Dark spots on the skin: Causes and how to treat them
Dark spots on the skin, or hyperpigmentation, occur when some areas of the skin produce more melanin than usual. Melanin gives the eyes, skin, and hair their color.
Dark spots on the skin are not a cause for concern and do not need treatment, though people may choose to remove them for cosmetic reasons. Depending on the cause, people may call some types of dark spots on the skin age spots or sunspots.
In this article, we look at what causes dark spots on the skin and how people can remove them using dermatological treatments and home remedies.
In people with darker skin, a spot that is a few shades darker than the skin usually fades away within 6 to 12 months. Deeper coloration can take years to fade. Deep color changes often appear blue or gray, though a spot may also be a much darker brown than a person’s natural skin color.
- back of the hands
Dark spots are common in the following areas:
Dark spots also vary in size and can develop on any part of the body but are most common in areas often exposed to the sun.
Dark spots on the skin can range from light brown to dark brown. The color of dark spots may depend on the tone of a person’s skin. The spots are the same texture as the skin and are not painful.
There are several different causes of dark spots, as we describe here:
Also called sunspots, solar lentigines, or liver spots, people can develop dark spots on their skin after being exposed to the sun or tanning beds.
Areas of the body that receive the most sun exposure, such as the face, hands, or arms, are most likely to develop sun spots.
Melasma is a skin condition that leads to small patches of skin discoloration. The condition is more common in women, especially during pregnancy.
Medication side effects
Certain medications can increase skin pigmentation and lead to dark spots. The most common culprits are non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), tetracyclines, and psychotropic drugs.
Dark spots can develop after a bout of inflammation on the skin. Inflammation may occur for various reasons that include eczema, psoriasis, injury to the skin, and acne.
Dark spots may remain after an insect bite, burn, or cut heals. These may fade with time.
Cosmetic skin or hair products can irritate the skin, causing dark patches to form.
Diabetes can cause areas of the skin to become darker.
Conditions associated with diabetes include acanthosis nigricans, which causes darkened, velvety skin, and shin spots or diabetic dermopathy, which people may confuse with age spots.
Dark spots on the skin do not require treatment, but some people may want to remove the spots for cosmetic reasons.
A dermatologist can offer creams or procedures to lighten dark spots, or in some cases, remove them. Procedures are more expensive than creams and are more likely to cause side effects, though they tend to work faster.
The best treatment option may depend on the cause, the size of the dark spot, and the area of the body.
A dermatologist may recommend one of the following treatments for dark spots on the skin:
Different types of lasers are available. The most common laser to treat dark spots on the skin uses an intense pulse light laser. The light targets melanin and breaks up the dark spots.
During microdermabrasion, a dermatologist uses a special device that has an abrasive surface to remove the outer layer of the skin. This treatment promotes new collagen growth, which may help reduce spots.
A chemical peel involves applying a solution to the skin, which exfoliates the surface, leading to new skin growth. It may gradually fade dark spots on the skin.
Cryotherapy is a procedure that involves applying liquid nitrogen to the dark patches to freeze them, which injures the skin cells. The skin often heals lighter afterward.
Prescription skin-lightening cream
Prescription-lightening cream works by bleaching the skin. It typically works gradually and takes several months to decrease the appearance of dark spots.
Hydroquinone, which is the active ingredient in the creams, prevents the skin from producing melanin. Prescription products tend to have a strength of 3–4 percent.
In addition to dermatological procedures and prescription medications, people may find that some home remedies might fade dark spots on the skin, as the following sections discuss.
Over-the-counter skin creams to lighten skin are not as strong as prescription medications, but they may also work.
Creams and serums contain various ingredients, including retinol or alpha hydroxy acid, which may speed up the exfoliation of the skin and promote new skin growth.
When looking for a skin-lightening cream, always choose one recommended by a dermatologist, as some products can be harmful.
Products with certain natural ingredients may help treat dark spots on the skin.
Researchers published a systematic review of clinical studies that used natural products to treat dark spots on the skin. They looked at several ingredients including niacinamide (a form of vitamin B-3), soy, licorice extracts, and mulberry.
Although studies were limited, the researchers said that these natural treatments showed promise in lightening hyperpigmentation.
Although cosmetics do not lighten dark spots, they might cover them up. People can consider using a cream-based concealer to decrease the appearance of spots.
Home remedies to avoid
People may wish to keep in mind that many of the home remedies that webpages recommend may have side effects or no evidence of effectiveness. Examples include lemon and apple cider vinegar. No studies back the claims that these treatments work.
The effectiveness of treatment may depend on the cause of the dark spots and their extent. Dark spots on the skin may not completely fade. It may take a while to see a difference, but treatment often lightens the spots.