Sun Spots: Harmless or Early Warning Signs?

Introduction

The skin is the body’s largest organ, and the one that is most frequently in contact with the outside world. Composed of multiple layers of fats, proteins, minerals and water, the skin creates a barrier between our internal systems and the unpredictable environments around us. Because of this, as we get older the skin also begins to deteriorate, with wear and tear manifesting in blemishes, hyperpigmentation, wrinkles and sagging. Sun spots are among the most common visible changes that manifest on our skin, and they become even more common as we get older. 

While they’re usually harmless, sun spots can sometimes cause concern–sometimes being mistaken for some other more serious skin conditions. Read on to learn more about how sun spots are caused, the distinctions that set them apart from other possibly dangerous skin conditions, and the best way to seek medical help about skin irregularities.

What is a sun spot?

Sun spots on skin are also known as liver spots, although they don’t necessarily indicate problems with your liver. Sun spots are developed because of melanin, a substance that provides pigmentation to a person’s skin and hair. Melanin is produced as a reaction to UV light, which most of us get from exposure to sunlight. Melanin is the skin’s attempt to repair damage to itself. Its key purpose is to protect the skin from burning, and people usually observe this process when their skin becomes darker or more tan after being exposed to the sun for prolonged periods of time. In areas where melanin is produced in high concentrations, especially areas that are frequently exposed to the sun, patches of darker skin can sometimes develop. These patches are sometimes referred to as hyperpigmentation, or more commonly, sun spots. 

 

They are typically non-threatening and manifest as flat brown spots that begin to form around the age of 40, depending on how frequently and how intensely a person has been exposed to the sun over the years. The more time a person has spent in the sun, especially when they aren’t wearing any form of UV protection, the more likely they will be to develop sun spots earlier. 

 

A person’s skin tone is also a factor in determining their likelihood of forming sun spots on skin, with fair-skinned people being more likely to develop them over time. They can also grow as the years go by, which is why many people opt to treat their sun spots early on. Waiting to address a sun spot gives it more time to get bigger, making removal and treatment  more difficult.

 

With the exception of affecting a patient’s visual appearance, sun spots are essentially harmless and non-cancerous, posing very little risk to a patient’s health. However, because there are several other skin conditions that can appear quite similar to sun spots, it is always best to seek medical attention if a patient observes any apparent visual changes to the surface of their skin. To learn more about the best way to get timely, convenient, and expert medical advice, check out our FAQs.

doctor checking for sun spots

Sun spots, melasma, or skin cancer?

The distinction between sun spots and other skin conditions that can appear similar is crucial, as it determines whether or not the spots forming on a patient’s skin are dangerous or harmless. Below are some key distinctions between sun spots and other conditions that they can sometimes be confused with. 


  • Sun spots – Sun spots are characterized by flat areas of hyperpigmentation that are a few shades darker than skin on the surrounding areas, appearing tan or different shades of brown. They are most commonly found in the areas that receive the most exposure from the sun, such as the arms, face, shoulders, and hands. 
  • Melasma – Similarly to sun spots, melasma often manifests in areas that are regularly exposed to the sun, such as the cheeks, forehead, upper lip, and nose. However, unlike sun spots, melasma can also be developed as a result of hormonal changes. Women, especially pregnant women, are among those most likely to develop these gray-brown or tan areas of hyperpigmentation. Melasma is often non-cancerous and poses very little risk to a patient’s health, but many still opt to treat it for aesthetic reasons. 
  • Skin Cancer – Although it is far more serious than the previous two skin conditions, skin cancer can also be caused by frequent and unprotected exposure to UV rays. It manifests as the uncontrolled growth of cancer skin cells, and can begin as a new or growing spot on the patient’s skin. Spots with irregular borders, or lesions on the skin that don’t heal or are frequently itching or bleeding can be early signs of skin cancer. 

 

Sun spot health risks

Because sun spots are generally noncancerous and non-threatening, they do not pose any serious health risks for patients. However, persistent and prevalent sun spots can grow with prolonged sun exposure and many still opt to treat sun spots with the help of trained medical professionals. Treatments for sun spots are usually safe and non-invasive, but like with many treatments for skin conditions, they can sometimes cause temporary redness or discomfort. If you or anyone you know is looking into options for sun spot removal, learn how Eva works to get a quick, convenient, and expert medical consultation. 

How to prevent sun spots?

Sun spot prevention is always easier than sun spot treatment. Many of the ways to prevent sun spots can also help reduce the risk of other skin conditions. Following them can be a good practice in the long run. Because the root of sun spots developing is exposure to UV rays, limiting your exposure to both UVA and UVB rays is key. Below are some of the best ways to prevent sun spots: 

  • Limiting sun exposure, especially between 10AM and 3PM
  • Avoiding the use of tanning beds
  • Applying sunscreen before sun exposure
  • Covering exposed skin with clothing
  • Choosing skin products and cosmetics with a high sun protection factor 

How EVA Teleconsult Can Help with sun spots

Whether you are seeking advice for sun spots specifically or inquiring about any other skin conditions, EVA Teleconsult can connect you with the care you need. Our doctors use their expertise to provide all of our patients:

  • Timely and even same-day appointments – Your appointments will always start on time, even if you book on the same day, because we respect the value of your time.
  • 30 minutes of consultation time – No more rushed visits. You’ll receive a full explanation of your concern, and you can ask any questions you might have about it while consulting with our doctors.
  • Five-star rated physicians – Our doctors give their patients the attention and information they need, in a way they can digest. No wonder so many of our doctors receive glowing feedback!

Take control of your health with convenient, effective, and expert medical advice at your side. Contact us today. 

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