Disease: Age spots (liver spots)

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.

Source: http://www.mayoclinic.com

Age spots typically develop in people with a fair complexion, but they can be seen in those with darker skin. Age spots:

  • Are flat, oval areas of increased pigmentation
  • Are usually tan, brown or black
  • Occur on skin that has had the most sun exposure over the years, such as the backs of hands, tops of feet, face, shoulders and upper back

Age spots range from freckle size to more than 1/2 inch (13 millimeters) across and can group together, making them more prominent.

When to see a doctor

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:

  • Is darkly pigmented
  • Is rapidly increasing in size
  • Has an irregular border
  • Has an unusual combination of colors
  • Is accompanied by itching, redness, tenderness or bleeding

Source: http://www.mayoclinic.com

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.

Source: http://www.mayoclinic.com

Diagnosing age spots may include:

  • Visual inspection. Your doctor can usually diagnose age spots by visually inspecting your skin.
  • Skin biopsy. If there's any doubt whether something is an age spot or not, your doctor may do other tests, such as a skin biopsy. 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.

Other conditions

Other conditions that can look similar to age spots and that your doctor may need to rule out include the following:

  • Moles. Although they often appear as small, dark brown spots, moles (nevi) vary in color and size. They can be raised or flat and can develop almost anywhere on your body.
  • Seborrheic keratoses. These tan, brown or black growths have a wart-like or waxy, pasted-on appearance.
  • Lentigo maligna. A type of skin cancer known as lentigo maligna melanoma can develop in areas of long-term sun exposure. Lentigo maligna starts as tan, brown or black lesions that slowly darken and enlarge. They tend to have an irregular border and uneven coloring, and they may be slightly raised.

Source: http://www.mayoclinic.com

To help avoid age spots, follow these tips for limiting your sun exposure:

  • Avoid the sun between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. Because the sun's rays are most intense during this time, try to schedule outdoor activities for other times of the day.
  • Use sunscreen. Fifteen to 30 minutes before going outdoors, apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen that provides protection from both UVA and UVB light. Use a sunscreen with a sun-protection factor (SPF) of at least 30. Apply sunscreen generously, and reapply every two hours — or more often if you're swimming or perspiring.
  • Cover up. For protection from the sun, wear a broad-brimmed hat, which provides more protection than does a baseball cap or golf visor, and tightly woven clothing that covers your arms and legs. You might also consider wearing clothing designed to provide sun protection. An ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) of 40 to 50 provides the best protection.

Source: http://www.mayoclinic.com

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.

Source: http://www.mayoclinic.com

Although anyone can develop age spots, you may be more likely to develop the condition if you:

  • Have light-colored or fair skin
  • Have a history of frequent or intense sun exposure or sunburn

Source: http://www.mayoclinic.com

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