The cause of brown skin spots is when the upper layer of the skin
(epidermis) has a basal layer, which
contains pigment cells containing melanin that gives color to the skin.
Brown spots are often harmless discolorations or hyperpigmentation
that can appear on different parts of the body but more commonly in
areas exposed to the sun."
Melanocytes or pigment cells are irregularly distributed throughout the skin. Exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays accelerates the production of brown pigment or melanin, which creates a tan that helps protect the skin from harmful UV rays. Some areas of the skin, however, are more likely to be subject to prolonged sun exposure, causing the pigment cells to produce more melanin, resulting in brown skin spots. Many pigment cells may be clumped and they may appear to produce pigments in high concentration, leading to the appearance of brown spots.
Darkening of the skin resulting from post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation occurs after an area of the skin heals from an injury or recovers from a skin disorder.
The diagnosis for brown spots is easily made by a physician upon taking a medical history and a physical examination. Laboratory tests such as blood tests or skin biopsy may be done if the brown spots are irregularly shaped or multi-colored, to rule out suspicious lesions like cancer.
Brown spots due to aging are often seen in fair-skinned individuals, but they can also appear in people with dark skin. These brown spots may appear as freckles but they may become bigger or group together, making the brown spots appear bigger in size. There are no significant symptoms such as pain, itching, or discomfort associated with age spots. These spots commonly appear after the age of 40 (or earlier) in exposed body parts such as the face, forehead, back of the hands, forearms, and shoulders.
Post-inflammatory changes in skin color causes brown spots to appear after a traumatic injury such as acne, which leaves a light to dark brown discoloration on the face or the trunk. Skin changes due to burns, cuts, scrapes, orinsect bitesoften affect the arms and legs.
Dark patches associated with pregnancy,other hormonal changes or drug intake may disappear after the delivery of the baby or after drugs are discontinued. No other symptoms are experienced.
Most brown skin spots are harmless but if the dark spot is irregular in shape, size, and color, rapidly changing and accompanied by bleeding, one must consider skin cancer such as melanoma.
Brown skin spots that arise from prolonged exposure to the sun, hormonal changes, or post-inflammatory changes do not need treatment especially if they are not accompanied by other symptoms. However, many people seek treatment for cosmetic reasons to improve their appearance such as the use of Olay Correcting Spot Treatment.
In cases of skin cancer, the underlying disease must be treated to protect the individual’s health. Brown skin spots caused by excessive sun exposure, aging,or post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation may be treated using over-the-counter creams and lotions to lighten the spots. Cosmetic products may also be used to hide them, including skin-bleaching products that may contain tretinoin, hydroquinone, or kojic acid. Prescription strength skin lightening products that contain retinoic acid (a vitamin A derivative) and steroids may also be recommended by dermatologists.
Exfoliating products, which contain glycolic acid, papaya extract, or salicylic acid, are also available as OTC treatments. Skin brightening compounds and bleaching lotions withhydroquinone, licorice extract, and bearberry also work with fruit acids to lighten dark spots, including the product NIA 24.
Other treatment methods to reduce brown spots and improve skin appearance include phototherapy, microdermabrasion, chemical peeling, and laser treatment.