Age spots are pigment changes in the skin caused by longtime sun exposure. Also called liver spots or solar lentigines, the flat spots range in color from tan to brown or black and often appear in areas that have been repeatedly exposed to the sun.
Age spots develop over time and are most often seen in adults over the age of 50, but with intense sun exposure, younger individuals can develop liver spots, too. The lesions occur when melanin, the pigment that gives skin its color, clumps together in response to UV rays.
These pigment changes are not harmful, but many people consider them unsightly. Liver spots typically appear on the hands, but can develop on any area that has been repeatedly exposed to the sun including the face, forearms, shoulder, upper back and head.
Age spots are not cancerous and do not pose a health threat, but they are an indication that there has been long-term exposure to the sun, which can increase the risk of skin cancer. Your dermatologist should evaluate any lesions that appear suspicious. Those with extremely irregular borders, thickening, multiple colors, increasing size, very dark pigment, bleeding or itching should be biopsied.
Cosmetic treatment options for solar lentigines include laser or pulsed light treatment, chemical peels, cryotherapy (chemical freezing) and dermabrasion.
There are also a number of newer topical treatment options that have been used to successfully treat the hyperpigmentation of age spots. These include soy products, niacinimide, arbutin, kojic acid and licorice extracts. However, some of these products may trigger an allergic reaction in certain individuals.
Over-the-counter remedies, such as fade creams and lotions may lessen the appearance of age spots over time. Both prescription and non-prescription topical products may be helpful as maintenance therapy following a more aggressive treatment.
To prevent age spots, always shield your skin from the sun with sun-protective clothing and apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 fifteen minutes before going outdoors. Reapply every two hours, or after swimming.