Brown spots may look great on a pair of classic leopard-print Louboutins, but on a gal’s face or hands, eh-eh. Recently, a girlfriend of mine was lamenting about the brown spots she’s developed and her utter confusion around what caused them and how to get rid of them. Thus, my inspiration for this article. I’ll do my best to provide solid Cliff Notes, as there’s a lot of information to digest on this topic.
So, What Exactly Are These Spots?
According to Total Dermatology, the causes of brown spots are vast, ranging from medication (e.g. birth control) to sun damage. What’s more, there are several different types of brown spots including (but not all-encompassing):
Melasma or Chloasma: Skin coloration that appears as blotchy, brown spots, usually covering the cheeks and forehead area. This type of hyper-pigmentation can be hereditary, or triggered by hormonal changes such as pregnancy or menopause. Taking birth control pills can also cause Melasma.
Age or “Liver” Spots: Smaller darkened patches, usually on those who are older and have been exposed to the sun for many years. These spots can be seen on the face, forearms, and hands.
Post-inflammatory Hyper-Pigmentation: This type of hyper-pigmentation results from any inflammatory injury or trauma to the skin. Some causes of this type of hyper-pigmentation:
- Acne (e.g. cysts) – often leaves dark discoloration after a blemish heals
- A bad chemical peel or laser surgery can leave behind hyper-pigmentation
- Rashes (think psoriasis or eczema) can darken the skin as well
So, if you’re plagued with these pesky brown rascals, go to a Dermatologist and see what category yours fall into. Once diagnosed, you’ll be able to decide which option is best for you, your spots, and your skin type.
Got It. How Do I Abolish These Spots?
There is no shortage of options for skin discoloration issues. I was quite surprised at the number of treatment options…ranging from topical to laser to freezing methods. Here is a snapshot of a few of the more popular options:
Obagi NuDerm Clear (topical): This treatment uses 4% prescription-level Hydroquinone, a skin-lightening agent. It is typically combined with Retin-A and/or Alpha Hydroxy Acids. Hydroquinone will suppress melanin production at the cell level, while Retin-A and Alpha Hydroxy Acids exfoliate the top layer of the skin. This product requires a prescription; however, there are a number of over-the-counter lower-strength topical options.
Fraxel (laser): Fraxel helps remove stubborn melasma and has FDA approval for that particular condition. A series of laser treatments resurfaces 20-25% of the treated area each time. Typically a package of four Fraxel treatments are given, approximately two weeks apart. Fraxel can be used to treat the face, neck, chest, arms, and hands.
Microdermabrasion (resurfacing): Micro-derm is a resurfacing option that’s been around for ages. The skin is literally polished with micro-crystals, which are then vacuumed away along with the flaky, discolored skin cells. This technique delivers a gentle abrasion, which efficiently produces satisfying results. Discomfort is minimal and normal activities can be resumed immediately with no downtime.
Photo Facial (light therapy): Light Therapy is an alternative to addressing the issues of hyper-pigmentation. Light treatments (referred to as IPL, Intense Pulsed Light, Photo Facial or Foto Facial) affect the melanin-producing cells deep within the skin.
Freezing (Cryotherapy): Another method is to freeze the brown spots with liquid nitrogen. The freezing destroys the cells that connect the spot to the top skin layer. For this option, be aware you’ll need several days to heal and may want to skip any social events.
Confused? That’s a good thing. Before deciding on any type of treatment on your own, my Dermatologist emphasized the importance of going in for a consultation. In short, there are a number of different types (and causes) of brown spots and you have to understand, specifically, what yours are. To boot, a persons skin type is also important (e.g. Hispanic, Asian, and Middle Eastern skin is a key consideration when choosing a treatment; ivory skin versus olive-toned skin; etc).
Whew. I know that was a lot of information to consume but now you’re ready to tackle your brown spots and send them packing for good.
The only place we girls want to see spots is on the National Geographic channel…