Dark Spots on the Skin: Causes and How to Treat Them

Dark spots on the skin, or hyperpigmentation, occurs 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 purpose, people may call some types of dark spots on the skin or sunspots.

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. Dark spots also vary in size and can develop on any part of the body but are most common in areas often exposed in the sun.

Dark spots are common in the following areas:

  • Back of the hands
  • Face
  • Back
  • Shoulders

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. Profound color changes often appear blue or gray, though a spot may also be a much darker brown than a person’s natural skin color.

There are several causes of skin discoloration and dark spots, including sun damage, hormonal changes, side effects of certain medications, diabetes, and irritation.

Sun damage

Also known as sunspots, solar lentigines, or live spot, people can develop dark spots on their skin after being exposed to the sun or tannings 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.

Hormonal changes

Melasma is a skin condition that leads to small patches of skin discoloration. The condition is common in women, especially during pregnancy. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, hormones may trigger melasma.

Side effects of medication

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. Some of the commonly prescribed NSAIDs include Celebrex, Zipsor, and Naprosyn. Tetracyclines are widely used broad-spectrum antibiotics, while psychotropic medications such as Wellbutrin, Celexa, Prozac, Zoloft, Xanax, Ambien Seroquel, and Risperdal are also commonly prescribed.

Inflammation, Irritation & Wound healing

Dark spots can develop after a bout of inflammation on the skin. Inflammation can occur for many various reasons that include eczema, psoriasis, injury to the skin, and acne. Additionally, dark spots may remain after insect bites, burns, or as cuts heal. These may fade with time. Cosmetic skin or hair products can often irritate the skin, causes dark patches to form.

Diabetes

Diabetes is another common cause of 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.

Treatment Options

Dark spots on the skin do not usually 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 additional 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 inflicted. It’s always recommended to speak with a dermatologist and ask their opinion on professional treatments such as laser treatments, microdermabrasion, chemical peels, cryotherapy, or prescription lightening cream.

There are also home remedies that many people find dark fade spots on the skin such as over-the-counter creams & serums. These creams and serums help to exfoliate the skin and promote new skin growth. 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.

If you’re concern about a dark spot, always contact your primary care physician to discuss if a referral is necessary. It’s important to talk to your doctor if any dark spot on the skin appears suddenly, itches, tringles, bleeds, or changes color or size.

It may not always be possible to prevent dark spots on the skin from developing, but there are several things people can do to help decrease the changes of dark spots and prevent them from getting darker:

Use sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 every day, even when the sun is not bright.

Wear a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses to protect the skin further.

Treat skin conditions, such as acne, which may lead to inflammation.

Avoid the sun between 10 am and 4 pm when it tends to be the strongest.

Dark spots on the skin, or hyperpigmentation, can have a range of causes. They are usually harmless and do not need treatment. If a person wants to get rid of dark spots, they can try a variety of treatments, including working with a dermatologist for cosmetic procedures or using over-the-counter products. The effectiveness of these treatments may depend on the cause of the dark spots and their extent.