Illustration: Kieran Blakey

The Nuance

What Are These Spots on My Face?

How skin ages and what you can do about it

Markham Heid
Elemental
Published in
5 min readJan 16, 2020

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ItIt happens to everyone sooner or later. A casual glance in a mirror turns into a lengthy self-examination. Is that a new mole? Old photographs and the internet are consulted. Visions of skin biopsies dance in one’s head.

Even those who take meticulous care of their skin are likely to develop age- or sun-related imperfections as they grow older. And for many, any new mark or mole kindles skin-cancer concerns. For good reason: Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the U.S. While the majority of skin cancers are basal cell or squamous cell carcinomas (types that are almost never lethal), the incidence of deadly melanoma skin cancer is on the rise and has been for decades. According to figures from the American Academy of Dermatology, one in 27 men and one in 40 women will develop melanoma at some point in their lifetime.

But while skin cancers are increasingly common, a new mole or mark is much likelier to be the benign result of either age- or sun-related damage. Dermatologists say these “age spots” come in four common types. Each of the four has a few defining characteristics, and they all tend to start showing up during a person’s thirties — though they can appear at younger ages.

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Markham Heid
Elemental

I’m a frequent contributor at TIME, the New York Times, and other media orgs. I write mostly about health and science. I like long walks and the Grateful Dead.