Age spots and moles are two distinct irregularities that can appear on the surface of your skin. Age spots typically appear as a result of sun exposure and advancing age. Moles may be present at birth or appear later in your life. Although both types of irregularity typically pose no health risks, certain types of moles may present an increased risk for the development of skin cancer.
Age spots, also called liver spots, most frequently occur in areas of your body that have gotten significant sun exposure--including your forearms, face, shoulders, forehead and the backs of your hands, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine’s Medline Plus. They typically appear as painless, flat patches of skin that vary in color from light brown to black. Age spots commonly occur in people older than 40. In some cases, you may develop age spots for unknown causes not related to age or sun exposure.
Moles commonly occur throughout the population, according to the Merck Manuals Online Medical Library. They can range in size from tiny dots to areas in excess of an inch in diameter. Depending on individual circumstances, you may have moles that are raised or flat, hairy or hairless and rough or smooth. Typical colors for moles include brown or dark brown, but you may also have moles that range from light yellow to flesh-colored. In most cases, moles appear on your skin during childhood or adolescence, but they may also appear at birth or later in life.
Age Spot Effects
Despite their common nickname, age spots don’t have any link to the status of your liver function, Medline Plus says. Although they cause permanent changes in the appearance of your skin, they don't typically indicate the presence of any health problems. In some cases, an age spot may develop irregular borders similar to those found in skin cancer. If you have a spot of this type, your doctor can test it to determine its true composition. The presence of normal age spots may also sometimes obscure the presence of skin cancer cells, Medline Plus says.
Moles are not cancerous and they typically don't hurt or itch, the Merck Manuals says. However, cancerous changes can occur within mole tissue. Potential signs of these changes include itching, inflammation, darkening or other color changes, pain, bleeding and mole enlargement with or without the development of irregular borders. As a rule, you should monitor your moles and report suspicious changes to your doctor. Moles that are present from birth have a greater chance of developing cancerous changes, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. You also have an increased skin cancer risk if you have more than 50 to 100 moles that appear at any point after birth.
You can decrease your risks for developing age spots or cancerous moles by protecting your skin from sun exposure, Medline Plus and the Merck Manuals say. Options for protection include using high-SPF sunscreen, avoidance of midday sunlight and wearing clothing that reduces sun exposure.