What are Liver Spots?

Y. Chen

Despite its misleading name, liver spots have little to do with the liver and more to do with senescence, the biological term given to the process of aging. Often found in humans starting at the age of 40, these spots are superficial deposits of a brownish pigment called lipofuscin that are found on the skin. Lipofuscin is a naturally occurring pigment that appears both inside and outside the body and is a result of the body's wear and tear process. Both ultraviolet radiation and aging cause human skin to slowly lose its ability to regenerate, culminating into the brown or black blemishes on the skin's surface.

Liver spots, which often appear on the hands, resemble large freckles.
Liver spots, which often appear on the hands, resemble large freckles.

Medically termed lentigos, liver spots measure up to 1 inch (2.54 cm) in diameter and can be found all over the body, but especially on surfaces of the skin that are often exposed to sunlight. This includes the face, hands, shoulders, and arms. Their appearance is similar to that of a large freckle.

During cryotherapy the spots are frozen and the pigment is broken up.
During cryotherapy the spots are frozen and the pigment is broken up.

In most cases, these spots are not a sign of ill health and require no treatment, but they do tend to proliferate when a person experiences emotional distress. Only in a rare number of cases do they pose a problem to health; the darkly colored blemishes can sometimes camouflage keratosis, a precancerous skin condition that appears as scaly, red lesions. To reduce the number of discolorations, experts suggest staying out of the sun, wearing sunscreen with at least a 15 Sun Protection Factor (SPF), and consuming foods and supplements that are abundant in antioxidants, which slow down the cell damage process.

Some nutritionists have claimed that liver spots also appear due to potential selenium deficiency. Selenium, a mineral that is naturally found in trace amounts in the body, can be bought as a supplement from the drugstore.

Liver spots occur in the top skin layer called the epidermis, and so can be removed by people who consider them unsightly and cosmetically unattractive. Through cryotherapy, a medical process that involves freezing the skin, or laser treatment, they can be eliminated quickly and without side effects.

Liver spots are unrelated to the liver.
Liver spots are unrelated to the liver.

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Discussion Comments


Are liver spots catching?


I have had an abundance of spots all over my body since birth, the biggest one being on the top art of my stomach. I thought they were liver spots, but after reading this I am unsure.

The reason I am looking up these spots is because the one on my stomach is very prominent, it sticks out and can be seen through my shirts as a small bump. I actually like the spot itself and think it gives character to my body, but the fact that it's "fat" feels kind of gross.

I'd just really like to know what's inside it, and if it's possible to "deflate" it - leaving a flat spot?


Another increasingly popular liver spot treatment is dermabrasion.

This involves gently sanding the skin down with a rapidly rotating brush, and is also used just as a general beauty treatment in the form of microdermabrasion.

For liver spots on on the face, some people also use chemical peels. These are available at most spas, and can, with repeated treatments, help to fade age spots.

This can be a good alternative to laser therapy or freezing, since it is inexpensive and has virtually no long-term side effects.


@Charlie89 -- Nope, they're the same thing.

I suppose it's technically more correct to call them age spots, since they are more connected to age than to the liver, but as far as I know the two terms are completely interchangeable.


Is there a difference between age spots and liver spots?

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