What Are Dark Spots

Dark spots on the skin also known as age spots, solar lentigines, or liver spots, depending on their cause, happen at any time, but most often appear in middle age. Most often, they are a consequence of past sun exposure or artificial UV light.
Most people experience dark spots on the face, but they can also affect the skin on the body too. Typically, they occur because of damaged skin, however, they are generally not harmful.

Dark spots occur in the:

  • Face
  • Backs of the hands
  • Shoulders
  • Arms
  • Back

While individual spots are usually small, several can group and form larger areas of darkened skin.

What Causes Dark Spots

Dark spots are as a result of the over production or collection of melanin, a skin pigment that makes skin darker. They can also result from damage from free radicals, which are unstable molecules that attack healthy cells and eventually cause skin to appear aged.

Exposure to UV Light

The sun and tanning beds are the most significant cause of dark spots. Hyperpigmentation often appears during middle age. That’s when the skin starts to show the consequences of sun exposure. This is especially true if you didn’t use sunscreen and other sun-protective measures consistently earlier in life. People with light hair or skin and who have had many sunburns, or severe ones, are at particular risk. [3]

However, other things may lead to dark spots. These other causes may act alone or in combination with UV exposure.

Sun Damage:

A common source of dark spots is excessive sun exposure, found in roughly 90% of people over 60 but is also common in younger adults too. It is where the skin produces extra melanin as a protection against harmful UV rays.


This is caused by hormone imbalances and can be triggered during pregnancy, menopause or when using birth control etc.

Post-inflammatory Hyperpigmentation:

This is caused when the skin has undergone a form of trauma i.e. acne scars, burns or psoriasis. This is particularly prevalent as we get older, as our skin cells do not reproduce as quickly, these are sometimes referred to as age spots.

Wound healing:

Dark spots may remain after an insect bite, burn, or cut heals. These may fade with time.

Other Causes

Dark spots may also be seen in these conditions:

  • Pregnancy
  • Liver disease
  • Addison’s disease
  • Hemochromatosis (excessive iron)
  • Pituitary tumors

Treatment of Dark Spots

Dark spots don’t hurt and they have the same texture as the rest of your skin. Most of the time they don’t pose any health risks, so you don’t have to feel any pressure to get rid of them, although many people choose for cosmetic purposes. Dark spots can be diminished or removed completely with prescription drugs, medical procedures, and at-home treatments.

Topical Treatments

Prescription bleaching creams gradually reduce the color of dark spots, usually over a period of several months. Hydroquinone is the active ingredient in prescription bleaching creams for dark spot treatment. It works by inhibiting the production of melanin and should only be used on a short-term basis, as its safety has been questioned.

There are also a number of other over-the-counter products that treat dark spots.  Look for creams that contain retinoids alpha hydroxy acid, glycolic acid, deoxyarbutin, and kojic acid. They might reduce dark spots, but might not completely eliminate them.

Side effects, including redness, swelling, and skin irritation can occur with any topical medication. Because these products contain abrasive ingredients that also make the skin extremely sensitive to UV exposure, it’s very important to wear sunscreen with SPF consistently throughout treatment.

Cosmetic Procedures

Medical procedures are used to treat dark spots on any part of the body and are often used in conjunction with topical treatments, though some may not be appropriate for people with sensitive skin. Options include:

Laser treatment:

This uses concentrated light energy to remove skin layer-by-layer, which burns dark spots off.15 Risks include bruising, swelling, redness, tightness, scarring, infection, and changes in skin texture.

Chemical peels:

These contain salicylic acid and glycolic acid, which remove the top layer of the skin, revealing healthier and more evenly toned skin beneath. Skin irritation is a possible risk.


There are two types of microdermabrasion, both of which physically erode surface skin cells. With crystal microdermabrasion, a machine emits fine crystals through a wand that rub against the skin and scrape away cells. For diamond-tipped microdermabrasion, the abrasive end of the wand is used for this purpose instead. The skin may be pink for a while afterward, but these techniques are considered low-risk.


Cryosurgery fades age spots by freezing them with a liquid nitrogen solution,16 causing the darkened skin to peel away from the body. Risks include permanent whitening of treated areas.

Home Remedies

There aren’t many DIY remedies that have been proven to lighten dark spots.

One option may be applying the juice from fruits such as lemons, oranges, grapefruit, or papaya on your skin. These fruits contain vitamin C, which the American Academy of Dermatology lists as an ingredient that may help to lighten dark spots.

While there’s not enough scientific evidence to show that applying the juice from these fruits directly to the skin can help dark spots fade, you can give it a try. Because these fruits are acidic, it’s best to do a test first by mixing the fruit juice with water and rubbing a small amount on the skin.

Dark Spots Before and After Treatment