Dark Spots Causes and Treatments

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Dark spots, which are also known as hyperpigmentation or age spots, are common and grow increasingly common with age. They can be frustrating to deal with as they seemingly appear out of nowhere, and they can also be a somewhat embarrassing indicator of age.


Dark spots are the result of the overproduction of melanin (skin pigment). It's not fully understood why dark spots develop, but aging and UV light exposure—even exposure to artificial UV light, like the kind used in tanning beds—are major causes.

Dark spots can develop anywhere, but they are most likely to appear on the parts of the body that receive the most sun exposure, including:

  • The face
  • The backs of the hands
  • The shoulders
  • The arms
  • The back

Skin Diseases

There are several different skin conditions and diseases that cause dark spots.

  • Post-Inflammatory Hyperpigmentation: Skin discoloration following an inflammatory lesion, like acne
  • Melasma: Also known as pregnancy mask
  • Riehl's Melanosis: A form of contact dermatitis that's believed to be caused by sun exposure
  • Poikiloderma of Civatte: A benign condition that turns parts of the neck a reddish brown color
  • Erythromelanosis Follicularis: A condition that's characterized by reddish-brown pigmentation of the face and neck
  • Linea Nigra: A dark, vertical line that appears lengthwise down the middle of the abdomen during pregnancy.


Certain medications cause dark spots. Some cause dark spots because they make the skin sensitive to sun exposure, while others cause dark spots to appear without sun exposure.

Some repeat offenders include:

  • Estrogens
  • Tetracyclines
  • Amiodarone
  • Phenytoin
  • Phenothiazines
  • Sulfonamides

UV Exposure

Hyperpigmentation really starts to take hold during middle age when the skin finally starts to show the consequences of all those days spent in the sun without SPF, among other abuses. By now you should know that sun exposure comes with major risks and requires proper precautions, like limiting time spent in the sun and applying SPF regularly.

UV rays cause a multitude of skin issues, from the serious (skin cancer) to the more minor (dark spots). Dark spots that appear due to UV light include:

  • Melasma
  • Solar lentigines (liver spots)
  • Ephelides (freckles)

Other Causes

  • Pregnancy
  • Liver disease
  • Addison's disease
  • Hemochromatosis
  • Pituitary tumors


Dark spots don't hurt and they have the same texture as the rest of your skin. They're generally harmless, but there is a possibility that a dark spot could be cancerous. Visit your dermatologist annually for a skin checkup. If the dermatologist sees a potentially harmful dark spot, he or she can perform a biopsy to check the skin for cancer and other abnormalities.

Typically, however, dark spots don't pose any health risks, so you don't have to get rid of them, although many people choose to for cosmetic purposes. Dark spots can be diminished or removed completely through prescribed medication, medical procedures, and at-home treatments.

Prescription bleaching creams gradually diminish the appearance of dark spots, usually over a period of several months. However, they contain abrasive ingredients that make the skin extremely sensitive to UV exposure, so it's very important to wear SPF consistently throughout treatment.

If you're interested in a medical procedure, talk to your dermatologist about choosing the right method for your skin type. Medical procedures are used to treat dark spots on any part of the body. They include:

There are also a number of over-the-counter products that treat dark spots. In fact, you probably can't make it through a TV commercial break without seeing an ad for one. These products aren't as immediately effective as a medical procedure. They might diminish the appearance of dark spots, but they might not completely remove them.

Look for creams that contain ingredients like alpha hydroxy acid, glycolic acid, hydroquinone, deoxyarbutin, and kojic acid.

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