Age spots â also called liver spots and solar lentigines â are small dark areas on your skin. They vary in size and usually appear on the face, hands, shoulders and arms â areas most exposed to the sun.
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 can look like cancerous growths. But true age spots are harmless and don't need treatment. For cosmetic reasons, age spots can be lightened with skin-bleaching products or removed.
You can help prevent age spots by regularly using sunscreen and avoiding the sun.
Age spots may affect people of all skin types, but they're more common in people with light skin. Age spots:
Age spots range from freckle size to about a 1/2 inch (13 millimeters) across and can group together, making them more noticeable.
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:
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.
Diagnosing age spots may include:
Skin biopsy. Your doctor may 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 for limiting your sun exposure:
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.
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.
Anyone can develop age spots, but you may be more likely to develop the condition if you: