Symptoms and causes

Symptoms

Age spots may affect people of all skin types, but they're more common in people with light skin. Age spots:

  • Are flat, oval areas of increased pigmentation
  • Are usually tan, brown or black
  • Occur on skin that has had the most sun exposure over the years, such as the backs of hands, tops of feet, face, shoulders and upper back

Age spots range from freckle size to about a 1/2 inch (13 millimeters) across and can group together, making them more noticeable.

When to see a doctor

Age spots are usually harmless and don't require medical care. Have your doctor look at spots that are dark or have changed in appearance. These changes can be signs of melanoma, a serious form of skin cancer.

It's best to have any new skin changes evaluated by a doctor, especially if a spot:

  • Is darkly pigmented
  • Is rapidly increasing in size
  • Has an irregular border
  • Has an unusual combination of colors
  • Is accompanied by itching, redness, tenderness or bleeding

Causes

Age spots are caused by overactive pigment cells. Ultraviolet (UV) light accelerates the production of melanin. On the areas of skin that have had years of frequent and prolonged sun exposure, age spots appear when melanin becomes "clumped" or is produced in high concentrations.

The use of commercial tanning lamps and tanning beds can also contribute to the development of age spots.

Risk factors

Anyone can develop age spots, but you may be more likely to develop the condition if you:

  • Have red hair and light skin
  • Have a history of frequent or intense sun exposure or sunburn