CANOE – The price of aging gracefully

It is often said, ‘if you want to know a woman’s real age, look at her hands’. Women can colour their hair to hide the grey or wear clothing to hide those extra curves, but it is quite difficult to hide the brown spots and veins on their hands – or at least it used to be.

Dr. Benjamin Barankin, of The Dermatology Centre in Toronto, says treating age spots is a very common procedure in his office, and is one that he performs several times a day. He says that cosmetic dermatology has become more popular over the years, due in part, to more awareness.

“I think it’s a growing trend, partly from TV makeover shows that highlight what’s available and that we now have better equipment. Also, looking good is still very important in our lives and our culture.”

However, looking good, or at least looking younger, comes with a price tag. But, according to Dr. Barankin not all age spot treatments have to be very expensive. To treat one or a few flat or raised brown spots, Dr. Barankin uses liquid nitrogen cryotherapy. “You spray the nitrogen out of a can, it’s usually -196°C, and use it to burn what is sticking out of the surface of the skin. This causes the skin to peel and the spot to fall off.”

Another popular treatment for age spots is Solagé cream to help fade away the brown spots. The cream contains a bleaching agent, and while it won’t get rid of the spots it will fade them dramatically. Vitamin A acid can also be used on the face, neck and hands to fade photodamage. Dr. Barankin explains Vitamin A acid causes gentle peeling of the skin and often the brown spots peel with it. “This is another very affordable option,” he says.

If these options are not successful, the next step would be a chemical peel, says Dr. Barankin. He assures me that today’s chemical peels are a lot gentler than the ones in the past. Today, most doctors prefer to use gentler chemicals with more frequent visits rather than a harsher solution all at once. “Salicylic acid peels help to peel the top surface of the skin, and some of the brown pigment is peeled off as well,” he says.

Finally, if there are quite a few brown spots, or if there are several factors aging the skin, Dr. Barankin recommends laser technology or Intense Pulse Light. “Treating someone who is 50-years-old, with a number of brown spots, blood vessels, a dull complexion – in this case we use intense pulse light or photo facials…this is a really revolutionized machine that takes care of it all.”

Dr. Barankin cautions against visiting unlicensed technicians to perform laser or intense pulse light. He explains there are several reasons for his concern. First, a dermatologist will be able to screen any pre-cancerous spots. Second, there are a lot more treatment options with a dermatologist, such as the topical prescription creams, and the dermatologist will be able to treat a variety of skin conditions you may have. Third, a dermatologist will be able to handle any unexpected irregularities or side effects.

Dr. Barankin says that side effects can occur with a particular medication you may be on, and most commonly burns and scars can occur with darker skin if a technician is not trained to use laser or Intense Pulse Light properly. “Potential dangers are burns, darkening of the skin. One can get marks or scars forever, so a minor blemish can turn into a big problem,” says Dr. Barankin.

Recently, he saw a patient with melasma (dark brown spots on the face, common in women, especially after pregnancy and related to sun exposure). The patient signed up at a spa for multiple laser treatments at a cost of $1,000 for the package. “After she saw me, I explained to her the problem, the causes (for example being on the birth control pill), the various treatment options, gave her a handout, and then wrote her a prescription for a bleaching cream which is covered by her drug plan. She was in shock that she didn’t have to pay me anything to improve the discoloration on her face.

“I think patients need to understand that our healthcare system is paid for by the enormous taxes we pay. It is every person’s right to see a physician for their healthcare concern, be it medical or cosmetic. There is no charge to see a dermatologist, and so why not get an unbiased expert opinion, especially when we’re talking about treating something as important as the face?”

Some dermatologists require a referral from your family physician, but give the office a call directly to confirm.

CANOE – The price of aging gracefully

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