Liver Spots: Causes, Treatments, and Removal Options

Updated on December 13, 2017
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Dr. Suresh Kumar lives in India and enjoys writing about medical topics.

What Are Liver Spots?

Liver spots are a common skin condition mainly caused by sun damage. Also known as lentigo senilis or age spots, they're a permanent skin change that affects an individual's physical appearance. They typically develop on the face, hands, arms, and torso. This condition is a benign epidermal lesion that affects skin pigmentation and is unrelated to any liver ailments (contrary to its name).

Liver spots have the following characteristics:

  • Brown pigmentation
  • Larger than freckles
  • Flat
  • Surrounded by spot-free skin
  • More commonly found in men than women

Liver spots are generally harmless, but they can cause cosmetic distress if they show up in very visible locations.

What Causes Liver Spots?

Melanin is a pigment that gives human skin and hair their color and provides some (but not complete) protection from sun damage. It's also a big player in liver spot development.

Liver spots are caused by:

  • Constant and Prolonged Exposure to UV Rays. Exposure to UV rays is a big factor that leads to age spots. Field activities and occupations that require extended sun exposure are high-risk factors.
  • Age Advancement. As you age, your skin loses elasticity and the ability to repair itself from sun damage. Older people have had more years of sun exposure and have a decreased regenerative capacity, and these factors encourage liver spot formation.
  • High Levels of Melanin. The more melanin you have, the darker your skin will be. An increase in melanin production makes your skin tanner to protect the deeper layer of skin from UV damage. With extended sun exposure, the skin hastens pigment production to protect itself and thereby increases liver spot creation. People with naturally dark skin tones are also at higher risk for sun damaging rays.
  • Tanning Lamps and Beds. Tanned skin is a current fad among fairer individuals, and its popularity facilitated the development of commercial tanning lamps and tanning beds. These products use UV rays to trigger melanin production and obtain a darker skin tone. The frequent use of tanning lamps and bed causes an early onset of liver spots.
  • Genetics. Some individuals are genetically predisposed to getting liver spots. Your genetic makeup plays a significant role in when or the extent to which you get age spots.

How Do You Treat Liver Spots?

Liver spots are generally harmless and do not need medical treatment. However, some people get concerned about their skin's appearance and want treatment to remove the excess pigmentation. The options available depend on the patient's preference and dermatologist's advice.

A few options you can look into are:

  • Medications. You can apply medications to lighten existing spots and help them camouflage with the surrounding skin. Doctors commonly prescribe topical applications like bleaching creams, tretinoin, and alpha hydroxyl acids. Depending on the size of the liver spots, topical applications take anywhere from a few months to a year to take effect.
  • Surgery. Surgical procedures are a way to permanently remove age spots, especially larger ones. Cryosurgery uses liquid nitrogen to freeze the affected skin tissue before removing it. Dermabrasion involves a specialized instrument that slightly sands the affected skin's surface. Laser therapy removes age spots by using laser lights directed towards the affected skin.
  • Chemical Peels. Liver spots can be removed with chemical peels, which involves applying chemical solutions directly on the affected areas. This helps the blemished skin to peel off and is performed by dermatologists.

To help prevent liver spots, make sure to apply sunscreen and keep from extended sun exposure.

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