Are Liver Spots Dangerous?

I have recently noticed ” liver spots” on my face. They’re not very pretty, but I didn’t worry until I read that these spots are a sign of a brown slime called lipofuscin that coats the neurons of the brain and causes dementia/Alzheimer’s Disease. Is this true? Can I prevent this?

– December 2, 2006

First of all “liver spots” have nothing to do with the liver. They’re simply age spots known medically as lentigines. While it is true that liver spots are localized concentrations of the brown pigment called lipofuscin and that lipofuscin accumulates throughout the body, there’s simply no evidence to support the notion that the proliferation of this pigment causes age-related dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, or any other disorder.

Unfortunately, liver spots are among the inevitable changes skin undergoes as it ages. They’re caused by years of sun exposure and usually show up on the parts of the body that sunlight is most likely to hit: the face, hands, back and feet. Although liver spots are generally harmless, there is a danger that they can give rise to melanoma, the most dangerous type of skin cancer. Be sure to have a dermatologist check any spots that are large and irregular.

If you don’t want to live with your liver spots, you can treat them with Retin-A (available with a prescription) or have them lasered away. Don’t bother with commercial “fade creams” – they won’t help.

The best thing you can do for the health and appearance of your skin is to shield it from the sun – starting when you’re young. Wear protective clothing and/or sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher that blocks both UVA and UVB rays. It’s also a good idea to avoid perfumes and aftershave lotions before sun exposure because they can increase the skin’s sensitivity to sunlight. And of course take your antioxidant vitamins daily – 250 mgs of vitamin C once a day, for vitamin E take 400-800 IU of natural mixed tocopherols, or at least 80 mg of natural mixed tocopherols and tocotrienols, and 25,000 IUs of mixed carotenes as well as 200-300 micrograms of selenium.

Andrew Weil, M.D.

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