Age spots, also called liver spots and solar lentigines, are small dark areas on your skin. They vary in size and usually appear on the face, hands, shoulders, arms, upper back, backs of hands, and tops of feet — areas most exposed to the sun. They are usually tan, brown, or black in color, ranging from freckle size to about ½ inch across in size, manifesting as flat, oval areas of increased pigmentation.
Age spots are caused by overactive pigment cells. Ultraviolet (UV) light accelerates the production of melanin. On the areas of skin that have had years of frequent and prolonged sun exposure, age spots appear when melanin becomes “clumped” or is produced in high concentrations. The use of commercial tanning lamps and tanning beds can also contribute to the development of age spots.
Age spots are very common in adults older than 50. But younger people can get them too, especially if they spend a lot of time in the sun. Age spots may affect people of all skin types, but they’re more common in people with red hair and light skin, or those who have a history of frequent or intense sun exposure or sunburn.
When to See a Doctor
Though age spots can look like cancerous growths, true age spots are usually harmless and don’t require medical care. Have your doctor look at spots that are dark or have changed in appearance. These changes can be signs of melanoma, a serious form of skin cancer. It’s best to have any new skin changes evaluated by a doctor, especially if a spot:
- is darkly pigmented
- is rapidly increasing in size
- has an irregular border
- has an unusual combination of colors
- is accompanied by itching, redness, tenderness or bleeding
To diagnose an age spot, your doctor will conduct a visual inspection by looking at your skin. Your doctor may also do other tests, such as a skin biopsy, to help distinguish an age spot from other conditions, such as lentigo maligna, a type of skin cancer. During a skin biopsy, your doctor takes a small sample of your skin (biopsy) for microscopic analysis. A skin biopsy is usually done in a doctor’s office, using a local anesthetic.
To help avoid age spots and new spots after treatment, follow these tips:
- Avoid the sun between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Because the sun’s rays are most intense during this time, try to schedule outdoor activities for other times of the day.
- Use sunscreen. Apply a broad-spectrum mineral sunscreen that provides protection from both UVA and UVB light. Choose a mineral sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30. Apply generously and reapply every two hours, if necessary.
- Cover up. For protection from the sun, wear tightly woven clothing that covers your arms and legs and a broad-brimmed hat, which provides more protection than does a baseball cap or golf visor.
- Consider wearing clothing designed to provide sun protection. Look for clothes labeled with an ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) of 40 to 50 to get the best protection.
Treatment and Home Remedies
For cosmetic reasons, age spots can be lightened with skin-bleaching products or removed by dermatologists. Since the pigment is located at the base of the epidermis — the topmost layer of skin — any treatments meant to lighten the age spots must penetrate this layer of skin.
Many fade creams and lotions for lightening age spots are available in department stores, in drugstores and on the internet. These may improve the appearance of age spots, depending on how dark the spots are and how often you apply the cream. Regular use over several weeks or months may be necessary to produce noticeable results.
If you opt for an over-the-counter (nonprescription) fade cream, choose one that contains hydroquinone, glycolic acid or kojic acid. Note that some products, especially those that contain hydroquinone, may cause skin irritation. You could also apply makeup to help make age spots less noticeable.
Source: Mayo Clinic