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Liver spots

Definition

Liver spots are flat, brown or black spots that can appear on areas of the skin that are exposed to the sun. They have nothing to do with the liver or liver function.

Alternative Names

Sun-induced skin changes - liver spots; Senile or solar lentigines; Skin spots - aging; Age spots

Causes

Liver spots are changes in skin color that occur in older skin. The coloring may be due to aging, exposure to the sun or other sources of ultraviolet light, or causes that are not known.

Liver spots are very common after age 40. They occur most often on areas that have had the greatest sun exposure, such as the:

  • Backs of the hands
  • Face
  • Forearms
  • Forehead
  • Shoulders

Symptoms

Liver spots appear as a patch or area of skin color change that is:

  • Flat
  • Light brown to black
  • Painless

Exams and Tests

Your doctor will diagnose the condition based on how your skin looks, especially if you are over 40 and have had a lot of sun exposure. You may need a skin biopsy to confirm the diagnosis if you have a liver spot that looks irregular.

Treatment

Most of the time, no treatment is needed. You can improve the appearance of your skin by using skin bleaching lotions or creams. Most bleaching lotions use hydroquinone. This medicine is thought to be safe in the form used to lighten darkened skin areas. However, hydroquinone can cause blisters or skin reactions in some people. See your health care provider before starting treatment if you are concerned.

Freezing (cryotherapy) or laser treatment can be used to destroy the liver spots.

Outlook (Prognosis)

Liver spots are not dangerous to your health. They are permanent skin changes that affect how your skin looks.

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call your health care provider if:

  • You have liver spots and want them removed
  • You develop any new symptoms, especially changes in the appearance of a liver spot

Prevention

Protect your skin from the sun by taking the following steps:

  • Cover your skin with clothing such as hats, long-sleeved shirts, long skirts, or pants.
  • Use sunglasses to protect your eyes.
  • Try to avoid the sun at midday, when sunlight is strongest.
  • Use high-quality sunscreens that have an SPF rating of at least 30. Apply sunscreen at least a half hour before you go out in the sun. Reapply it often. Use sunscreen in the winter, too.

References

Habif TM. Light-related diseases and disorders of pigmentation. In: Habif TP, ed. Clinical Dermatology. 5th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Mosby; 2009:chap 19.

Rabinovitz HS, Barnhill RL. Benign melanocytic neoplasms. In: Bolognia JL, Jorizzo JL, Schaffer JV, et al, eds. Dermatology. 3rd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Mosby; 2012:chap 112.


Review Date: 11/14/2014
Reviewed By: Richard J. Moskowitz, MD, dermatologist in private practice, Mineola, NY. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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