Are Liver Spots Dangerous?

By the time you’ve reached old age, you’ve seen a thing or two in your lifetime. You probably also have one or more badges of honor—that is, liver spots.

Liver spots, or age spots, are tan or brownish marks that appear on the skin as a result of sun exposure. Since it’s the sun that causes them, older people—who have been exposed to the sun longer than their younger counterparts—are more likely to sport them. But age spots, despite their name, are not strictly age-related. Nor are they related to the liver, for that matter. They probably got that name because their color is sometimes reminiscent of the liver.

What are liver spots?

Melanin is the pigment that gives skin its color. It protects the skin from the sun’s harmful UV rays, so our bodies produce more of it when we’re exposed to sunlight. The more melanin, the darker the skin. That’s what a suntan is.

Age spots appear when too much melanin clumps together in one spot. They usually form on the parts of the body most frequently exposed to the sun, like the face, arms, shoulders, and feet. They can develop alone or in clusters, varying in shape and size.

These spots are completely harmless, and do not need treatment or removal. But, they do sometimes resemble true skin cancer, so if you have a new spot that you’re unsure about, show it to your dermatologist. Your doctor can use a special magnifying device to examine the spot and assure you it’s just an age spot.

Can I remove liver spots?

If you want to get rid of a spot for cosmetic reasons, you do have some options. Talk to your doctor about topical creams containing retinoids, cortisone or hydroquinone, which can all help lighten age spots. Be aware that these creams can cause unpleasant reactions or side effects to the area.

There are also some low-risk procedures you can look into, such as laser surgery, microdermabrasion, and chemical peels. These can scar your skin, though, so you should investigate all risks and benefits before undergoing the procedure with a specially trained dermatologist.

You may also have success with natural, mostly risk-free remedies, such as aloe vera, or vitamin E oil.

As a senior, though, consider if the time and money investment in removing the spot is worth it. If it’s an age spot, wear it with pride, since you’ve certainly earned it!