Sun spots and liver spots, also known as ‘solar lentigines’ or ‘age spots’, are dark spots on the skin. They are collections of pigment that are caused by exposure to the sun’s UV rays over time. These spots can vary in size, shape, and color. They can be as small as a freckle or grow up to half an inch in diameter.
Sun spots and liver spots often appear in areas that receive the most sunlight, such as your face, shoulders, back of the neck, or the tops of your hands and forearms. They often form in groups over a localized area.
Sun spots and liver spots most commonly occur in individuals over the age of 50, which is why they are also sometimes called ‘age spots’. However, sun exposure can cause these spots to appear on younger adults as well. Although anyone can get sun spots and liver spots, individuals with fair skin are more likely to develop them.
Once one of these spots has developed, it usually doesn’t continue to grow or change. Sun spots and liver spots are harmless, but it’s important to see your dermatologist if you notice any changes in the appearance or color of an existing spot. These changes could be signs of melanoma, a type of skin cancer.
Most sun spots and liver spots are permanent and will not disappear on their own. Fortunately, there are many treatment options to help you get rid of these dark spots. These treatments can be divided into topical creams and procedures.
Topical creams include prescription medications that are applied to the surface of the skin to lighten the appearance of sun and liver spots. These creams work by decreasing the production of pigment, promoting new skin cell growth, and lightening the dark areas. Topical creams generally need to be applied every day for a few weeks to a few months.
Procedures such as laser therapy and cryotherapy target age spots to destroy the pigment-producing cells and promote new skin cell growth.
Chemical peels ‘peel off’ the topmost layer of skin and encourage the growth of new skin cells to lighten the appearance of sun and liver spots. Microdermabrasion uses a physical device to carefully remove the topmost layer of skin to improve the appearance of dark spots.
All of these treatments carry their own potential risks. Speak with your dermatologist to determine which treatment type is best for your skin.
Sun spots and liver spots cannot necessarily be prevented. Regularly applying sunscreen, wearing long-sleeved clothing outdoors, and avoiding excess sun exposure can all reduce your risk of developing age spots later in life.
If you already have sun spots or liver spots, protecting yourself from the sun can help prevent the development of new ones.