Often referred to as a “liver spot” or “age spot,” the brown spot is a common skin condition characterized by the appearance of tiny flat and dark patches on the skin. The medical term for these spots is “solar lentigo”. These spots can vary in size and are typically light to dark brown in color. Brown spots are a normal part of the aging process that are more prevalent in areas of the skin exposed to the sun, such as the face, hands, arms, shoulders, and upper back. A brown spot comes in many shapes and sizes and is acquired over time.
Lightening creams are a topical preparation applied directly to the affected area. Depending on the area being treated, this option can be effective while also being simple and non-invasive. Depending on the individual needs of the patient, there are both prescription and over-the-counter options available.
Certain laser treatments, such as fractional laser and intense pulsed light (IPL), can target and break up the pigmented cells to reduce brown spots, depending on the type. IPL treatment typically requires two sessions to achieve optimal results. This treatment is not recommended in the summer months. Results from IPL treatment are better and the treatment is safer in the fall, winter, or spring, when there’s less ambient light outside.
Depending on the type of brown spot, the dermatologist will determine whether or not it can be treated with liquid nitrogen. Treating these dark spots with liquid nitrogen involves the application of a cold spray applied directly to the area. This process essentially freezes the spots and causes the layers of affected skin to fall off by themselves.
Superficial chemical peels can help exfoliate the top layers of the skin and improve the appearance of melasma and dark spots.
Brown spot treatment aims to lighten or remove the dark patches on the skin caused by excess melanin production. After most of these treatments, dark spots tend to look darker for anywhere from 1-3 weeks. Soon after, they develop a thin crust and will start to flake off and become less visible.
It is important to consult with a dermatologist or skin care specialist to determine the most suitable treatment for your specific needs. We first make sure that the brown spot is truly harmless before proceeding with treatments to lessen their appearance. Some skin cancers and precancers can mimic age spots, so it is important to have them evaluated by a board-certified dermatologist before engaging in any cosmetic procedure.
We at The Dermatology Institute of Boston like to play it safe. That’s one of the reasons why we tend to only perform the procedure in the months of the year that have less sunlight, with some exceptions. Many less experienced providers will offer the IPL procedure year-round, but we don’t want to harm anyone or make the problem worse.
In addition, we have highly experienced, board-certified dermatologists. That means we’re very familiar with making the proper diagnosis and subsequent treatment. Even though many of these treatment options can be found at a medspa, consulting with a board-certified dermatologist helps to ensure your skin condition is properly diagnosed and given the proper treatment.
We also understand how best to use those treatments. For example, with lasers, it’s critical to use the right wavelengths and settings on the machines to produce a good outcome and to not harm your skin or make the problem worse.
In some cases, our dermatologists may recommend combining different treatment modalities for more effective results.
Patients often ask whether or not the treatments available for brown spots are permanent, or if the brown spots will return. Unfortunately, there are no permanent treatment options for this type of skin condition. Current treatments can get rid of brown spots that are currently there, but if measures are not taken to protect from further sun exposure, they can return and you’ll need another treatment, so it’s more of an “upkeep” procedure and not a permanent cure.
The primary cause of brown spots is excessive exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun or other sources of UV light, such as tanning beds. UV rays can trigger melanin production and as time passes, the accumulation of melanin can occur, causing brown spots to form.
Brown spots are more common in individuals over the age of 50 and are often referred to as facial aging spots. However, they can also appear in younger people who have had significant sun exposure. While they are generally harmless and do not require medical treatment, some people choose to have them treated for cosmetic reasons.
It’s important to note that brown spots (lentigos) are different from moles or other skin growths. If you notice any changes in the size, shape, or color of a brown spot or any new or suspicious skin growth, it’s essential to have it examined by a dermatologist to rule out skin cancer before proceeding with any treatment.
To prevent the formation of brown spots, it is crucial to keep skin protected from excessive sun exposure. Doing so includes applying a high SPF sunscreen, being in shade as much as possible, and keeping the skin covered with long-sleeved shirts and hats.
Regular skin checks and screenings with a dermatologist are also recommended, especially if you have a history of extensive sun exposure or skin cancer in your family.
Wearing sunscreen with a high SPF (30 or higher) and seeking shade can help prevent melasma and dark spots from worsening, as sun exposure can trigger their appearance.
Melasma is a skin condition commonly defined by brown feathery patches. Women are more prone to this condition. It often presents during pregnancy and as a result is referred to as the “ mask of pregnancy.” Nevertheless, melasma can also occur in men, but not as frequently.
The exact cause of melasma is not fully understood, but it is believed to be primarily associated with hormonal changes, especially estrogen and progesterone. Other contributing factors include sun exposure, genetic predisposition, and certain medications or cosmetics which trigger or worsen the condition.
Melasma typically appears as symmetric patches of brown or gray-brown discoloration on the cheeks, forehead, bridge of the nose, upper lip, and chin. The patches may have a feathery border and vary in size and shape. In some cases, melasma can also occur in other sun-exposed areas, such as the neck and forearms.
It’s essential to seek a dermatologist’s treatment for dark spots of melasma. They can assess your specific condition and recommend the most suitable treatment plan based on your skin type, the severity of the melasma, and your medical history.
Melasma can be a chronic condition that may recur even after successful treatment, making it essential to continue sun protection and follow the recommended skin care routine to maintain the results of treatment and prevent recurrence. [more about Melasma]
Sunspots, also known as “solar lentigines” or “liver spots,” are dark, flat, round spots which appear on the skin due to prolonged sun exposure. They are specifically caused by the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays. Sun spots can vary in color, ranging from light tan to dark brown, and typically appear in a variety of areas.
Sunspots occur due to an excess in melanin, which is in response to UV radiation. Over time, the accumulation of melanin in certain areas leads to the formation of sunspots.
While sunspots are harmless and not medically concerning, they can be cosmetically bothersome to some individuals.
Sunspots are more common in people with fair skin and those who spend significant time outdoors without proper sun protection. They tend to become more pronounced as people age as the result of accumulated sun exposure over their lifetime. Prevention is essential to avoid the formation of sunspots.
Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation commonly occurs on areas of the skin that have become inflamed or injured. Its features involve the appearance of dark patches or skin spots that can range in color from light brown to dark brown or black. PIH typically occurs after skin conditions like acne, eczema, psoriasis, insect bites, burns, cuts, or any other type of skin trauma.
The process of PIH features an overproduction of melanin in response to the inflammatory process. When the skin is injured or inflamed, the body’s natural response is to produce more melanin to keep the skin protected. However, sometimes this process can become dysregulated, leading to the accumulation of melanin which results in the development of dark spots on the face and other body parts.
PIH is more common in people with darker skin tones, as they have more active melanocytes (cells that produce melanin). However, it can affect individuals of all skin types.
The appearance of PIH can be distressing, but the condition itself is generally harmless and not medically concerning. Fortunately, PIH often fades over time as the skin heals. However, it can take several weeks to months, and in some cases, it may persist for an extended period.
When you reach out to The Dermatology Institute of Boston, skilled dermatologists will answer any questions you have and address your concerns. They will conduct a thorough examination and make recommendations on a course of treatment. Schedule your appointment today.
Our goal here at The Dermatology of Institute of Boston is protect the health of our patients and staff. To continue caring for our patients during these uncertain times, while strictly adhering to the guidelines set by the CDC, we will be only offering virtual consultations. For some patients, an in person visit is best, but if you feel that your concern could be addressed online, this may be a convenient option for you.