As you age, years of being in the sun start to add up. Age spots (also called liver spots or solar lentigo) are collections of pigment caused by exposure to the sun. Pigment is deposited as a response to injury, just like a scar is a response to a cut. The pigment collects in areas injured because of thin skin or greater sun exposure. Age spots also can be caused by bruising that leaves blood pigment behind. They are most common in people older than 55. The spots commonly appear on the hands, but they can be almost anywhere, especially sun-exposed areas, such as the face, back, arms, feet and shoulders.
The only symptom is the appearance of darkened spots on the skin. They do not itch and are not painful.
You can diagnose age spots yourself by their appearance. If you are concerned about changes in your skin, contact your doctor. He or she can do tests to rule out other diseases.
Most age spots fade over time but probably will not disappear because the skin has been damaged.
The development of age spots is a similar process to scar formation in that scars are often heaped up when they form and soften as they "remodel" over time.
By limiting your sun exposure, you can decrease the possibility of age spots. Sun exposure before the age of 20 is the major factor that determines how your skin will look in later life. If you already have age spots, limiting your exposure to the sun can help prevent them from enlarging or darkening.
To protect your skin from the sun, wear long-sleeved shirts, pants and a hat. Use sunscreen if you will be outside for more than a few minutes. Avoid being in the sun during midday (10 a.m. to 3 p.m.), when the sun's rays are the most intense.
Age spots do not need to be treated. If you want cosmetic therapy, a dermatologist may be able to prescribe medication to lighten the spots or offer some other form of therapy.
If you are concerned about changes in your skin, contact your doctor. He or she can rule out cancer or other underlying medical conditions.
Age spots are not harmful.
American Academy of Dermatology
P.O. Box 4014
Schaumburg, IL 60168-4014