It seemed like it happened over night; flat dark brown spots appeared on my left lower arm and right shoulder. A few months later, another spot was on my left hand. Now, I’m paranoid, thinking, could this be skin cancer? My grandmother called them “liver spots.” I felt nauseous. Could there be something seriously wrong with my liver?
As I began my journey to find out about these “liver spots,” I discovered they were also known as “age spots.” Despite the name, these discolorations are not related to the liver. Instead, they develop as the result of sun exposure accumulated over time. Many people have a hereditary predisposition to them as well.
The technical name is “lentigines.” According to Dr. Michael Roizen, co-author of several books with Dr. Oz “lentigines are not freckles or moles, but (they are benign not cancerous), darkly pigmented patches that typically show up as you age.”
So, while sun damage may not be apparent when you’re young, it will definitely catch up with you later in life. According to my research, liver/age spots are very common in adults over 40; they are harmless and don’t require treatment.
If “liver spots” make you feel self conscious, your dermatologist can prescribe a special topical cream that will fade the spots over several months.
Fade creams can be purchased over the counter. These creams are skin-bleaching products used to lighten uneven areas.
The next question I wanted to know was, “Can liver spots be prevented?” Nothing can be done about the role heredity plays and excessive exposure to the sun should be avoided. According to the experts, a precaution that will also diminish the threat of skin cancer is to protect your skin from further sun damage with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15. Sunscreens go as high as SPF-50. Also, according to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, it is a good idea to reduce your exposure when the ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun are the strongest — between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., see http://www.epa.gov/sunwise/doc/uvradiation.html.
Listed are common treatments described by the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery, http://www.asds.net/LiverSpotsAgingHandsInformation.aspx
SUNSCREENS – The simplest treatment to protect the skin from further damage and worsening of the spots is use of a sunscreen. Sunscreen is also important after other treatment methods so the spots will not recur.
BLEACHING CREAMS, TRETINOIN AND ALPHA-HYDROXY ACIDS – These are topical applications prescribed by the physician to fade small spots. Treatment normally takes anywhere from two months to a year or longer.
CRYOSURGERY – The dermatology surgeon freezes the skin tissue with liquid nitrogen to remove liver spots and skin growths.
PEELING – A chemical solution is applied to peel away the blemished skin. The face and hands usually heal in one to two weeks.
DERMABRASION – The skin is sanded lightly with a special instrument to remove the spots. This normally takes a week or so.
LASER SURGERY – New techniques with various lasers are used to remove the spots. A beam of laser light is directed at the liver spots to eliminate the damaged skin.
The bottom line is to always check with your doctor. In some cases, you may want to get a second opinion to ensure you know the facts and risks associated with any treatment.