What Are Liver Spots? Everything to Know

Medically Reviewed By Megan Soliman, MD
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Liver spots are pigmented spots common in adults or older adults. They are generally due to exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation. This article will define liver spots. It will also discuss the causes, treatment, and prevention of liver spots.

What are liver spots?

An elderly male wearing a cowboy hat in the sun
Russell Monk/Getty Images

Liver spots, also called age spots or lentigines, are benign pigmented spots that appear on the skin. These spots can appear on anyone of any race or age. However, they often occur in adults with less pigment in their skin.

Liver spots are commonly due to exposure to UV radiation from the sun or indoor tanning beds. They typically appear on areas of the body exposed to the sun, like your hands and face.

Liver spots are harmless and generally do not require treatment. However, there are ways you can reduce their appearance if they bother you.

How do liver spots differ from melanoma?

Liver spots are noncancerous, or benign, spots on your skin. Melanoma is a type of skin cancer. While it is not as common, it is more dangerous than other types of skin cancer because it is more likely to spread.

You can develop melanoma anywhere on your body. However, certain areas are more common, these include:

  • chest and back in males
  • legs in females
  • face
  • neck

The exact cause of melanoma is unknown. However, there are factors that may put you at a higher risk of developing it. These risk factors include:

  • UV exposure
  • moles
  • freckles
  • skin and hair with less pigment
  • personal or family history of skin cancer
  • weakened immune system

The main symptom of possible melanoma or other skin cancers is a new spot that is unlike others or a spot that changes shape, color, or texture. Other symptoms include:

  • sores that do not heal
  • pigment from a spot spreads to the surrounding skin
  • area around a mole discolors or swells
  • spot becomes itchy, tender, or painful
  • surface of a mole changes, oozes, or bleeds

If you experience any symptoms of melanoma or have a spot that concerns you, contact your doctor.

Read more about what skin cancer looks like.

What do liver spots look like?

Liver spots typically have flat surfaces. They can range in color from skin-colored to tan, dark brown, or black. They typically are either oval-shaped or have an irregular shape. Liver spots generally have a distinct border.

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This image shows a liver spot on the face.

DermNet New Zealand

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Liver spots can appear on the back of the hand.

DermNet New Zealand

skin of woman with blemish and spots

This image shows a close-up of liver spots on the cheek.

Manuel Faba Ortega/Getty Images

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Liver spots can also appear on the chest.

Zay Nyi Nyi/Shutterstock

What causes liver spots?

Liver spots are typically due to an increase of pigment cells in the upper layers of the skin.

The most common forms of livers spots result from exposure to UV radiation. This exposure often comes from:

  • sun exposure
  • indoor tanning
  • phototherapy

Radiation therapy may also cause these spots to develop on your skin in the affected area.

Where can you get liver spots?

Liver spots typically appear on areas of the body exposed to the sun. The most common areas are the face and the back of the hands.

When should you contact a doctor about liver spots?

When you have a new spot that is unlike other spots on your skin or a spot changes in shape, color, or texture, contact your doctor. Liver spots are typically harmless. However, new and changing spots on your skin are potential symptoms of skin cancer.

What are the treatments for liver spots?

Liver spots are typically harmless, so they do not require treatment. However, if you are concerned with their appearance, there are ways that may help fade the color and make them less noticeable.

Always talk with your doctor or a dermatologist before using products to fade liver spots. Fading methods may not be as effective for everyone.

Products that can help manage the appearance of liver spots include:

  • broad-spectrum sunscreen 50 SPF or higher
  • hydroquinone bleaching cream
  • alpha hydroxy acids
  • vitamin C
  • retinoids
  • azelaic acid
  • cysteamine cream
  • chemical peels

Treatments that may permanently remove individual spots include:

Speak with your doctor to make an informed decision on the most effective treatment for your individual needs.

Can you prevent liver spots?

The main way to prevent liver spots is to practice sun safety and protect yourself when you expose your skin to UV radiation.

Ways you can protect yourself and practice sun safety include:

  • staying under shade as much as possible
  • wearing clothing that covers your skin, a hat, and sunglasses
  • using a broad-spectrum sunscreen that is SPF 15 or higher

Even if you are in the shade, it is still important to protect your skin with sunscreen and clothing.

Read more about how to protect your skin from the sun.

Summary

Liver spots are pigmented spots that appear on your skin mostly in areas exposed to the sun. They are most commonly on the back of the hands and the face.

Anyone can develop sun spots. However, they occur more often in adults or older adults with less pigment in their skin.

Liver spots are benign and typically do not require treatment. However, if the appearance bothers you, there are products that may fade the spots. Speak with your doctor before trying any of these products.

If you have a new spot that is unusual or a spot that changes in shape, color, or texture, contact your doctor because this may be a symptom of skin cancer.

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Medical Reviewer: Megan Soliman, MD
Last Review Date: 2022 Jun 30
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