Age spots are small spots of areas of darker pigmentation which appear on the skin.

They’re increasingly common in adults over the age of 45 and are caused by the excessive production of melanin within the skin.

Other names for age spots include:

  • Liver spots
  • Solar lentigines
  • Sun spots

Age spots tend to be associated with UV light exposure and are most commonly seen on areas that are most exposed to the sun, i.e. face, back of hands, forearms, shoulders.

Sunbathing (including tanning beds) is a prime cause of age spots, but they are also a common problem for people who work outdoors or spend leisure time out of doors (e.g. gardeners, cyclists, tennis players).

Age spots can be a variety of shades of brown/grey and are particularly noticeable on people who have fair skin due to the contrast as well as the greater tendency to ‘catch the sun’. They can range in size from a large freckle to over a centimetre big and can occur in patches of multiple spots, making them more obvious.

Diagnosing Age Spots

Age spots are usually diagnosed by examination. A doctor will look closely at the age spots to check for any worrying signs.

Age spots in themselves are medically harmless, but an abnormal mole should always be investigated as it is important to rule out skin cancer. Therefore if the doctor has any concerns, he/she is likely to make a referral to a dermatologist experienced in diagnosing and treating skin cancer.

Thankfully, most age spots are not of any medical risk – the concern is a cosmetic one, as patients don’t like the ageing look of them, which spoils a clear complexion.

Treating Age Spots

Age spots may be treated in a number of ways.

  • Special prescription-only bleaching creams, which with daily application can fade age spots
  • Laser treatment – the modern effective method to tackle age spots by destroying the overactive cells which produce too much melanin. Age spots will fade over several weeks or months after treatment
  • Freezing treatment – using liquid nitrogen to damage the spots with intense cold so that they drop off

All treatments will make the skin more sensitive to the sun and it is vital to wear sunscreen after treatment especially while the skin heals and also to ensure that the problem does not recur.

Preventing Age Spots

Prevention is better than cure and essential sun protection advice is vital in reducing the chance of age spots occurring:

  1. Wear sunscreen when outside – choose SPF30+ with UVA and UVB protection, even on cloudy days
  2. Reapply sunscreen regularly and especially after swimming or when sweating more heavily
  3. Avoid the sun at its peak 11-3pm
  4. Don’t just rely on sunscreen, cover up with clothing too – longer trousers/shirts, sun hat and sunglasses