Age spots, also referred to as liver spots, can be a telltale sign that you are getting older. The medical term for age spots is lentigines. These usually harmless flat, brownish marks appear on the face, back, feet and hands.
Lentigines may go hand in hand with dryness, wrinkling and rough spots on the skin. Although age spots can sometimes be attributed to genetics, their primary cause is cumulative exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays.
Most changes that occur to the skin, including age spots, are the direct result of exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. UV light speeds up the production of melanin. Melanin is the dark pigment in the outermost layer of your skin, or epidermis, that gives your skin its color.
An oversupply of melanin causes your skin to darken and tan. The Mayo Clinic says when melanin production is continually too high, clusters of dark pigment can develop on your skin and cause age spots.
Someone with a history of regular, unprotected sun exposure or frequent sunburn is more likely to develop age spots, according to the Mayo Clinic. The damaging effects of years in the sun may not appear until a person gets older.
Tretinoin (Retin-A) cream may diminish the appearance of liver spots, but it's available by prescription only. Further damage can be prevented by wearing sunscreen and limiting sun exposure.
The American Academy of Dermatology recommends wearing a sunscreen with a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of 30. Apply it generously to exposed areas of your skin 30 minutes before going outdoors.
Other Sources of UV Rays
Sun exposure is not the only way your skin can be exposed to the damaging effects of UV rays. Many believe that UV rays emitting from tanning beds are harmless. However, the American Cancer Society states this is completely false. Frequenting commercial tanning beds or sitting under tanning lamps can eventually result in melanin changes that lead to age spots.
Genetics play a role in how susceptible you are to the development of age spots, according to the Mayo Clinic. People who are fair-skinned and blue-eyed are more vulnerable to age spots that those with darker, more heavily pigmented skin.
Treatments such as laser therapy, skin bleaching and prescription creams like tretinoin (Retin-A) can diminish the appearance of age spots.
Karen Hellesvig-Gaskell is a broadcast journalist who began writing professionally in 1980. Her writing focuses on parenting and health, and has appeared in “Spirituality & Health Magazine" and “Essential Wellness.” Hellesvig-Gaskell has worked with autistic children at the Fraser School in Minneapolis and as a child care assistant for toddlers and preschoolers at the International School of Minnesota, Eden Prairie.