Most people will develop at least a few age spots (medically known as solar lentigines) at some point, especially if they are fair-skinned. Also called liver spots—though they have nothing to do with the liver—these light brown to dark patches often appear on the face, neck, hands, forearms and upper torso. They are flat with well-defined borders and can grow to an inch in diameter, sometimes combining with other spots so they look even larger. The major cause is cumulative sun exposure, which is why age spots tend to increase in number and size as you get older.
Age spots are harmless, but it’s a good idea to get checked by a health care provider (preferably a dermatologist) to be sure they are not something more serious, especially if they change color, size or shape.
Age spot treatments
If you want to get rid of age spots, talk to your dermatologist about which treatment is best for you. The main options are:
- cryotherapy (freezing with liquid nitrogen)
- laser therapy
- intense pulsed light therapy
- dermabrasion (which sands away the spotted areas)
- chemical peels
Possible side effects include skin redness, excessive skin lightening or darkening and scarring. After removal, the spots may come back.
You may also be prescribed topical medications to lighten the spots. These take longer to work and may also cause skin irritation. Retinoic acid, in particular, can cause redness, stinging and peeling. Over-the-counter products contain low concentrations of bleaching ingredients and have fewer side effects, but they may take months to work, and the effect is often minimal.
Words to the wise: Age spots are a sign of sun damage, which means you’re at increased risk for skin cancer—so they should encourage you to get professional skin exams. To help prevent age spots, limit sun exposure; when you’re in the sun, wear protective clothing and apply sunscreen liberally and frequently.