Age spots, also known as liver spots but technically called "solar lentigines," are flat, brown, gray or black spots that can show up on your face, neck and hands. These uniformly colored spots typically appear in older people. Despite the name, however, these spots are not caused by age, reports WebMD. Rather, they come from sun damage, which is why they appear on parts of the body that are more exposed to the sun than others. They are typically more common in people with a fair complexion, but can appear in people with darker skin as well.
Age spots usually appear only on areas that have had prolonged ultraviolet light exposure over the years, such as your face or the back of your hands, says the Mayo Clinic. They can also appear more often in people who frequent tanning beds. The pigment in your skin (also known as the epidermis, as in “your epidermis is showing”) is produced by melanin. UV light accelerates melanin production and that’s why we get a tan when we’re out in the sun. (Well maybe you do, but I look more like a tomato after too much time in the sun.) Age spots occur in places where melanin production is concentrated on the skin. Besides UV exposure, just getting older can increase melanin production.
Treating age spots
There are a number of treatments for age spots. One way to get rid of them is through laser therapy, which kills the melanin-producing cells without damaging the skin’s surface. Laser therapy usually takes several sessions to work and then a few months for the spots to fade.
Another option is dermabrasion, in which the top layer of the skin is essentially sanded down and new skin grows in its place. It isn't comfortable but it typically is successful. Another option similar to dermabrasion is a chemical peel, in which an acid is applied to your skin to burn off the top layer. Also, not so fun, and you may have irritation after but it should do the trick. Dermatologists also may suggest chemical spot treatments, cryotherapy (freezing) or light therapy.
If none of these is your cup of tea, prescription creams may help to fade the appearance of the spots over several months. Your doctor may suggest hydroquinone (HQ) or retinol. There are also over-the-counter fade creams that may help after several weeks of use.
No reason to worry
Though bothersome from a cosmetic perspective, these spots are harmless. Since they do resemble cancerous growths though, it's key to check with a doctor if the spot is irregularly shaped, itchy or tender, is getting bigger, or has an unusual combination of colors. Continue to have those harmless spots checked out annually by a dermatologist to make sure they stay that way.
This story was originally written in September 2013 and has been updated with additional information.