Brown spots are very common skin blemishes that bring patients to a dermatologist’s office. Often, these unsightly areas of darker pigmentation are harmless. However, they may also be a symptom of very dangerous diseases such as malignant skin cancer. Either way, the available treatments tend to work best when you catch a problem early. So, if any new brown spots appear on your skin (or if changes occur in existing spots), see a dermatologist to have it checked out.

What Are They?

Brown spots may be caused by an overabundance of melanocytes (melanin producing cells) in the skin. These are called sun spots or lentigines. General sun damage that causes melanin to accumulate in the stratum corneum (the very top layer of dead skin cells) is another common cause for brown spots. Trauma to the skin may cause spots to develop as the result of post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. Some individuals have a tendency to develop seborrheic keratoses with age. These are pre-cancerous growths that may look brown, bumpy, and waxy. Skin cancers such as basal cell carcinoma and melanoma can also appear as brown spots. Café au lait birth marks are another category of brown markings.

Potential Treatments

Spots caused by sun exposure are typically treated with some form of bleaching agent (usually hydroquinone). These treatments may be combined with a topical steroid, retinoids, or glycolic acid for greater effectiveness. Laser therapy or Intense Pulsed Light (IPL) may be used as well. Brown spots that protrude from the skin may be frozen off or removed surgically or chemically depending on the diagnosis.

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