Mostly found in people past the age of 40, liver spots (also called solar lentigines, scientifically) are skin discolorations that often appear on the face, hands, upper back, shoulders and forearms. These signs of aging skin are typically flat, not raised above the skin surface, and can be brown, gray or black marks. While the word “liver” is in the name, they do not actually arise from liver problems.
Causes of Liver Spots
The cause of liver spots can be from age and genetics, but the primary reason behind them is an overproduction of melanin in the skin. Melanin is produced in the skin in high concentration to protect from exposure to the sun’s UV rays. When there is an overabundance of melanin in a certain area and causes a buildup, it manifests on the skin’s surface to dark spots. Besides from natural sunlight they can also come from overexposure to tanning beds.
Liver spots can be identified by a dark pigmentation that increases over the short-term, an irregular mark on the skin with odd colors, and sometimes can be red and itchy. To diagnose if any suspect marks on your skin are liver spots, it is recommended to visit your dermatologist or physician for identification of the issue. A biopsy may be needed to confirm the diagnosis. While most of the time these are harmless, it is crucial to get them checked out and rule out more serious issues such as skin cancer.
How to Treat Liver Spots
Liver spots are rooted in the deepest layers of your skin where the melanin is produced, so treatment needs to be strong enough to penetrate the outer layers of your skin to get to the source of the problem. Over the counter and prescription skin care products should include ingredients with enough strength (small enough molecules with penetrating properties) to reach this layer.
A retinoid cream helps fade the appearance of liver spots with their antioxidant properties. This is why they are also, beyond being helpful for liver spots, a common ingredient in eye serums and creams. Hydroquinone is another cream that is useful for this issue as it has bleaching agents. These agents inhibit enzyme function and slow down the production of melanin to avoid buildup. It is recommended, however, that you consult a dermatologist before using this product as it can be harmful on areas of the skin that are not afflicted with liver spots, causing blisters and adverse reactions to healthy skin.
Besides creams there are other more invasive treatments to eradicate this skin issue. One is laser therapy with removes the pigment by destroying the melanocyte cells (which produce melanin) without causing harm to the skin. You will need a number of treatment sessions to fade the spots gradually. In minor cases it can be a few weeks, or it could be several months for more severe cases. This treatment comes with the risk of minor discoloration of the skin afterwards, so it is best to consult your dermatologist to see if this treatment is right for you.
Another method to remove liver spots is cryotherapy, which uses liquid nitrogen as a freezing agent to destroy the tissues in the affected region and promote healthy cell regrowth in that area. This is best used on a single liver spot or a small grouping of spots. Adverse reactions to this therapy include skin irritation and, just like with laser therapy, a risk of skin discoloration.
Dermabrasion can also be used which in essence buffs down the liver spot like an electric sander. It is a device with a rotating brush that scrapes the outer layer of the skin. When this exterior layer of the epidermis is removed, new cells grow in their place. Like with the other therapies mention, multiple sessions will be needed to gradually fade away the spots.
Preventing Liver Spots
After choosing the treatment is right for you and getting rid of your liver spots, it becomes all about prevention. Be sure to always wear sunblock (at least SPF 15) when outside. Adhere to a skin care routine with exfoliation, cleansing, and moisturizing and you’ll be on your way to maintaining healthy skin.