Age spots — also called liver spots and solar lentigines — are flat tan, brown or black spots. They vary in size and usually appear on the face, hands, shoulders and arms — areas most exposed to the sun.
Age spots are very common in adults older than age 50. But, younger people can get them too, especially if they spend a lot of time in the sun.
Although age spots can look like cancerous growths, true age spots are harmless and don't need treatment. For cosmetic reasons, age spots can be lightened with skin-bleaching products or removed. However, preventing age spots — by avoiding the sun and using sunscreen — may be the easiest way to maintain your skin's youthful appearance.
Age spots typically develop in people with a fair complexion, but they can be seen in those with darker skin. Age spots:
Age spots range from freckle size to more than 1/2 inch (13 millimeters) across and can group together, making them more prominent.
You may not like the way they look, but age spots are usually harmless and don't require medical care. However, your doctor should evaluate spots that are dark or have changed in appearance, because 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 or lesion:
Age spots are caused primarily by years of exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light from the sun. The use of commercial tanning lamps and tanning beds can also contribute to the development of age spots.
The pigment in the upper layer of skin (epidermis) that gives your skin its normal color is called melanin. UV light accelerates the production of melanin, creating a tan that helps protect deeper layers of skin from UV rays.
On areas of the skin that have years of frequent and prolonged sun exposure, age spots appear when melanin becomes "clumped" or is produced in particularly high concentrations.
Diagnosing age spots may include:
Other conditions that can look similar to age spots and that your doctor may need to rule out include the following:
To help avoid age spots, follow these tips for limiting your sun exposure:
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.
Although anyone can develop age spots, you may be more likely to develop the condition if you: