Diseases & Conditions

Age Spots

Overview, Causes, & Risk Factors

Age spots are flat, brown patches of skin that occur in irregular shapes. They appear most commonly on the arms, face, and back of the hands.

What is going on in the body?

Age spots are caused by an increased number of pigment-producing cells in the skin. They are thought to occur in response to long-term sun damage and are associated with aging of the skin. They are not harmful and do not represent skin cancer.

What are the causes and risks of the symptom?

The skin tends to get thinner with age. This causes older people to have pale, translucent skin. The number of pigment, or color-containing, cells decreases. The color-containing cells that are left tend to get bigger and group together as age spots. Chronic sun damage speeds up the development of these spots.

Symptoms & Signs

What other signs and symptoms are associated with this symptom?

Age spots are flat, brown areas of skin that can be up to an inch across. They do not itch or cause any pain.

Diagnosis & Tests

How is the symptom diagnosed?

A healthcare provider can diagnose age spots by examining the person's skin.

Prevention & Expectations

What can be done to prevent the symptom?

Long-term sun protection, including the use of appropriate sunscreen products, can help prevent age spots.

What are the long-term effects of the symptom?

Age spots cause no long-term effects.

What are the risks to others?

Age spots are not contagious and cause no risk to others.

Treatment & Monitoring

What are the treatments for the symptom?

Age spots are not generally treated, unless the individual requests treatment for cosmetic reasons. Treatments to remove age spots include the following:

  • application of a small amount of acid
  • cryotherapy, which uses the cold from liquid nitrogen to remove the spot
  • laser surgery
  • bleaching cream, which is generally used over several months
  • What are the side effects of the treatments?

    Sometimes scarring or excessive pigment loss occurs as a complication of treatment.

    What happens after treatment for the symptom?

    Methods of treatment that destroy the outer layer of skin create blisters and a fine peeling of the pigmented skin tissue. After recovery, an individual can return to normal activities.

    How is the symptom monitored?

    Any significant change in a skin lesion should be reported to the healthcare provider.


    Author:Lynn West, MD
    Date Written:
    Editor:Ballenberg, Sally, BS
    Edit Date:02/28/01
    Reviewer:Eileen McLaughlin, RN, BSN
    Date Reviewed:07/27/01