The appearance of clusters of brown or black liver spots on your skin may cause concern. Even if they are not painful, their mere existence will affect your skin’s appearance. Why are they there? Do they have anything to do with the liver? How can you get rid of them? 

This article will take you through the various causes, features and effective treatments of liver spots. 

What are liver spots? 

Liver spots are oval black, brown or grey spots that appear on the areas of the skin frequently exposed to the sun. Liver spots are also called age spots because they are commonly observed in older people over 40. Despite its prevalence in older people, younger people who excessively expose their skin to ultraviolet rays are also at risk of having liver spots.

Liver spots are harmless and non-cancerous. However, you may want to get rid of them for cosmetic purposes. Liver spots often appear and cluster and can affect the appearance of the skin, especially the face and hand. If left untreated, these spots wouldn’t bulge. They will remain your skin stamp.

Liver spots on face

Areas commonly affected by liver spots. 

  • Face
  • Shoulder
  • Upper back 
  • Arm 
  • Hands
  • Feet

Why are they called liver spots?

It is funny how people called age spots liver spots despite not having anything to do with the liver. Liver spots are not signs of liver problems. They are called liver spots because they share the same brown colour as the liver.

Exposure to the sun

Causes of liver spots

Sun exposure 

In simple and plain language, liver spots appear due to sun exposure. Age spots or liver spots develop due to the multiplication of melanin in the skin. Melanin is skin pigment. It is produced by melanocytes, a cell found in the epidermal layer of the skin. 

The function of melanin is to protect the skin from sun damage. Melanin absorbs harmful rays such as blue light, UVA, UVB and UVC. Overexposure of the skin to sunlight will trigger the melanocytes to produce more melanin to protect the skin. When this melanin is produced

 in high concentration or clumped, it will lead to the appearance of liver spots on the skin’s surface. This means liver spots are an attempt by the skin to protect itself from sunlight and other ultraviolet light sources, such as tanning beds, lamps, mercury vapour lighting, and phototherapy. 

Liver spots risk factor 

Aside from exposure to sunlight, the following people are at higher risk of developing liver spots;

  • Old people 
  • People with light skin 
  • People with a history of frequent sun exposure 

Melanoma Vs Sunspots 

Liver spots( sunspots) closely resemble signs of melanoma, the deadliest skin cancer. As such, it is necessary to differentiate cosmetic dark spots from deadly cancer. 

Some symptoms of liver spots include the following:

  1. Light brown to black spots. 
  2. Flat-textured spots which appear similar to the rest of the skin. 
  3. Sunspots vary from the size of tiny freckles to about an inch in diameter.
  4. Spots appear either singly or in clusters making them more pronounced.
  5. Round or oval spots with very defined edges.

You should seek medical examination if you notice the following changes in your age spot; 

  • Changes in size, shape and colour of your sunspot: If you notice your liver spots are becoming more prominent, they have irregular edges and develop a mixed colour ( red, pink, or darker shade). 
  • Pain: if what earlier appeared to be expected, painless spots become painful, itchy, tender or bleeding.
  • Peculiarity: If you notice a spot that stands out from others. It looks different from other liver spots.

Your doctor can examine your spot and diagnose a liver spot or melanoma through biopsy or visual inspection.

Treatments for liver spots explained

Treatment for liver spots 

Even after your liver spots turn benign, there are several ways to treat and prevent them from disfiguring your skin.

A medical skin-grade product 

Medical skin-grade products are topical creams made with pharmaceuticals and cosmetic ingredients. These products contain potent ingredients that can penetrate the upper layer of the skin and lighten hyperpigmentation and other forms of dark spots. Active ingredients in these products include ; 

Alpha Hydroxy Acids( AHA): AHA contains Glycolic and lactic acid. These acids act as an exfoliator, gradually lightening dark spots and skin tone. These acids have been proven to potentiate photodamage, age spots, and wrinkles( they boost the production of collagen and hyaluronic acid). However, you shouldn’t use products that contain this acid if you have rosacea and psoriasis

Beta Hydroxy Acid( BHA):  BHA contains salicylic acid. This acid is a peeling agent that breaks down thick layers of the skin, allowing them to slough off. It peels off dark spots by dissolving the cellular bond on the layer of the skin. Salicylic works rapidly on hyperpigmentation, liver spots, post-acne marks, melasma and photodamage.

L-ascorbic Acid is also known as vitamin C, which has been proven to be a skin depigmentation compound. It gradually clears sun spots by reducing the production of melanin. It also stimulates the production of collagen for skin renewal.

Cysteamine:  is a natural antioxidant that is present in the body. It protects the skin against external stressors. When used as a topical cream, it reduces melanin synthesis. Consequently, it fades hyperpigmentation and liver spots.

Due to the presence of these ingredients in medical skin-grade products, they work effectively on liver spots. However, these products should not be purchased indiscriminately over the counter. Ensure you consult expert cosmetic doctors for examination and proper prescription. 

Laser resurfacing

As the name implies, the laser resurfacing method requires a laser and intense pulse light to destroy melanocytes. This therapy procedure has laser types that could ruin the melanocytes or safely remove the skin’s topmost layer. This method requires about one to three sessions to remove the liver spots. 

Cryotherapy or Freezing 

This treatment method requires liquid nitrogen to freeze off age spots on the face that damage the melanocytes. Liquid nitrogen is applied to the liver spots using a cotton swab for about five seconds or less. As a result, the excess pigment is destroyed, and the skin is given time to heal, after which the spots appear lighter. 

The downside to this treatment is that while freezing works swiftly, the process might be uncomfortable. There might be temporary irritations of the skin and the risk of discolouration and permanent scarring. 

Dermabrasion 

 This treatment method takes months to make a significant effect. A dermatologist sands down the skin’s surface using an exfoliating agent or a rapidly rotating brush. In time new skin grows back in place. You may need to perform the treatment more than once. Potential side effects of this treatment method include scabbing, redness, and swelling. 

Chemical peels

The chemical peel treatment method involves the application of a chemical solution to remove the top layer of the skin safely. The skin is then allowed to heal, giving way for a newer and smoother surface to form and take its place. This method has potential side effects; these include infection, scarring, and lightening or darkening of the skin colour. Similar to the previous treatment, you might also need several sessions before you notice any results. The dermatologist may recommend a combination of this method and another, like Cryotherapy or microdermabrasion.

Microdermabrasion

Microdermabrasion is less aggressive than Dermabrasion. This method leaves the skin with lesser and milder blemishes, resulting in a smoother appearance. You’ll need several procedures spanning over months to get a modest and temporary result. It’s best to stay hydrated throughout this method and after to keep the skin moisturized. 

This treatment involves little recovery time, and you may observe some side effects like redness, swelling, tenderness and a stinging sensation in the treated regions. It’s advisable to avoid this treatment method if you have rosacea or tiny red veins on the face. Microdermabrasion could aggravate the condition. 

Aloe Vera and others home remedies

Home Remedies

Besides these treatments, there are some natural remedies to get rid of age spots. Some of these include

Aloe vera

Studies show that active compounds in aloe vera, aloesin and aloin can lighten sunspots and other hyperpigmentation. Most people have aloe vera growing in their garden or around the house. Get some of the jellies from it and regularly apply it to your skin till you achieve your desired results. 

 Vitamin E

Vitamin E offers protection against sun damage and increases the skin’s overall health. When combined with vitamin C topically, applying vitamin E could lighten up brown sun spots and hyperpigmentation, especially on the face. 

Milk

Milk is another home remedy to help with solar lentigo. Lactic acid present in milk may help lighten sunspots. If you’ve got some buttermilk or sour milk, apply some on your skin and watch the lactic acid go to work on treating skin discolourations. 

FAQs on Liver spots

Are liver spots dangerous? 

Sun spots or age spots are not harmful. The issue, however, is that solar lentigines look similar to certain types of skin cancers. Consulting with a dermatologist might help erase any unwarranted fears you might have concerning what precisely the brown spots are. 

How to prevent liver spots?

Regarding preventive measures to avoid liver spot development, long-term or intense exposure to the sun is a significant trigger factor and should be avoided. Here are some preventative measures to incorporate into your lifestyle.

Between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m, the sun’s ray is hottest. Avoid exposure to the sun between these hours as much as possible. If possible, schedule outdoor activities for other different times in the day.

Wear sunscreen with a sun protection factor of at least thirty (SPF 30+) daily. Apply sunscreen generously for about fifteen to thirty minutes before going outdoors. Reapply as needed based on your daily activities or how long the applied SPF lotion lasts. 
Protect your body from UV light as much as possible. Use full clothing, a face cap, hats and even sunshades to help protect the skin around the eyes. Consider outfits with an ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) of 40 to 50 to get the best sun protection.

Conclusion

Liver spots are the result of improper protection of the skin from sunlight. Since they are not harmful, you may decide to leave them be. However, if you find them affecting your appearance, you may seek means of removing them. There are several effective treatments for liver spots. However, seek medical consultation and advice before choosing any treatment method. 

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