Causes and Treatment of Dark Spots on Skin, Body and Face

" Repeated sun exposure is the usual cause of dark spots on skin, a condition that commonly appears in middle age. They usually make one look older and are therefore, taken as a sign of aging. However, there are other factors that cause skin discoloration or hyperpigmentation and one may need medical consultation to diagnose, treat them, and improve one’s appearance. " 


The most common cause of dark spots on skin is excessive sun exposure. Cumulative doses of ultraviolet radiation from the sun can result in skin damage and increased pigmentation.

actinic keratosis
Solar Keratosis or Actinic Keratosis is from cummulative sun exposure. It is a common condition that should be monitored by a dermatoligist in case any of the spots turns into a cancerous condition referred to as squamous cell carcinoma.
source: American Academy of Dermatology

Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation is another common factor that produces dark spots on the skin, and this may be brought about by acne, wrong shaving techniques, allergic reaction, or other traumatic injury that causes inflammation and subsequent overproduction of melanin, the brown pigment produced in the skin.

Dark spots on skin caused by sun exposure are called age spots, solar lentigo or liver spots. They can be seen on any area of the body that is not covered when outdoors. Skin spots begin to appear after age 30 and are thought to be an inherited condition. It is not dangerous, but should be checked if the spots become dark, change in appearance, or bleed as these could be signs of skin cancer. Treatment of these dark spots on skin is usually for cosmetic reasons. Sunscreens are thought to prevent the formation of additional skin spots.
Source: Meisenheimer Clinic

Other conditions that may cause dark spots to appear on the skin include pregnancy, Addison’s disease, melasma, and intake of certain drugs like birth control pills, estrogen, certain antibiotics, phenytoin, and others. These conditions can lead to the development of dark spots or patches, which may or may not go away without treatment. 

melasma dark skin spot

Dark spots caused by Melasma are only found in women that have been pregnant or women that are on birth control pills. The condition is the result of  over stimulated cells that produce skin pigment. The condition is not dangerous and can be lightened with approaches such as laser treatment and beta peels.
Source: Meisenheimer Clinic

A more serious condition that manifests as a dark spot on the skin is melanoma, a life threatening type of skin cancer.


The diagnosis of dark spots on skin usually depends on the medical history and physical findings upon consultation. Laboratory tests such as blood tests or skin biopsy may be done to rule out suspicious lesions like cancer.


Accompanying symptoms may vary depending on the cause of dark skin spots or patches. Dark spots that appear during middle age in exposed skin areas such as the face, hands, and arms are characteristic of age spots. These are more pronounced among fair-skinned individuals because of the contrast in color of the skin, but they also occur in dark-skinned people. No other symptoms are observed.

Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation causes darks spots on skin to appear after a traumatic injury such as acne heals and leaves a dark color on the skin.

Dark patches that occur during pregnancy or are associated with hormonal changes or drug intake usually disappear after the birth of the baby or after discontinuation of the drugs. No other symptoms are observed.

If the dark spot is irregular in shape, size, and color, rapidly changing and accompanied by bleeding, skin cancer such as melanoma must be considered.

If black spots appear asymmetrical and rapidly change in size, shape, and color, they may be symptomatic of melanoma. These spots may bleed, and the borders may become irregular.


The goal of treatment in most cases is to improve appearance such as Olay Age Spot Treatment, rather than cure an existing condition, except in cases of skin cancer, where the underlying disease must be treated.

Changes in skin color due to excessive sun exposure and aging may be treated using over-the-counter creams and lotions that lighten the dark spots such as Dermology or cosmetic products that hide them. These include skin-bleaching products that may contain hydroquinone, tretinoin, or kojic acid. Dermatologists may also recommend prescription strength skin lightening products that contain retinoic acid (a vitamin A derivative) and steroids. Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation may also be treated with these skin products.

Other methods which can reduce dark spots and improve skin appearance include phototherapy, microdermabrasion, chemical peeling, and laser treatment.

A dark spot that is caused by skin cancer needs immediate treatment that may involve surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy, and immunotherapy, depending on the stage of the disease.

References for Dark Spots on Skin:

WebMD. Skin Lightening Products.
Brown Skin Spots


Skin Care Search

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