Dark spots on the skin: What you should know

When some areas of the skin produce more melanin than usual, dark spots on the skin, or hyperpigmentation, occur. The eyes, skin , and hair are given their color by Melanin.

Dark spots on the skin are not a cause for concern and do not require treatment, although, for cosmetic purposes, people may want to remove them. People may call certain forms of dark spots on the skin age spots or sunspots, depending on the cause.

We look at what causes dark spots on the skin in this article and how individuals may use dermatological procedures and home remedies to prevent them.

Symptoms

Dark spots are common on the face, shoulders, and back of the hands.
Dark spots are common on the face, shoulders, and back of the hands.

Dark spots can vary from light brown to dark brown on the skin. The color of dark spots may be based on the skin tone of an individual. The spots are of the same texture and are not painful as the skin.

Dark spots also differ in size and can develop on any part of the body, but are most prevalent in areas that are often exposed to the sun.

In the following areas, dark spots are common:

  • back of the hands
  • face
  • back
  • shoulders

In individuals with darker skin, within 6 to 12 months, a spot that is a few shades darker than the skin normally fades away. It can take years for deeper colouration to fade. Deep changes in color often appear to be blue or gray, although a spot may also be a much darker brown than the natural skin color of a person.

Causes

As we explain here, there are several common causes of dark spots:

Sun damage

After being exposed to the sun or tanning beds, individuals may develop dark spots on their skin, also called sunspots, solar lentigines, or liver spots.

Areas of the body that receive the most sun exposure are most likely to develop sun spots, such as the face , hands, or arms.

Hormonal changes

Melasma is a skin condition that leads to small skin discoloration spots. The condition, particularly during pregnancy, is more common in women.

Hormones may activate melasma, according to the American Academy of Dermatology.

Medication side effects

Certain drugs can increase the pigmentation of the skin and lead to dark spots. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), tetracyclines and psychotropic drugs are the most common culprits.

Inflammation

Dark spots can develop after a bout of inflammation on the skin. Inflammation can occur for different reasons, including eczema , psoriasis, skin damage, and acne.

Wound healing

After an insect’s bite, burn, or cut heals, dark spots may remain. With time, these may fade.

Irritation

Cosmetic skin or hair products can irritate the skin, causing the formation of dark patches.

Diabetes

Diabetes may cause darker areas of the skin.

Acanthosis nigricans, which causes darkened, velvety skin, and shin spots or diabetic dermopathy, are diabetes-related conditions that people can associate with age spots.

How to remove dark spots

Laser treatment can remove dark spots on the skin.
Laser treatment can remove dark spots on the skin.

Dark spots on the skin need no treatment, but for cosmetic reasons, certain individuals may choose to remove the spots.

A dermatologist may prescribe or, in some cases, remove creams or procedures to lighten dark spots. Procedures are more costly and are more likely to cause side effects than creams, but they appear to work quicker.

The best choice for treatment can depend on the cause, the size of the dark spot, and the body area.

For dark spots on the skin, a dermatologist might prescribe one of the following treatments:

Laser treatment

There are various types of lasers available. An intense pulse-light laser is the most common laser to treat dark spots on the skin. The light is targeting melanin and the dark spots are breaking up.

Microdermabrasion

A dermatologist uses a special apparatus that has an abrasive surface to scrape the outer layer of the skin during microdermabrasion. This therapy promotes new growth of collagen, which may help to reduce spots.

Chemical peels

A chemical peel involves applying a skin solution that exfoliates the surface, resulting in new growth of the skin. Dark spots on the skin can gradually fade.

Cryotherapy

Cryotherapy is a process in which liquid nitrogen is added to the dark patches to freeze them, injuring the skin cells. Sometimes, the skin recovers lighter afterwards.

Skin-lightening cream prescription
By bleaching the skin, the prescription-lightening cream works. It normally operates steadily and takes several months for the presence of dark spots to decrease.

The active ingredient in the creams, hydroquinone, prevents the skin from developing melanin. Prescription drugs tend to have 3-4 percent strength.

Home remedies

In addition to dermatological procedures and prescription drugs, as discussed in the following pages, individuals can find that certain home remedies may fade dark spots on the skin.

Over-the-counter creams

Over-the-counter skin creams are not as effective as prescription drugs for lightening the skin, but they can also function.

There are various ingredients in creams and serums, including retinol or alpha hydroxy acid, which can speed up skin exfoliation and promote new skin development.

Always select one approved by a dermatologist if you are looking for a skin-lightening cream, as certain products can be harmful.

Natural remedies

Products containing certain natural ingredients can help the skin to treat dark spots.

A systematic review of clinical trials that used natural products to treat dark spots on the skin was conducted by researchers. Several ingredients were studied, including niacinamide (a vitamin B-3 form), soy, licorice extracts, and mulberry.

The researchers said that these natural treatments showed promise in lightening hyperpigmentation, although studies were limited.

Results of a small-scale 2017 study indicate that applying an aloe vera gel to the skin may help reduce melasma after 5 weeks during pregnancy.

Cosmetics

Although cosmetics do not lighten dark spots, they might cover them up. To reduce the appearance of spots, people may start using a cream-based concealer.

Home remedies to avoid

People will want to bear in mind that there may be side effects or no proof of efficacy for many of the home remedies that web pages suggest. Lemon and apple cider vinegar are examples. The claims that these treatments work are not backed up by studies.

Unproven treatments may worsen the skin in some instances. The American Society for Dermatological Surgery, for instance, does not recommend lemon juice or abrasive scrubbing, as these strategies could make dark spots worse.

Some products with skin lightening can do more harm than good. Many contain ingredients, such as mercury or steroids, that may affect the skin or overall health. Over time, applying them may cause pimples, rashes, and fragile skin.

Diagnosis

Wood’s lamp skin exam
A doctor or dermatologist may use a Wood’s lamp skin exam to diagnose dark spots on the skin.

By observing them and having a medical history, a doctor or dermatologist will also find out the cause of dark spots on the skin.

The healthcare professional may conduct a Wood’s lamp skin test during a physical exam, where they view the spots through a special device that emits black light.

In certain cases, unique features of a spot can need further testing to make sure that the spot is not caused by skin cancer.

Risk factors

Dark spots on the skin may be created by anyone. Some risk factors seem to improve a person’s chances, including:

  • sun exposure
  • pregnancy
  • skin conditions, such as acne, eczema, or psoriasis
  • trauma or injury to the skin
  • medications that increase pigmentation
  • liver disease
  • diabetes

Prevention

Dark spots on the skin may not always be possible to prevent them from forming. For instance, hormonal changes that can lead to melasma during pregnancy are not preventable.

However, there are a few measures that individuals can do to minimize the chances of dark spots and keep them from becoming darker:

  • Use a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 every day, even when the sun is not bright.
  • Wear a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses to protect the skin further.
  • Treat skin conditions, such as acne, which may lead to inflammation.
  • Avoid the sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. when it tends to be strongest.

When to see a doctor

Dark spots on the skin are not harmful in most cases. But in some cases, the difference between a dark spot and other changes in the skin, such as melanoma, which is a form of skin cancer, may be difficult to say.

To find out more, people who are uncertain what a dark spot is or have not been able to get rid of it should see a doctor.

If there is some dark spot on the skin, it is important to speak with a doctor:

  • appears suddenly
  • itches
  • tingles
  • bleeds
  • changes color or size

Found out more about how to identify melanom.

Outlook

A variety of causes may be dark spots on the skin, or hyperpigmentation. Normally, they are harmless and do not need treatment. They can try a range of treatments if a person wants to get rid of dark spots, including working with a dermatologist for cosmetic procedures or using over-the-counter products.

Treatment efficacy may depend on the cause and extent of the dark spots. Black spots on the skin do not fade out entirely. Seeing a difference may take a while, but treatment often lightens the spots.

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