Age spots are also known as liver spots, sun spots or solar lentigines (lentigo for only one). They are flat marks that develop on the skin. They appear in different shades of brown, tan, or black. Age spots are harmless, but it is important to see your doctor to confirm that they are not cancerous moles.
Age spots usually develop later in life on areas of the body that have had a lot of sun exposure, such as:
Age spots are extremely common, especially in people with lighter skin who are over the age of 50.
Age spots can affect anyone who has had prolonged sun exposure. While they usually happen to older people, age spots can appear on children and young adults if they have spent a lot of time in the sun or in a tanning bed or even after a single significant sunburn. Women are slightly more likely to develop age spots than men, though both men and women can be affected.
Age spots are more likely to develop on people over age 50 who have:
Prolonged sun exposure causes age spots to develop. UV light from the sun speeds up the skin’s production of melanin (the skin’s natural pigment). When more melanin forms in a particular area, the skin has more pigment and becomes darker. This is known as hyperpigmentation.
So-called liver spots can develop over time or appear suddenly. These age spots are not painful. Symptoms include:
A dermatologist can usually identify an age spot by looking at its color, size, and shape. Your doctor will examine your skin and feel for any raised areas. If the spot is raised rather than flat, it may be another type of benign growth called seborrheic keratosis.
Your doctor may decide to test a sample of the age spot by taking a skin biopsy. A skin biopsy takes a few minutes and can be done right in your doctor’s office. Using a local anesthetic, your doctor will remove a small piece of the age spot and send it away to a lab for testing.
If you have dark spots on your face or other parts of your body that have been exposed to the sun, they may be age spots. You should see your doctor to confirm that they are not cancerous lesions, especially if you are older or you have a history of sun exposure or sunburn.
Though age spots do not require treatment, some people choose to treat them for cosmetic purposes. Many of these treatments are effective at fading the spots or making them disappear. Options include:
Sensitivity to the sun is the most common side effect for all of the treatments for age spots. After undergoing any procedure to remove age spots, avoid sun exposure while the new layer of skin grows. It is essential to wear sunscreen while using topical creams because the skin will be more sensitive to the sun.
In addition to sensitivity to the sun, specific side effects for each treatment are as follows.
Age spots are not harmful, but you should visit your dermatologist, who can examine them and monitor your skin for any changes.
Your doctor will check for a lentigo maligna, which looks like an age spot but is actually a warning sign for melanoma (skin cancer). A lentigo maligna can grow in an age spot you already have. It is important to see your dermatologist regularly to monitor age spots.
Age spots get darker when they are exposed to the sun or UV light from a tanning bed. By wearing a hat, protective clothing, and a broad-spectrum sunscreen, you may be able to prevent age spots from getting darker.
To prevent age spots from developing, you can:
Age spots are not harmful, but they can be unsightly. Most people with age spots do not choose to have them treated. If age spots are unusually large, dark, or noticeable, they can be lightened or removed.
While age spots are not skin cancer, it’s important to have a doctor check your skin to make sure your age spots aren’t dangerous. You should visit your doctor if you notice new spots or spots that:
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This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or healthcare provider. Please consult your healthcare provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 07/16/2019