melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer to develop, are on the back and backs of calves, places which are hard to self-monitor for skin changes.
Dr. Suzanne Pear, RN, Ph.D., LE, COE, is the owner of Pampered Skin Studio, practicing advanced aesthetics and energy healing. She offers effective skin-protection and lightening products as well as facial and body treatments, including microdermabrasion, dermaplaning and peels for all skin types and sensitivities. Call 520-400-8109 or visit
PamperedSkinStudio.com today to schedule an appointment. See ad, page 17.