Dark spots on the skin are usually not a cause for concern, but some people may choose to get rid of them for cosmetic reasons through laser treatment, microdermabrasion, and other methods.
Dark spots on the skin, or hyperpigmentation, occur due to an overproduction of melanin. Melanin gives the eyes, skin, and hair their color.
Depending on the cause, people may call some types of dark spots on the skin age spots or sunspots. These spots can vary in size and amount from person to person.
This article looks at what causes dark spots on the skin, how to remove them using dermatological treatments and home remedies, and how to prevent them.
The color of dark spots may depend on the tone of a person’s skin, but they may range from light to dark brown or gray-brown, depending on the cause.
Dark spots also vary in size and can develop on any part of the body. Age spots, one cause of dark spots are most common in areas with frequent sun exposure, such as:
- back of the hands
- face, particularly the forehead, upper lip, and chin
However, dark spots due to post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation are common on the cheeks. A proper diagnosis from a healthcare professional will determine the cause of a person’s dark spots, regardless of the location.
In people with darker skin, hyperpigmentation usually fades away within 6–12 months of removing the cause. Deeper coloration can take years to fade.
Deep color changes may appear blue or gray, though a spot may also be a much darker brown than a person’s natural skin color.
There are several different causes of dark spots, as we describe here:
Also called sunspots, solar lentigines, or liver spots, people can develop dark spots on their skin after exposure to the sun or tanning beds.
Areas of the body that receive the most sun exposure, such as the face, hands, or arms, are
Medication side effects
Certain medications can increase skin pigmentation and lead to dark spots. Common culprits are:
- anti-inflammatories, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
- chemotherapy drugs
Cosmetic skin or hair products can irritate the skin, causing dark patches to form.
- Diabetic dermopathy: Also called shin spots, this condition causes brown or red patches or lines on the shins.
- Acanthosis nigricans: This condition can cause patches of darkened, velvety skin.
- Necrobiosis lipoidica: This condition may cause raised bumps that can be yellow, red, or brown. Over time, these bumps may become hard and swollen.
- Eruptive xanthomatosis: This condition can involve itchy or tender bumps that may be reddish-yellow. They can occur on the back of the hands, the buttocks, feet, legs, and arms.
- ragged, blurry, or notched borders
- irregular coloring
- a spot larger than one-quarter of an inch across
- a spot that changes in color or size
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 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 of the body it affects.
A dermatologist may recommend one of the following treatments for dark spots on the skin. However, not all of these will be applicable for all types of dark spots.
A chemical peel involves applying a solution to the skin, which exfoliates the surface, leading to new skin growth. It may gradually fade dark spots on the skin.
Prescription skin-lightening cream
Prescription-lightening cream works by bleaching the skin. These
It typically takes several months to decrease the appearance of dark spots.
Hydroquinone prevents the skin from producing melanin. Prescription products tend to have a strength of
In addition to dermatological procedures and prescription medications, people may find that the following home remedies might fade dark spots on the skin.
Over-the-counter (OTC) creams to lighten skin are
People should speak with a healthcare professional when looking for a skin-lightening cream, as some products can be harmful.
Products with certain natural ingredients may help treat dark spots on the skin.
Although studies were limited, the researchers suggested that these natural treatments showed promise in lightening hyperpigmentation.
Results of a small-scale 2017 study suggest that liposome-encapsulated aloe-vera gel extract caused a 32% improvement in the severity of melasma during pregnancy after 5 weeks.
However, even a control group using a standard aloe-vera extract saw a 10% improvement.
Although cosmetics do not lighten dark spots, they might cover them up. People can consider using a cream-based concealer to decrease the appearance of spots.
People may wish to keep in mind that many of the home remedies that webpages recommend may have side effects or no evidence of effectiveness. Examples include lemon and apple cider vinegar. No studies back the claims that these treatments work.
In some cases, unproven treatments may aggravate the skin. For example, the American Society for Dermatological Surgery does not recommend lemon juice or abrasive scrubs, as these methods could make dark spots worse.
Some skin-lightening products can do more harm than good. Some
- immune system
- digestive system
- nervous system
People should also never use liquid bleach on the skin.
A doctor or dermatologist may be able to determine the cause of dark spots on the skin by examining them and taking a medical history.
During a physical exam, the healthcare professional might perform a Wood’s lamp skin exam, where they view the spots through a special device that emits black light.
Anyone can develop dark spots on the skin. However, certain risk factors may increase a person’s chances, including:
- sun exposure
- skin conditions, such as acne, eczema, or psoriasis
- trauma or injury to the skin
- medications that increase pigmentation
- liver disease
It may not always be possible to prevent dark spots on the skin from developing. For example, hormonal changes during pregnancy that may lead to melasma are not preventable.
There are, however, a few things people can do to decrease the chances of dark spots and prevent them from getting darker:
In many cases, dark spots on the skin are not harmful. But in some instances, it might be hard to tell the difference between a dark spot and other skin changes, such as melanoma, which is a type of skin cancer.
People who are unsure what a dark spot is or have not been able to get rid of it should speak with a doctor to find out more.
It is important to talk with a doctor if any dark spots on the skin:
- appears suddenly
- changes color or size
Dark spots on the skin, or hyperpigmentation, can have a range of causes. They are usually harmless and do not need treatment.
However, if a person wants to get rid of dark spots, they can try a range of treatments, including working with a dermatologist for cosmetic procedures or using OTC creams.
The effectiveness of treatment may depend on the cause of the dark spots and their extent. Dark spots on the skin may not completely fade. It may take a while to see a difference, but treatment often lightens the spots.