Sun spots may also be called age spots, liver spots, lentigos or lentigines. They are flat, brown or tan marks on the skin that are most common in sun exposed areas of the body such as the face, neck, chest, arms or the back of the hands. They are caused by exposure to the sun and are more common as people age, which is why some call them age spots.
Sun Exposure and Sun Spots
When our skin is exposed to the sun, the sun's rays cause our skin to produce more melanin, which is the pigment in our skin. When melanin is produced in larger quantities, sun spots may form. Genetics may play a role in determining how susceptible individuals are to developing sun spots. Patients with fair skin may be at greater risk of developing sun spots, as well as individuals who experience frequent exposure to the sun such as those with outdoor occupations. Wearing sunscreen and/or the proper clothing when outdoors for an extended period of time is important, but it is especially important for individuals who are at a greater risk.
Sun Spots and Skin Cancer
There are several myths linking sun spots to skin cancer, some true and some false. One of the myths is that sun spots are a sign of skin cancer. Although sun spots may themselves be cancerous, most are benign and are not a sign of skin cancer. It is very important that patients with sun spots or other new skin growths, changes in existing skin growths or sores that do not heal be screened for skin cancer. While sun spots are not a sign of skin cancer and do not cause skin cancer, those with sun spots are at a greater risk of developing skin cancer. Sun spots and skin cancer are both caused by an overexposure to the sun's rays. Since an individual's sun spots can be blamed on sun exposure, their sun exposure may also put them at a greater risk of skin cancer. Additionally, the dark pigment of sun spots absorbs more of the sun's rays, which may also leave patients more susceptible to skin cancer.
Various methods have been used to treat sun spots from chemical peels to intense pulsed light therapies to laser resurfacing. These treatments have been shown to offer relief from sun spots, but the best treatment is prevention. Covering up and wearing sun screen when in the sun is the best way to avoid sun spots and other symptoms of sun damage.