Maybe you’ve had freckles since you were a kid or maybe you’ve just started to see dark spots on your skin as you got older. Whatever your situation, dark spots can leave you feeling a little self-conscious. The good news is that dark spots are usually not detrimental to your health, but we completely understand if you want to diminish the appearance of dark spots on your skin. U.S. Dermatology Partners Board-Certified Dermatologist, Dr. Lisa Pruett, from U.S. Dermatology Partners Carrollton, formerly Trinity Dermatology in Carrollton, Texas, says, “The first step is to get an accurate diagnosis. Dark spots occur for many different reasons, and an effective treatment for one type of dark spot can darken or increase the size of another type.” In this blog, we will look at some of the different types of dark spots, their causes, and treatment options.
What are Dark Spots?
Dark spots on the skin, also called hyperpigmentation, are usually harmless, but they cause areas of your skin to be darker than your healthy, natural skin tone. These spots can vary in size and shade. They can develop on any area of the skin, but dark spots most often appear in areas that are exposed to the sun. Most dark spots are completely benign and are not a cause for concern. Dark spots can affect people of all skin tones, but those with naturally darker skin tones may notice spots that appear dark gray or blue in color.
What Causes Dark Spots?
It is important to understand the cause of your dark spots prior to starting treatment. Do ensure you have a clear understanding, you should call to schedule a dermatology appointment before you attempt any treatments at home. There are three main types of dark spots: general skin discoloration, age spots, and melasma.
General skin discoloration usually occurs due to damage from the outside like sunburns, injuries, or certain medications. However, acne, skin irritation and inflammation, certain medications, diabetes, and other health conditions can also lead to dark spots on the skin.
Age spots, sometimes called liver spots, are actually a specific type of freckle called solar lentigines and are better-termed “sun spots.” Like freckles that develop on the skin of young people, sun spots also occur due to sun exposure. Thus, you will usually see sun spots on the face, hands, neck, and other areas that receive repeated or extended sun exposure. They typically appear later in life as a result of cumulative years of damage from the sun’s UVA/UVB rays.
Melasma and chloasma spots are much larger areas that have darkened coloration, and these conditions are actually caused by hormonal fluctuations, such as during pregnancy. In fact, it’s so common in expectant mothers that there’s a name for it – the mask of pregnancy. Melasma may also occur in women who take birth control pills and others who experience spikes or significant drops in hormone levels.
Treatment for Dark Spots
According to Dr. Pruett, “Before I recommend any treatment for dark spots, I want to conduct a full skin exam and evaluation to ensure I’m offering the right solutions. Pinpointing the underlying cause of dark spots is essential in treatment planning for these concerns. In addition to making sure you have the right treatment for your type of dark spot, these exams also ensure we rule out more serious concerns like skin cancer before we begin treatment.” For these reasons, every treatment plan for dark spots should start with a trip to your dermatologist for a consultation to discuss your condition and possible treatments.
General skin discoloration may be the trickiest to treat since no individual treatment is effective for all types of discoloration. Some of the common solutions we recommend include:
- Topical creams with bleaching agents and/or hydroquinone which prevents the skin from producing melanin. This is a good option for freckles and other dark spots caused by too much melanin production.
- Laser therapy, often recommended for scarring, removes darkened skin cells using high-intensity pulses of light.
- Microdermabrasion or dermabrasion is used to remove the surface layers of skin, revealing healthy new skin below, which may be beneficial for surface-level skin damage and darkening caused by minor injuries.
- Chemical peels use chemicals to remove darkened skin cells, and they are often recommended for the same conditions that are treated with microdermabrasion.
- Cryotherapy uses very cold substances to freeze and remove the darkened skin cells and reduce the appearance of dark spots of all kinds.
Age spots can often resemble skin cancer as they are usually large, can grow quickly, may appear uneven in size, and have an irregular border. Even though there are numerous home remedies for age spots, the similarities to skin cancer make it especially important for you to visit your dermatologist before attempting at-home treatments. Some of the most common solutions for age spots include:
- Prescription creams that contain retinoids, cortisone, and/or hydroquinone
- Laser therapy
- Microdermabrasion and dermabrasion
- Chemical peels
While men can develop melasma, about 90% of those with melasma are women. To ensure the condition is melasma, we may need to run a number of tests before getting started. For melasma that occurs during pregnancy, the condition usually resolves itself after childbirth. If melasma is caused by birth control pills or other medications, a change in your prescription may take care of the darker areas of skin. If melasma does not resolve on its own, one of the following treatments may be used:
- Topical steroid creams, Lightening and brightening creams, and Retinoids
- Oral Antioxidants with Polypodium such as Heliocare
- Chemical peels
- Microdermabrasion and Dermabrasion
- And sometimes, oral treatment with Tranexamic Acid
Preventing Dark Spots
By far the most important element to preventing dark spots is protecting the skin from sun damage. Apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30 every day. Avoid the sun during peak hours from 10 am to 4 pm, and wear hats, gloves, and other protective gear to avoid unnecessary sun exposure, windburn, and other skin damage that can lead to dark spots. If you have a chronic skin condition like acne or psoriasis, make sure you treat these conditions appropriately to avoid unnecessary skin inflammation and damage.
Talk to Your Dermatologist
As we mentioned, dark spots can look a lot alike, but unfortunately, the treatment plan may be very different. In fact, there are cases where the wrong treatment can lead to more skin damage. Avoid these concerns by starting your treatment plan with a trip to U.S. Dermatology Partners. If you live in Carrollton, Texas, Dr. Pruett would be happy to schedule an appointment with you. If not, use our simple online request form to set up your first appointment at the U.S. Dermatology Partners location near your home.
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