Everybody wants clear, flawless skin but one of the major culprits standing in the way of a perfect complexion is dark spots. Whether you call them sun spots, age spots, liver spots or hyperpigmentation, what they all have in come is that they tend to be unwelcomed. Not only do they show they up on the face but they are also on the backs of hands, chest, shoulders and décolletage – in other words, places that get the most sun exposure. But brown spots can also show up on the legs, back and arms. Here’s a look at what causes dark spots, how to prevent them, and also how to treat them.
What Are Those Brown Patches on Skin?
Dark spots and brown patches on the skin are caused by too much melanin and anyone can develop it. Melanin overdrive can be triggered by many different things, but some of the most common culprits are sun exposure and age as well as fluctuating hormones. That’s why many pregnant women develop dark spots on the face, which is sometimes called “the mask of pregnancy” or melasma. Irritating the skin through harsh exfoliation or waxing can also trigger dark spots. They can also be chalked up to scarring from previous acne flare ups (which is another reason not to pop pimples). A true dark spot is brown or tan and flat. If it is raised, it could be an acne scar.
Can Brown Spots Appear on Skin Overnight?
Although it may seem that dark spots show up overnight, it isn’t really the case. A brown spot can be caused by years of accumulated sun exposure. If the brown patch isn’t a sun spot or age spot, it could be a mole or a freckle. If anything looks unusual and seems to suddenly show up on the skin, or if there is concern it could be melanoma (skin cancer), have the spot examined by a medical professional.
Does Sun Damage on the Face Lead to Brown Spots?
Over exposure to the sun and damaging UV rays can show up on the face and body in a variety of ways. The most serious consequence is melanoma. UV lights also contribute to the signs of aging on the skin. That’s because UV rays can breakdown collagen, which is the support structure of the skin, which leads to wrinkles and fine lines. UV light accelerates the production of melanin which leads to freckles, and clumps of freckles become dark spots.
What About Brown Spots on Hands and Legs?
Brown spots on the back of hands are very common, as the skin there is thin and often exposed to the sun. Even if you wear sunscreen on your face every single day, most people forget to put anything on their hands. Brown spots can show up anywhere on the body including the legs. This could be chalked up to frequent, prolonged sun exposure as well as hair removal techniques such as waxing. Eczema and psoriosis can also leave behind hyperpigmentation after a flare up.
Can Brown Spots Appear on the Back and Arms?
Absolutely, as brown spots can appear anywhere on the body. Arms are frequently in the sun, and it is easy to miss areas on your back with sunscreen. Anything on your back is harder to monitor, so if in doubt whether your dark spot is a freckle, mole, an age spot or if it looks suspicious (such as an irregular or blurry shape), see a medical professional.
How Can Brown Spots Be Prevented?
The number one way to prevent dark spots from appearing is to limit your exposure to the sun, and use sunscreen every single day. This will not only help prevent new dark spots, but help existing dark spots from getting even darker. Use a physical sun blocker that contains zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, and for an added dose of protection brush a mineral powder sunblock on your face every day (keep one in your car for touch ups or impromptu visits to the park). One easy way to always make sure your skin is protected is to use a face cream with a high SPF. But don’t neglect the rest of your body, such as legs, hands and arms. Cover up with clothing such as sunscreen gloves and long pants, even on a hot day.
Since dark spots can be caused by inflammation, resist the urge to pop a pimple as it can cause scarring and dark spots. Don’t touch it but help it dry out with a spot treatment such as a pimple patch or Formulyst Blemish Clearing Complex, which contains a whole cocktail of bacteria fighting, pimple drying products including zinc oxide, salicylic acid, and camphor. It also helps to unclog pores.
What Are Some of the Best Treatments for Dark Spots?
There are plenty of options to help fade dark spots on the face and body. This includes patches, creams and serums as well as more intense treatments such as lasers and peels. One thing to keep in mind is that for many of the products, repeated and sustained use is necessary for it work. To keep dark spots at bay, a multi-prong approach is necessary, which involves a mix of prevention and treatment through exfoliation and targeted products.
Here’s a breakdown.
Natural Lighteners for Dark Spots
Ingredients such as kojic acid (a chemical produced from different types of fungi), licorice root, mulberry extract and green tea all help fade dark spots by inhibiting the enzyme tyrosinase, which is necessary for the production of melanin within the skin. Without the enzyme, melanin cannot be produced. Ellagic acid, a compound that can be found in some vegetables, nuts and fruits, also works to lighten dark spots. It is a natural antioxidant containing polyphenolic, which helps inhibits the formation of sun and age spots.
Hydroquinone is a highly effective ingredient for fading dark spots as it basically bleaches the skin. It also works by blocking the melanin-producing enzyme tyrosinase. It is available in over the counter products as well as by prescription. Most over the counter products contain up to 2% hydroquinone, such as Murad Rapid Age Spot.
However, hydroquinone is a controversial ingredient that has been banned in Europe, Australia and Japan due to concerns that it may be a carcinogen. Long term use can cause increased pigmentation and darkening of the skin, which can be permanent. Anyone using prescription strength hydroquinone is closely monitored by a doctor, while some dermatologists simply won’t prescribe it as they feel the risks outweigh the benefits.
Retinol, a vitamin A derivative, helps soften the look of fine lines and also works fade dark spots and skin discoloration. It works by encouraging skin cell turnover, to reveal fresher and smoother looking skin.
The antioxidant vitamin C is a skin brightener which is often used to give the face an extra bit of glow. It also helps to fade discoloration and hyperpigmentation. Vitamin C can be found in serums, moisturizers and cleansers.
Exfoliation is a key part of any skin care routines, as it gets rid of old skin cells which can make the face look dry, dull and flaky – not to mention clog pores. It also helps with hyperpigmentation, as it boosts radiance. A chemical exfoliation with an AHA (alpha hydroxy acid) or BHA (beta hydroxy acid) is more gentle to the skin a physical, chunky scrub. Look for ingredients such as glycolic acid, salicylic acid or lactic acid. A doctor or medical professional can perform a deeper exfoliation with a chemical peel.
Cryotherapy for Age Spots on the Hands
Age spots on the hands can be treated in a doctor’s office with cryotherapy. Cryotherapy, or cryosurgery, works to fade dark spots by freezing them with a liquid nitrogen solution. This causes the dark skin to peel off. Every procedure carries risk, and some possible side effects include over lightening of the skin and permanent white scars, according to the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery (ASDS).
Laser for Brown Spot Removal
Lasers work on dark spots in different ways. With laser resurfacing, beams of light remove layers of skin to get rid of hyperpigmentation, and new skin grows in in its place. Healing takes around 10 to 21 days. With IPL (intense pulsed light) laser, the laser beam targets melanin, and breaking up the pigment which eliminates dark spots. Multiple sessions at a dermatologist’s office are usually needed to see results.
What Are Some of the Best Products for Brown Spots?
Arbutin is also a common alternative to hydroquinone, and can be made in a lab or derived from the bearberry plant. It is the star ingredient in Formulyst’s Luminous Skin Serum, which tackles skin discoloration and hyperpigmentation. The serum is powered by Triple Brightening Technology, a powerful blend of naturally derived alpha arbutin, rumex extract (a plant that helps stop the production of melanin) and a biomimetic peptide. The serum leaves skin looking lighter, brighter and more luminous.
You can also spot treat troublesome areas with Formulyst Dark Spot Solutions. It’s powered by HyWhite, which is derived from alpha linolenic acid, an omega-3 fatty acid found in plants. It works to minimize the appearance of dark spots while also hydrating the skin thanks to hyaluronic acid.
Vitamin C is also an important skin brightener, and can be found in products such as Formulyst Active Serum, which is loaded with good for you ingredients, such as nourishing vitamins B and E. Rounding out the all-star list are ferulic acid and niacinamide. The antioxidant ferulic acid fights free radical damage and helps stabilize vitamins C and E, boosting their potency.