A common question heard in our Fairfield County Dermatology and Skin Care & Laser office is, “Why do I have so many brown liver spots and how do I get rid of them”? First, I inform the person that these unsightly spots have nothing to do with the liver or even aging but appear purely from sun exposure.
The medical term for a “sunspot” is solar lentigo. They appear as small, tan to brown, completely flat spots on the skin and are often round with a clearly defined border. They form from ultraviolet light damage to the skin. This UV damage causes pigment (melanin) granules to be deposited in the skin, giving the characteristic brown color. They are found primarily on the sun exposed areas of the body, particularly the face and hands. They are more common in people who are older and fair-skinned since these are the people with the greatest amount of ultraviolet damage. Fortunately, these spots are benign and usually only a cosmetic issue.
What can be done about these unsightly spots? Of utmost importance is sun protection. The more sun exposure you have, the greater the UV damage to your skin causing more sunspots to appear and making pre-existing spots become larger and darker. Sun protection means using a broad-spectrum sunblock with an SPF of 30 or higher. One of the better ingredients to protect against this UV damage is transparent zinc oxide. Additionally, wearing protective clothing and staying in the shade are important.
There are treatments for sunspots. A topical cream can fade and even remove the pigment. A bleaching cream containing hydroquinone is often used. Hydroquinone can stop the production of the pigment granules and can aid in their breakdown. Topical retinoids also can fade pigment and can be used in combination with hydroquinone. A prescription cream called Tri-Luma contains both hydroquinone and a retinoid and is commonly used to treat sunspots. It can take up to two months to see results.
A more effective method of sunspot removal is laser treatment. The laser light targets the pigment granules causing them to disintegrate. It leaves the surrounding skin undamaged so the spot fades with no residual mark or scar. It can take two laser treatments to fade a sunspot. For people with many facial sunspots, a treatment called a “photofacial” is beneficial. In this treatment, the entire facial area is treated with an intense pulsed light (IPL) device that can significantly fade sunspots and give the skin a more even tone.
Before the initiation of any treatment, an exam by a dermatologist is necessary to confirm that the spots are benign. Some skin cancers can mimic sun spots, including melanoma. Occasionally a skin biopsy may be necessary to prove the lesion is benign.
The takeaway: know the role of the sun in producing these spots and that these lesions are safe. Be reassured that cosmetic treatment for sunspots is safe and effective. Don’t get upset by sunspots. Do something positive about them and you won’t see brown (or red) much longer.
At Advanced Skincare & Laser Services, we offer intense pulse light treatments as well as chemical peels, laser hair removal, Hydrafacial, Dermabuilder, LED blue and red light therapy and Latisse. Board-certified dermatologist Dr. Kenneth Egan and our Physician Assistant, Melissa Raue, who excel in general medical, surgical and cosmetic dermatology, provide our skincare and laser services. We have offices in Danbury, Ridgefield, and Norwalk in Fairfield County, CT.
- Dr. Kenneth Egan