What Are the Causes of Liver Spots?

By Jonae Fredericks

The appearance of liver spots is quite common in men and women over the age of 40. Liver spots develop over time, usually taking years to appear, and, although they have the word "liver" in their name, these dark patches on the skin have nothing to do with the human liver or liver disease. Liver spots may be esthetically unpleasing to some, and it is possible to have them removed by a licensed dermatologist. It is also important to note that the use of a daily moisturizer containing an SPF sunscreen can help to reduce their development.

What are Liver Spots?

Liver spots are also referred to as "age spots" or "solar lentigines" and are often found on the skin of the face, arms, legs and shoulders. Liver spots appear on the skin as black or brown spots that are of varying shapes and sizes. The Mayo Clinic reports that liver spots are harmless and usually do not require medical attention.

The Sun

Liver spots appear on areas of the skin that have been over-exposed to the ultra-violet radiation of the sun. SparkPeople.com explains that too much sun can damage the skin, causing the body to respond by sending excessive amounts of pigment (melanin) to the damaged areas. Unfortunately, once this type of skin damage occurs it is irreversible. Liver spots do not fade over time; instead, they remain on the skin like a scar.

Tanning Beds

According to the BC Cancer Agency, tanning beds can cause just as much damage to the skin as solar rays. Contrary to popular belief, the ultraviolet lights (UV) that are used in tanning beds are no safer than the actual rays of the sun. In fact, tanning beds emit approximately 95 percent UV-A rays, which can penetrate deep into the skin and cause serious skin damage, even cancer. Tanning beds have the potential to cause pre-mature aging of the skin, which means more wrinkles and more liver spots.


As skin ages, it becomes thinner and less opaque. This change increases the likelihood of bruises and skin tears. The body begins to produce fewer and fewer "melanocytes," which are the cells that produce pigment. But the U.S. National Library of Medicine reveals that the melanocytes that already exist become bigger and form liver spots. Against pale aging skin, these liver spots can be quite noticeable.


The Allergan Foundation explains that when it comes to liver spots, some people may be more susceptible than others. In fact, genetics can play a role in determining whether or not a person develops liver spots as they age. Unfortunately, there is no way to prevent the formation of hereditary liver spots.

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