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Seeing Spots: Know The Difference Between Brown, Liver, Age, And Sunspots

By October 29, 2015May 9th, 2023Skin Care


Our skin goes through many changes as we age. In addition to wrinkles, other signs of aging include small spots that form on the skin as we enter middle and old age. As an aesthetician, I am often asked about these dermal lesions by clients who worry they might be cancerous. Although most turn out to be harmless, it’s important to know the difference between these spots. Let us take a moment to discuss them individually.

Age Spots/Liver Spots

Although genetics may play a role, age and exposure to the sun are the primary causes of age and liver spots. What’s the difference between the two? Not a thing; the terms are synonyms. As you might have guessed, age spots were so named because of the time they usually appear—later in life. Liver spots, on the other hand, gained their name because they were incorrectly believed to be indications of liver problems.

Because the degree of sun damage and a person’s complexion may vary, the color of age/liver spots varies as well. I have personally seen red, brown, black, even gray spots! But whatever their color, these flat, usually oval areas of skin are completely harmless. With that said, some of my clients have them removed for cosmetic reasons. Laser treatments, chemical peels, and cryotherapy can all be used by your dermatologist or plastic surgeon to eliminate age/liver spots.

Sun Spots

It may surprise you to learn that sun spots and age/liver spots are the same thing. We tend to call them by different names based on the age of the people they affect. When brown spots appear on the skin of younger people, we almost always refer to them as sun spots, since they’re not old enough to possibly have age/liver spots. The truth, of course, is that both types are caused by exposure to the sun and the damage it does to our skin. Also known as solar lentigines, these often brown spots are not dangerous. Like the aforementioned lesions, sun spots do not require medical treatment. They can, of course, be removed for cosmetic reasons. Treatments are relatively painless and almost always achieve the desired results.

Although most brown spots are benign, it’s always advisable to see a dermatologists if you have any questions or concerns about a new skin lesion.