Dark spots, age spots, sunspots, liver spots, freckles, hyperpigmentation patches—the names for skin spots are seemingly endless, and unfortunately, the list of causes behind these pesky patches is just as long and varied. What causes one person’s brown spots may have nothing to do with why another person has them. However, there are some more common causes to keep an eye on for prevention and reduction.
Sunny, Sunny, Sunny Days
There’s truth behind the term “sunspots,” since sun exposure is one common cause of brown spots. UVA and UVB rays (two variants of ultraviolet light from the sun) penetrate the skin and cause a spike in melanin production. This is the skin’s way of preventing further damage, as melanin absorbs and scatters UV radiation. That’s why folks with naturally darker skin tend to burn less often than those with lower melanin levels. But with time and added sun exposure, people without naturally melanin-rich skin will see that darker pigment appear to clump together and gather at the skin’s surface, resulting in the appearance of those pesky sunspots. The solution to developing further sunspots is simple: wear broad-spectrum sunscreen and minimize your exposure.
The sun isn’t the only source of UV radiation. While UVA and UVB are fairly familiar, particularly during the summertime when sun safety becomes an even hotter topic, there’s a little-known third type of ultraviolet light to be wary of: UVC. Usually scattered by wind and air, UVC rays from the sun aren’t a major concern. However, a study published in the scientific journal Photochemistry and Photobiology reported that some worn fluorescent bulbs produce high levels of UVC that can cause hyperpigmentation (and even skin cancer) with extended exposure over time. The culprit: a worn-off phosphor coating that’s common when older bulbs go unchecked. Keep a closer eye on table or desk lamps using fluorescent bulbs and older tanning bulbs, or simply ditch the fluorescent bulbs in favor of LEDs. But if you’re stuck with fluorescents, then it might be wise to start wearing sunscreen if you’re sitting at your desk all day.
The Hormone Balance
Another factor wreaking havoc on melanin production is a fluctuation in hormone levels. Birth control, stress, menopause, pregnancy, and some medications cause fluctuations in estrogen and progesterone, two hormones known to spike melanin production when they’re found at higher levels. The result is melasma, a form of hyperpigmentation characterized by brown splotches on the face, hands, and pretty much anywhere else on the body. The best bet is to try natural alternatives to even out hormone levels when possible and use natural creams, serums, or treatments, when safe, to reduce the appearance of brown spots.
Advanced age sounds nicer than old age, but the point remains: the greater the years, the greater the brown spots that appear. This goes back to the points about hormones, sun exposure, and the clumping of melanin over time. Add to that the decline in elastin and collagen production and the demise of skin’s natural volume and color with age, and we have a more pronounced appearance of existing age spots. It’s a natural process, but there are creams, serums, fillers, and cosmetic treatments one may explore to slow aging, plump skin, even out skin tone, and fade the appearance of brown spots.
(Of course, melanoma is one potential cause of brown spots that should never be overlooked. Pay attention to the size, appearance, and color of age spots. Be sure to see a dermatologist if changes in any of those features arise, with the exception of a lighter color—that’s a good sign, and it means that the spot is simply fading.)
Speaking of Fading…
For the most part, the appearance of many brown spots can be faded through a variety of topical and treatment options. Look for topical anti-aging creams and serums that contain soy, kojic acid, niacinamide, ellagic acid, and liquorice, among other ingredients, to help break down those odd spots of discoloration and even out skin pigment.
If your skin naturally has relatively little melanin, then Intense Pulsed Light (IPL) treatments are your best bet for fading the occasional brown spot. These treatments (often called “photofacials,” meaning facial treatments using light) deliver bursts of light to multiple layers of the skin, that targets and zaps the pockets of melanin that create those spots and blotches.
However, if your skin is naturally high in melanin then IPL treatments can have the opposite effect: talk to a treatment provider to get more info so you can make the right choice for your skin health.