Dark Spots: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatments

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dark spots

Dark spots on the skin happen when the skin makes too much color called melanin. Melanin is what gives color to our eyes, skin, and hair.

Some folks might call these dark spots, age spots, or hyperpigmentation, and they can be different sizes and amounts for each person.

This article talks about why dark spots & hyperpigmentation happen, ways to get rid of them with help from a skin doctor, or things you can do at home, and how to stop them from coming back.

Symptoms

Dark spots on the skin can have different colors, like light, dark brown, or gray-brown. The color might depend on a person’s skin tone and what caused the spots.

These spots can be big or small and show up anywhere on the body. Age spots, one reason for dark spots, are often seen on areas that get a lot of sun, like the back of the hands, face (especially the forehead, upper lip, and chin), back, and shoulders.

But sometimes, dark spots from something like inflammation are more common on the cheeks. A doctor can figure out why someone has dark spots, no matter where they are.

For people with darker skin, dark spots usually go away in 6–12 months if you remove what’s causing them. But if the color is deeper, it might take years to fade. These deeper spots might look blue or gray, or they could be much darker than a person’s normal skin color.

Causes 

Diabetes

Diabetes can make some areas of the skin darker. Along with diabetes, there are skin problems that might happen:

  • Diabetic dermopathy (shin spots) This makes brown or red patches or lines on the shins.
  • Acanthosis nigricans This can cause dark, velvety patches on the skin.
  • Necrobiosis lipoidica This can make raised bumps that might be yellow, red, or brown. Eventually, these bumps can get hard and swollen.
  • Eruptive xanthomatosis This can lead to itchy or tender bumps that may be reddish-yellow. They can show up on the back of the hands, buttocks, feet, legs, and arms.

Skin cancer

Sometimes, a new dark spot on the skin might indicate cancer. Signs that a dark spot could be melanoma (a type of skin cancer) include:

  • It’s not the same on both sides.
  • Borders that are uneven, blurry, or not smooth.
  • Colors that don’t look the same all over the spot.
  • The spot is bigger than a quarter of an inch.
  • The spot changes in color or size.

Sun damage

Dark spots on the skin, also known as sunspots, solar lentigines, or liver spots, can appear when people spend time in the sun or use tanning beds.

The parts of the body that get the most sun, like the face, hands, or arms, are more likely to have these sunspots.

Hormonal changes

Melasma is a skin problem that causes small patches of skin to change color. It happens more often in women and pregnant people, usually during their reproductive years.

Medication side effects

Some medicines can make the skin darker and cause dark spots. Examples include:

  • Anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen
  • Chemotherapy drugs
  • Medicines for malaria
  • Medicines for seizures

Treatment of dark spots

Dark spots on the skin usually don’t need treatment, but some people might want to get rid of them for how they look.

A skin doctor called a dermatologist, can suggest creams or procedures to lighten or remove dark spots. Procedures cost more than creams and might have more side effects, but they often work faster.

The best choice for treatment depends on why the spot is there, how big it is, and where on the body it is.

Here are some treatments a dermatologist might suggest, but not all of them work for every kind of dark spot.

Chemical peels

A chemical peel is when a solution is put on the skin to remove the top layer. This helps new skin to grow, and it makes dark spots on the skin less noticeable.

Cryotherapy

Cryotherapy is a treatment where they use cold liquid nitrogen on dark spots to freeze them. This hurts the skin cells, but when the skin heals, it might look more even.

Microdermabrasion

In microdermabrasion, a skin doctor uses a special device with a rough surface to remove the skin’s top layer. This helps the skin make new collagen and might lessen spots.

Prescription skin-lightening cream

Prescription-lightening creams lighten the skin by using a bleaching ingredient called hydroquinone. These creams might also have steroids or retinoids. It takes a few months to make dark spots look less noticeable.

Hydroquinone stops the skin from making melanin, the pigment that gives color to the skin. Prescription creams usually have up to 4% strength, and some might have a higher percentage.

Home remedies for removing dark spots 

Besides going to the skin doctor and using special medicines, you might also try these home tricks to make dark spots on your skin less noticeable.

Natural remedies

Natural ingredients in certain products might help with dark spots on your skin. In 2018, a review of studies found that things like vitamin B-3 (called niacinamide), soy, licorice extracts, and mulberry have the potential to make dark spots lighter.

A small study in 2017 found that a special aloe vera gel improved skin pigmentation by 32% in pregnant women with dark spots after 5 weeks. Even the regular aloe vera group saw a 10% improvement.

Over-the-counter creams

You can buy creams without a prescription to make your skin lighter. They might not be as strong as the ones the doctor gives you, but they could still help.

These creams have things like azelaic acid, retinol, or alpha hydroxy acid that can help remove old skin and make new skin grow.

It’s important to talk to a doctor or healthcare professional before using these creams, as some of them might not be safe for everyone.

Home remedies are not used in dark spots 

It’s important to know that some of the things suggested on websites to treat dark spots might not be safe or proven to work. For example, using lemon or apple cider vinegar can have side effects, and there’s no evidence showing they help.

Be careful, because some treatments might make your skin worse. The American Society for Dermatological Surgery says things like lemon juice or rough scrubs can make dark spots more noticeable.

Some skin-lightening products can be harmful. They might have things like mercury, which is bad for your body. It can hurt your immune system, digestive system, nervous system, lungs, kidneys, skin, and eyes. And definitely, never put liquid bleach on your skin.

An overview

Dark spots on the skin, also known as hyperpigmentation, can happen for different reasons. Usually, they’re harmless, and you don’t have to do anything about them.

But if you want to make them go away, you can try different things. You might go to a skin doctor for fancy treatments, or you can use creams you buy without a prescription.

How well these treatments work can depend on why you have the dark spots and how many you have. The spots might not completely go away, but with treatment, they might get lighter over time. It could take a while to see a change, but the treatments often help.

UV light speeds up the production of melanin, which gives skin its color. Age spots are caused by overactive pigment cells. 

A cotton ball, a lemon, and some water are required. In a mixing bowl, combine the lemon and water and apply immediately to the dark patches on your face and hands. Rinse with water after about 20 minutes, and do not use soap.

Aloe vera is the best dark spot remover. Aloe Vera removes acne scars, acne marks, etc.

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