It had been one of those weeks….and on three occasions clients and friends asked me about liver spots…on their hands, face, décolletage. So, let’s see where liver spots come from, what causes them, what we can do about them if we have them, and most importantly, how we can prevent getting them.
The real short version is that liver spots, also sometimes called age spots, actually result from long-term exposure to sunlight, not liver disease. And here you were thinking that you had got away with all that sun tanning you did when you were younger! So called liver spots tend to increase in number with age. Liver spots, also known as senile lentigines (ouch!), are typically harmless patches of increased pigmentation. They range from “freckle-size” to as much as a few inches across. You would probably also have noticed that they are more prominent in fair-skinned people. They are probably called liver spots because they were once thought to be a sign of a malfunctioning liver – not quite sure how that connection was made - and they are often dark red or brown, the color of liver. Liver spots are extremely common after the age of around 50 and occur most commonly on the forehead and the backs of hands. It is also no coincidence that these are the areas most often exposed to sunlight (get the message?).
The spots are typically flat and always have sharply defined borders. These spots tend to be tan or light brown in color. Although some are oval shaped, they often appear in irregular shapes as well. So called liver spots typically do not darken in response to sunlight. Although it is rare for “liver spots” to become cancerous, if a spot changes in color, size, or shape, you should have it examined by your doctor.
The good news is that you don’t have to live with your “liver spots” any more. There are actually a number of ways to either lighten them, or even get rid of them completely. It is important to remember that the pigment (causing the appearance of the ‘liver spot”) is located at the base of the epidermis, which is the topmost layer of skin. So, any treatments meant to lighten the age spots will need to penetrate through this layer of skin.
In the next article, we will explore how you can get rid of these spots, and what you can do to prevent them.