Dark spots in the skin are often known as sunspots, and people often think they result from sunlight exposure, which is technically truth. But you may also find them under the term “age spots” because, similar to wrinkles, these spots are another sign of skin aging.

We often think about wrinkles as the main sign of skin aging, but is there something beyond we can also consider? What’s the role of these dark spots in the process of skin aging?

UV light and free radicals on the skin

Most people already know that UV light can speed up the skin aging process, but don’t know why. The sunlight is important for our circadian rhythms, to synthesize vitamin D, and much more. But too much sunlight can cause a pathologic process called photo-aging.

The process of skin aging is simply a structural and molecular degeneration of the skin. Membrane receptors, proteins, and fibers in the skin are modified and no longer work as they should. These modifications can be triggered by many environmental factors, and free radicals is one of the main causes.

When UVB photons are absorbed into the skin, they interact with keratinocytes and start to create free radicals. These are highly unstable molecules that react against cell structures, including DNA, and proteins inside and outside of the cell. The end result is a series of changes in the skin that include:

  • Loss of elasticity
  • Changes in fat distribution
  • Dark spots in the skin
  • Wrinkles

Wrinkles vs. dark spots on the skin

What is the difference between wrinkles and dark spots on the skin? Which one can be considered a better sign of aging skin? You would naturally say that wrinkles are the most trustworthy sign, but consider this:

  • Wrinkles appear in aging skin, but also in dry skin that has not gone through the aging process
  • If you recover skin hydration, you might as well get rid of wrinkles
  • Wrinkles become more prominent with repeated facial expressions, which depends on you and not on the aging process
  • Dark spots are one of first signs of sun damage, which causes skin aging as well
  • When dark spots appear, it is a sign that something bad is happening inside of your skin
  • Dark spots usually appear before wrinkles, and we can use them as a premature sign of aging

Yes, dark spots can be a more reliable warning sign of aging before wrinkles appear. So, examine your skin and evaluate if you have color changes or new spots. If so, you probably need to consider slowing down the aging process before wrinkles start to appear.

You can slow down the aging process

What can you do after realizing the aging process has started to change your skin? Here’s a list with recommendations:

  • Protect your skin with broad-spectrum sunscreen. Look for SPF 30 sunscreens or higher.
  • If you want to get a tan, use a tanning bed instead of exposing your skin to the sun
  • Don’t smoke and only drink alcohol moderately
  • Apply facial moisturizer every day for a youthful appearance


Poljšak, B., & Dahmane, R. (2012). Free radicals and extrinsic skin aging. Dermatology research and practice2012.

Emri, G., Horkay, I., & Remenyik, E. (2006). The role of free radicals in the UV-induced skin damage. Photo-aging. Orvosi hetilap147(16), 731.