What Causes Liver Spots on Skin, Face, Legs or Arms


What causes liver spots on skin? Here are the causes and risk factors for liver blemish dots on hands, legs, face skin and arms. Also find out why they are called liver skin spots yet they are simply blemishes.

Why Are They Called Liver Spots?

Liver spots is actually a skin condition which then begs the question, why the name liver spots?

Well the dermatological condition was once believed to be caused by liver problems which explain the origin of their name. They also have a color similar to that of the liver, but as Medline Plus points out, the dots have no connection with the liver or liver function.

What Causes Liver Spots on Skin?

So, what causes liver spots on skin? Well, UV light from the sun is the chief cause of the blemishes – otherwise known as age spots or solar lentigines – but a number of other factors have been as well been linked to this condition. These causes are discussed below:

Ultraviolet (UV) light: Exposure to sun’s UV rays ranks first among causes of liver spots. The skin has a colored pigment called melanin which is responsible for giving the skin its color.

When the skin is exposed to UV light, the production of melanin is accelerated leading to the darkening of the skin that we perceive as a tan. This protects deeper layers of skin from the damaging effects of UV radiation.

Years of exposure to sun’s ultraviolet light often leads to clumping of melanin in some areas of the skin or production of melanin in particularly high concentrations. This then leads to formation of liver dots which are usually painless and harmless but may be a cosmetic concern.

The spots tend to occur in parts of the body that are most exposed to the sun including the face, forehead, hands, arms, and the scalp.

People with a history of sunburn are more likely to develop the condition according to Mayo Clinic.

Tanning beds and any other artificial source of ultraviolet light may as well cause liver spots.

Sign of Aging: Aging process is naturally associated with higher production of melanin even without exposure to UV light. The skin also reduces its ability to regenerate from sun exposure after the age of 40.

This explains why the spots commonly affect older people (aged above 40 years) even though younger people can as well be affected, especially those that spend lots of time outdoors in the sun.

Genetic predisposition: According to Health Line, liver spots have a hereditary aspect which means that some people are naturally more at risk of these spots owing to their genetic makeup. Individuals with blonde hair and fair skin are at an especially higher risk.

Prevention of Liver Spots

Now that we know what causes age spots on skin, what are some of the measures you can take to prevent the formation of liver spots? Well, you should avoid exposure to UV radiation by observing the following tips:

  • Apply sunscreen with an SPF rating of at least 30 when going outdoors. Apply it 30 minutes or so earlier for the optimum effectiveness.
  • Wear a hat with a wide brim
  • Wear sunglasses to protect the eyes
  • As much as possible, avoid the sun between 10 am and 4 pm when it is most intense.
  • Cover your skin with long-sleeved shirts, pants, long skirts etc
  • Avoid tanning beds. Their UV light is no better than those of the sun.

What Causes Liver Spots on Hands, Legs and Arms

“I have developed many small, round blemishes on the back of the hands, legs, shoulders, and on the part of the forearm near the elbow joint. The blemishes do not hurt but they seem to occur in random clusters? Could it be liver spots as one of my friends claim? What medications may help or do in need to see a derm?”  Nicholas

This is a question sent to us by Nicholas via email. From the symptoms described here, it seems likely that Nicholas is dealing with these blemishes.

Liver spots are usually non-contagious and noncancerous. Treatment is usually not necessary unless they bother you – aesthetically speaking – in which case treatment options such as prescription creams bleaching, steroid and retinoid creams, dermabrasion, cryotherapy, chemical peeling, laser therapy, electrosurgery, and surgical removal may be considered.

Because liver spots may have similar symptoms with other skin conditions – some of which are more serious – such as moles, melanoma (a serious kind of skin cancer), keratosis, and lentigo maligna (a type of skin cancer) it is always a good idea to have your skin checked by your doctor.

This is especially true if your spots show any of the following symptoms:

  • A very dark color
  • Irregular borders
  • Itching
  • Bleeding
  • More than one color
  • A notable increase in size of a short timespan

What Causes Liver Spots on Face

As for another anonymous reader who asked us what causes liver spots on the face, excessive and prolonged exposure to the UV rays of the sun should be your first culprit. This is especially so given the prominent position of the face which make sit especially prone to UV exposure and damage.

If you had several sunburns at your yester years, the liver spots may be serving as a reminder of their long term damage to the skin.

The face is as a matter of fact one of the parts of the skin most commonly affected by liver spots. Others are the upper back, shoulders, back of the hands, legs, feet (the top part) and forearms.

Genetic makeup of some individuals may as well be to blame. This is, for example, very likely the culprit for liver spots that develop at early age, sometimes as early as childhood.

All in all, the natural aging process of the skin can as well not be ruled out. As we have already mentioned elsewhere in this article, aging is associated with higher melanin production and lower skin resilience, a combo that is perfect for the formation of those pesky liver spots.