Most people associate having a liver spot with being elderly, but these blemishes can affect anyone of any age. Liver spots are small areas of darkness that appear on the skin. Varying in size and shape, they can be black, brown, or grey and are often mistaken for freckles or moles. Liver spots most commonly appear on the hands, face, chest, arms, and shoulders — areas that receive the most sun exposure.
Causes of Liver Spots
Although called liver spots, these common discolorations have nothing to do with that organ. One of the alternative names for these mysterious spots is solar lentigines. This is because a primary cause of liver spots is the sun. Melanin is the pigment that gives our skin color. When exposed to sunlight, our bodies accelerate the production of melanin. Increased melanin levels turn the skin a darker color in an effort to protect it from the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays. Years of prolonged exposure to UV rays causes melanin to form into clumps. These areas of darkened pigment are liver spots.
Tanning Beds Can Cause Liver Spots
Tanned skin is important to many people. Who doesn’t want a year-round healthy glow? However, that visit to the tanning salon could cause liver spots. The UV lighting used in tanning beds is artificial, but otherwise, it varies very little from natural sunlight. Exposure to this artificial UV increases melanin production which, over time, can lead to liver spots.
Anyone Can Get Liver Spots
Doctors also refer to liver spots as senile lentigo and age spots, which could explain why many people think they affect only older adults. However, anyone can develop liver spots, regardless of age or gender. Certain factors can make someone more susceptible to discolorations. That being said, as we age, our bodies naturally increase the production of melanin. Therefore those over 40 are more susceptible to liver spots. People with light-colored skin and red or blond hair are also more at risk.
Symptoms of Liver Spots
Liver spots appear on the skin in areas most exposed to sunlight. They are generally flat, oval patches, darker in color than the rest of the natural skin tone. These spots can develop individually or in clusters. Sometimes liver spots are so tiny they are undetectable. They can grow to be up to two-thirds of an inch in diameter, however.
Are Liver Spots Dangerous?
When liver spots appear, they can look menacing, and some people worry they might indicate cancer. Liver spots themselves are harmless, but they can resemble other skin conditions. Moles, keratosis, melanoma, and lentigo maligna call look similar. If a person is concerned about new spots on their skin, it is better to be safe and speak to a physician or dermatologist.
When to See a Doctor
Any of the following changes to liver spots indicate a need to seek medical advice:
- A rapid increase in size
- Extremely dark pigmentation
- A mix of colors
- Irregular edges
- Itching, tenderness, redness, or bleeding
A doctor or dermatologist will be able to identify the spots or cause and rule out more serious conditions.
How are Liver Spots Diagnosed?
A doctor or dermatologist can generally identify and diagnose liver spots by sight alone. A magnifying instrument called a dermatoscope can provide closer examination. If there is uncertainty about any of the spots, the doctor may biopsy the area. This involves sending a small sample of skin to a laboratory for tests to determine the origin.
As they are harmless, liver spots do not require any form of treatment. However, people who are bothered by their appearance may have them removed or reduced for cosmetic reasons. One of the easiest methods is skin bleaching creams, which lighten darkened skin patches over time. Cryotherapy uses liquid nitrogen to freeze the spots and destroy the clumped melanin. Dermabrasion involves a rotating brush that scrubs the skin and removes layers from the surface. Laser treatment or chemical peels are costly but can also help.
Some natural remedies can help lighten liver spots:
- Aloe Vera sooths burns and can also rejuvenate skin. Used daily, it can lighten liver spots.
- Fresh lemon juice naturally lightens the skin. Liver spots should fade after two months if the juice is applied daily.
- Buttermilk contains lactic acid, which exfoliates the skin. Its anti-aging properties make it a popular ingredient in chemical peels and skin-care products.
- Apple cider vinegar has active enzymes and nutrients that make it a natural remedy for liver spots.
Prevention is the Best Remedy
The best possible remedy for liver spots is to prevent them from appearing in the first place. Reducing sun exposure (both natural and artificial) reduces the build-up of melanin. Applying sunscreen 15 minutes before going out in the sun will shield skin from UV rays. Make sure to use SPF 30 or above. Wearing a sunhat, long sleeves, and sunglasses will also protect sensitive skin.