What Are Liver Spots? How Are They Different From Skin Cancer?

Written by on January 20, 2014 in Health - No comments | Print this page


Healthy SkinSometimes, liver-colored marks appear on the back of a person’s hands, face and neck that are harmless and benign. They are called liver spots.

These marks are born out of over exposure to sunlight and have nothing to do with the liver. They are called liver spots due to their color resemblance with liver.


Liver spots are brown and red pigmentation that appear on skin that is consistently exposed to sunlight. They are called solar lentiginosis in medical terms. Lentiginosis is the term given to a condition that involves a spread of large number of lentigines or spots; solar means sun related. So solar lentiginosis means a spread of large number of spots on the skin due to sun exposure.

Light Skinned Individuals and Liver Spots

Liver spots appear frequently on individuals from Caucasian descent for the following reasons:

The color pigmentation in human skin, called melanin, is responsible for skin complexion. When melanin is produced actively and is regulated in the skin, complexion grows darker.

Enzyme tyrosinase is responsible for regulation and even distribution of melanin in skin. Melanin production is less in fair skinned people so tyrosinase is also produced in lesser amounts in people with fair skin.

As melanin is more actively produced in sunlight, tyrosinase is required in greater quantity- for regulation of melanin during sunlight exposure.

For dark skin people, that is not a problem as their skin produces adequate amounts of tyrosinase already. But for people with fair complexion- this can cause melanin accumulation in skin over time, as this pigment is not well-regulated in lighter skin toned people.

As accumulation of melanin creates liver spots, thus individuals with lighter complexion and mainly Caucasians are more prone to liver spots than any other skin type.

Fair skinned people should apply sun screen very regularly for this reason. Their skin is not as well equipped as dark skinned individuals to regulate melanin. This results in melanin accumulation over time.

Liver spots that are benign are treated only because of their physical appearance. But, if the spots that appear on your skin are changing color and are growing darker with time, then they are not liver spots at all. They are signs of melanoma, also known as skin cancer.

Liver Spots and Melanoma

Scars on skin are a sensitive matter as they can also be a sign of skin cancer. So they should be checked frequently. To differentiate between a liver spot and a melanoma scar, look for the following signs:

  • If the growth of the scar changes in size with each side and is not equally distributed on both sides, it’s not a benign liver spot. It is probably melanoma.
  • If the outline of the scar is irregular than it is melanoma.
  • If the scar has more than one color in one scar, then it is a tell-tale sign of melanoma.
  • Melanoma scars are sometimes larger in size than a liver spot but that is not a given fact; many small scars also turn out to be cancer cells.
  • If the skin spot has any feeling in it whatsoever, then it is not an age spot. Itching, irritation and bleeding are all signs of melanoma. In case such conditions arise, consult your doctor immediately.

Liver spots are caused by prolonged exposure to sunlight. They can also be produced by anything that puts your melanin production in over-drive without enough tyrosinase to regulate the melanin production and distribution. This can also be caused by tanning procedures that are so prevalent these days.

So focus on your skin protection and care, use a sun screen regularly and avoid artificial tanning procedures. Tanning techniques and over-exposure to sunlight may end up giving you more than you bargained for.

Kevin Kerfoot writes about health, nutrition, oral hygiene and skin care for Trusted Health Products’ natural health blog and newsletter.


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