Brown spots (also known as age spot, liver spots, "Old age spot, "Senile freckle") are blemishes on the skin associated with aging and exposure to ultraviolet radiation from the sun. They range in color from light brown to red or black and are located in areas most often exposed to the sun, particularly the hands, face, shoulders, arms and forehead, and the scalp if bald.
From the age of 40 onward the skin is less able to regenerate from sun exposure, and brown spots are very common in this age group, particularly in those who spend time in the sun.
Brown spots from sun damage usually appear on areas of the skin that are naturally exposed to the sun, such as the face and the back of the neck and arms. The best way to prevent dark spots from sun damage is to use sunscreen with UVA protection and limit your time in direct sunlight.
Rarely, the hormones in birth control pills as well as pregnancy have an effect on the pigment in skin. They can cause existing brown spots to darken or cause new ones. This skin condition is called melasma. If this happens, talk to your health care provider about options for birth control.
Brown spot treatments include:
• Laser and intense pulsed light therapy. Laser and intense pulsed light therapies destroy melanin-producing cells (melanocytes) without damaging the skin's surface. Treatments with a laser or intense pulsed light typically require two to three sessions.
After treatment, age spots fade gradually over several weeks or months. Laser therapy has few side effects, but it may result in slight discoloration of the skin. Sun protection is necessary after laser or intense pulsed light therapy.
• Freezing (cryotherapy). This procedure involves using a cotton-tipped swab to apply liquid nitrogen or another freezing agent to the age spots to destroy the extra pigment. As the area heals, the skin appears lighter. Freezing is typically used on a single age spot or a small grouping of age spots. The treatment may temporarily irritate the skin and poses a slight risk of permanent scarring or discoloration.
• Dermabrasion and microdermabrasion. Dermabrasion consists of sanding down (planing) the surface layer of your skin with a rapidly rotating brush. This procedure removes the skin surface, and a new layer of skin grows in its place. You may need to undergo the procedure more than once. Temporary redness and scab formation can result from this treatment.
Microdermabrasion is a less aggressive approach that leaves mild skin blemishes with a smoother appearance. You'll need a series of procedures over months to get the full effect. If you have rosacea or tiny red veins on your face, this technique could make the condition worse.
• Chemical peel. A chemical peel involves applying an acid, which burns the outer layer of your skin, to the age spots. As your skin peels, new skin forms to take its place. Several treatments may be necessary before you notice any results. Sun protection is strongly advised following this treatment. Temporary redness is likely, and there's a slight risk of permanent changes in skin color.