A Basic Guide to Solar Lentigines (Liver Spots)

What You Should Know About These Common Skin Lesions

Liver spots on an elderly person’s hand.
Liver spots on an elderly person’s hand. JOTI/Getty Images

Liver spots, also known as age spots, brown spots, or solar lentigines, are benign lesions that appear on the sun-exposed areas of your body. They are a common sign of aging and tend to increase in number with age. They appear as flat, brown or black spots on the face, hands, arms, back and feet and can change with time in both color and shape. Liver spots are very common in people age 40 and older.

They are painless and typically not dangerous to your health. They are, however, skin changes that permanently affect the look of your skin. While dark-skinned people can develop liver spots, they are more common in lighter-skinned people.

Common Causes of Liver Spots

While usually caused by exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) light, liver spots may also be caused by the use of tanning beds or lamps; trauma or injury; or a genetic predisposition to liver spots. More people with light skin tend to develop liver spots as well as people with a history of frequent sunburn or sun exposure.

Diagnosis of Liver Spots

Liver spots tend to be harmless and do not require treatment. Yet, if your liver spots appear irregular, a biopsy may be performed to test for skin cancer. Liver spots that have the following appearance should be evaluated by your doctor:

  • Dark pigmentation
  • Multi-colored
  • Increasing in size
  • Bleeding

Any liver spot that has become red or sensitive, or itchy or bleeding should be checked out by your doctor or dermatologist to rule out skin cancer.

Treatment of Liver Spots

Most liver spots are not medically dangerous but they can be unsightly. Treatments to remove liver spots, or make them less prominent than what they are, can include the following:

Because treating liver spots is not a medical procedure and is instead considered to be cosmetic, most insurance companies will not cover these cosmetic liver spot treatments.

How to Prevent of Liver Spots

As with most skin conditions, the best treatment is prevention. To prevent liver spots or prevent them from getting worse, you should always try to avoid prolonged sun exposure, especially unprotected sun exposure. If you do have to be in the sun, you should use a broad-spectrum UVA and UVB sunscreen daily on the exposed skin. If you do go in the sun, wearing UV-blocking clothing and a wide-brimmed hat will provide you with additional protection.

Sources:

MedlinePlus

American Osteopathic College of Dermatology

Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology

Dermatology Times

Mayo Clinic

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