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Alternative names: Liver spot, old age spot, senile freckle, sun spots (singular: lentigo)
The word lentigo simply describes a patch of skin that contains a greater density of cells called melanocytes which produce a dark pigment called melanin. There are many different types of lentigo, but the commonest are caused by the sun – solar lentigos. These are non-cancerous brown spots which are thought to develop in response to sun-exposure, especially in those with fairer skin. They can appear anywhere but tend to form on the face, neck, shoulders and forearms. Unlike freckles they usually appear after the age of 30.
The main difference between a freckle and a solar lentigo is that in a freckle only the amount of pigment being produced by melanocytes is increased, rather than the actual number of cells.
Solar lentigos are flat spots which vary in colour from yellow-brown to dark brown-black, depending on skin tone. They are generally much larger than freckles being >5mm in width. The number and size of solar lentigos often increases with age, and in comparison to freckles, they do not fade much during the winter months.
Though freckles and solar lentigos are harmless, it is important to recognise certain differences between these and early malignant melanoma (a type of skin cancer). If a brown spot with an irregular border or multiple colours has appeared recently, or if you have any doubts, please seek medical advice immediately.
Though freckles and solar lentigines may be mistaken for malignant melanoma, they do not themselves turn into cancer, and thus are benign. However, some people find them cosmetically unappealing, especially on the face.
Adopting good sun-protection habits is the best way to prevent freckles and solar lentigines from developing or worsening. Cover up, especially between peak times from 11-4pm during hot days and wear sunscreen on exposed sites. However, for those that have already formed, there are treatments available to reduce their appearance.
Briefly these include:
The aesthetic outcome of these therapies varies from person-to-person, but in experienced hands results can be impressive.
Our Specialist Dermatologists at the Harley Street Dermatology Clinic can offer effective treatment for all types of sun damage including solar lentigos.
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