Age spots, also known as liver spots, are small, dark areas on the skin. They typically appear on the face, hands, shoulders, and arms — areas that are most often exposed to the sun. Age spots commonly appear in adults over age 50, although young people can get them, too.
They’re usually flat and oval, with a tan, brown, or black color. They can be as small as a freckle or as large as 1/2-inch in diameter. Sometimes the spots appear in a cluster, which makes them more noticeable. If you’re worried, ask your doctor about how to prevent age spots.
What Causes Age Spots?
Age spots result from time spent in the sun. The sun’s ultraviolet rays cause your body to produce melanin. Over years of prolonged and frequent sun exposure, that melanin clumps together, producing dark spots on the skin.
People with red hair and fair skin, as well as those who have experienced many sunburns over the course of their lives, are at a higher risk of developing age spots.
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Should You Be Concerned About Age Spots?
Most of the time, age spots are just harmless signs of time spent in the sun. But if you’re worried about a spot, you should have a dermatologist examine it. This is especially true for spots that have changed in appearance over time, look very dark, have an irregular border, or are itchy or tender.
What’s the Difference Between Age Spots and Moles?
A mole is a small, round, often raised spot that can be dome-shaped. It can be pink, tan, or brown and is usually no more than 1/4-inch wide. Most moles are not cancerous, although people who have more than 50 moles might have an increased chance of developing skin cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute. Age spots are typically larger than moles and are not raised. They are not usually cancerous. If you have spots that cause you concern, you should visit a dermatologist.
How to Prevent Age Spots
Use sunscreen of SPF 30 or higher when you’re outdoors, especially from a young age, to help prevent age spots. The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) recommends avoiding the sun during peak hours and covering up when you plan to be outside. You also can talk to your doctor about how to prevent age spots.
How to Treat Age Spots
You can treat age spots in two ways: with creams or with procedures. While you don’t need to treat age spots, some people choose to do it for cosmetic reasons. Age spots sometimes return after treatment.
Procedures to treat age spots include laser therapy and chemical peels. These typically cost a substantial amount of money, according to the AAD. While laser treatments can treat age spots very quickly, they can cause negative side effects. Be sure to consult a dermatologist before receiving any laser treatments. Cryotherapy is another procedure for treating age spots; in this procedure, the dermatologist “injures” the age spot cells by freezing and lightening them. Microdermabrasion and chemical peels are other options.
Creams and lotions are less expensive but require daily use. It’s best to apply creams or lotions once or twice per day for weeks or months, according to the AAD. If you plan to use a cream or lotion, ask a dermatologist if prescription-strength or over-the-counter products are the right choice for you.
For more information about age spot prevention and treatments, visit the UPMC Department of Dermatology.
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The UPMC Department of Dermatology diagnoses, treats, and manages numerous hair, skin, and nail conditions and diseases. We care for common and uncommon conditions, and our treatments include both surgical and nonsurgical options. We operate several specialty centers for various conditions. The UPMC Cosmetic Surgery and Skin Health Center is a comprehensive dermatologic laser facility, offering a full range of cosmetic services and procedures. With UPMC Hillman Cancer Center, we offer a Skin Cancer Program that provides complete care from screenings, diagnosis, treatment, and beyond. Find a dermatology provider near you.