Brown splotches on your face can have many causes, but people can start to panic when they see them forming on their skin. As the summer months arrive and we expose our skin to more sunlight, these spots can be tricky to remove as the UV rays make them darker.
If you’re finding brown splotches appearing on your face, we’ll get into why these spots happen, as well as how to treat them. You’ll also learn some simple steps that can prevent them from occurring in the first place.
- Why Do I Have Brown Spots On My Face?
- What Are The Brown Splotches on Your Face?
- Hyperpigmentation vs. Melasma
- How To Prevent More Brown Spots Forming
- How To Treat Current Brown Facial Spots
- When To Be Worried About Brown Spots
- Related Articles
Why Do I Have Brown Spots On My Face?
Brown splotches on face, neck, and shoulders happen when your skin produces too much melanin. Melanin is important as it gives your eyes, hair, and skin their color. This pigment is created by melanocytes, which are cells that absorb sunlight.
If your skin comes into contact with lots of UV rays, the cells will absorb these rays and produce melanin to compensate.
A misconception is that darker-skinned people have more melanocytes. In reality, dark and light-skinned individuals have similar numbers of these cells. However, darker-skinned people do have more melanosomes. These are organelles that contain pigment.
The melanosomes in darker skin are bigger and contain more pigment. Lighter-skinned people may have fewer melanosomes, smaller ones, and less pigment within them.
Brown skin patches can occur for one of several reasons:
- Hormone changes in women
- Sun damage
- Acne scarring
Brown skin spots are medically known as solar lentigo. These occur often when people age, which is why you may hear people refer to them as ‘age spots’.
Some also call them ‘liver spots’, but dermatologists like to call them ‘wisdom spots’, which is a much nicer way of looking at them.
Around 75% of Caucasians over 60 are likely to develop age spots. These also occur as a response to UV rays, indicating that the skin is sun-damaged.
Brown sun damage spots are likely to occur if you tanned out in the sun a lot, used tanning beds, or didn’t use sunscreen consistently.
Women can develop brown spots as a result of hormonal changes, such as during pregnancy. The ‘pregnancy glow’ that we often hear about is a result of hormone changes as well.
Pregnant people may notice their acne clear up and their hair grows faster, but they may notice darker patches on their skin.
This is known as melasma. It’s a hormone-related condition that can result in patches, but some may notice that their skin becomes darker too. Melasma is often referred to as the ‘mask of pregnancy’.
These patches often form on the forehead, cheeks, and upper lip. This can be frustrating as it can look like a brown mustache.
Melasma is seen during pregnancy, but it can also occur when women take birth control pills, as these create hormone changes.
Though less likely, some may notice these patches during their menstrual cycle, due to the natural changes in progesterone and estrogen levels.
What Are The Brown Splotches on Your Face?
Brown splotches on the face, neck, or shoulders are also known as hyperpigmentation.
Hyperpigmentation is an umbrella term used to cover a number of dermatological conditions where one patch of skin becomes noticeably darker than the surrounding skin. Hyperpigmentation covers a number of more specific conditions such as liver spots, freckles, and melasma.
Hyperpigmentation vs. Melasma
It can be hard to tell if the brown patches on your skin are hyperpigmentation or melasma, as both are extremely common. While they are two different dermatological conditions, they can look alike as they are both caused by similar things.
Hyperpigmentation is a condition that causes dark discoloration of the skin. This can develop on almost any type of skin, and it rarely goes away completely. The most common types are caused by excessive exposure to UV rays from the sun or tanning beds, but there may be other factors involved as well (acne scarring, medications, or inflammation from other conditions).
One specific type of hyperpigmentation is melasma, a condition that affects over 5 million Americans. Although it also is a type of condition characterized by darker patches of skin, melasma is differentiated from other forms of hyperpigmentation mainly by its cause; rather than just being sun-related, melasma is caused in part by hormonal changes within the body.
This makes it harder to treat than other forms of hyperpigmentation.
How To Prevent More Brown Spots Forming
Brown splotches on your face can be scary, but there are things you can do to stop new ones from forming. One of the biggest factors that affect the skin is sun exposure.
Sunlight has UV rays that can form new skin patches and make existing ones darker. You can protect your skin from sunlight in a few ways, including:
- Wearing a good sunscreen every day with an SPF higher than 30
- Reapplying sunscreen every two hours when you’re outside
- Wearing sun protection clothing with UPF (Ultraviolet Protection Factor)
- Use umbrellas or hats to shield your skin from the sun
There are lots of excuses for not wearing sunscreen, including consistency, allergies, and finish. However, in this day and age, there are a multitude of sunscreens to try.
The right one for your skin type, sensitivity, and preferences is out there, but it will take some experimenting to find the right one.
The Environmental Protection Agency will tell you if there is a risk of UV ray overexposure in your area. You can look at these levels online or use the SunWise UV Index App to monitor them on your phone.
Always check these levels before planning outdoor activities, as this will give you an idea of how much sunscreen to take with you, whether you need a hat or umbrella, or whether you should cover up more.
Other than sunscreen, make sure that your skincare routine is right for you. Always cleanse with a gentle cleanser and always moisturize. Any harsh products can make your skin red, irritated, or dry, which can aggravate any skin darkening.
How To Treat Current Brown Facial Spots
Before you start treating your brown spots, keep in mind that they aren’t usually harmful. The only reason we want to treat these areas is for cosmetic reasons.
Most people care about their appearance, which isn’t a bad thing! However, eliminating these brown spots is a lot harder than preventing them, and treatments can be expensive.
We’ll cover some common ways of reducing brown skin spots below.
Lightening creams can be found relatively easy, but their safety is another issue. Products found at beauty supply stores and drug stores are usually harmless. These include vitamin C serums, glycolic acid, and azelaic acid.
Despite this, stronger products found over-the-counter or prescription-strength items should be used with caution.
Hydroquinone is a controversial ingredient as it increases the chance of ochronosis.
This skin condition develops blue or gray pigmented patches caused by using hydroquinone too often. Even if the patient stops using hydroquinone, there’s no guarantee that the patches will fade.
Always be careful when using hydroquinone. It’s best to only use it if prescribed by a medical professional, and only when following their recommended guidance.
Retinoids & Vitamin A
Retinoids are great tools for those pursuing younger-looking skin. These substances increase collagen production and increase skin cell turnover. This exfoliates the skin so newer cells start coming through underneath.
Retinols can be potent and may irritate the skin if used too often. If you’ve never used a retinoid before, start slowly.
Begin with once a week during the evening, then gradually increase to 2-3 times a week if you see no irritation.
Retinoids can increase the skin’s sun sensitivity, so always use sun protection when you go outside. Keep up with your regular skin routine and never skip moisturizer, as it can help soothe and prevent irritated skin.
If you have been considering using a prescription-strength Vitamin A product, it might be better to start with a less potent over-the-counter derivative first.
This will help your skin adapt and reduce the likelihood of irritation from stronger ingredients.
Laser treatments are normally carried out in dermatologist clinics or licensed health spas. Before you choose a location, make sure that the clinic is reputable and that the practitioners are qualified.
Laser treatments that aren’t performed correctly can lead to more pigmentation and scarring.
You need to be careful if you have darker skin too, as dark skin and light skin need different laser settings.
Darker skin is more prone to skin pigmentation, so always check that the practitioner is familiar and knows how to treat darker skin.
Dermatologists and medical practitioners can carry out this procedure in their clinics. However, these treatments are considered cosmetic, so they’re not usually covered by insurance.
If done incorrectly, cryotherapy can lead to more hyperpigmentation or white spots. Always do your research and check past reviews before settling on a clinic.
Intense Pulse Light Treatments & Chemical Peels
IPL procedures use a device that emits pulsed light. The pigment in the brown spot absorbs these energy wavelengths which eliminate the pigment. When the pigment is destroyed, the brown spot becomes lighter.
Chemical peels, like glycolic acid and TCA peels, work by exfoliating the skin. The uppermost layers of damaged skin are removed so newer cells can come through. This is particularly good at eliminating sun-damaged areas.
When To Be Worried About Brown Spots
In some cases, brown spots can be an indication of skin cancer, also known as melanoma. If you’re worried about your spots, examine the patches with the ABCDE acronym method.
A – Asymmetry
If one side doesn’t match the opposite side.
B – Border
Check the borders of each patch. Look out for any jagged or inconsistent edges.
C – Color
Is the patch more than one shade in color or particularly dark?
D – Diameter
Is the spot wider than a pencil eraser?
E – Evolving
Has the spot changed in color, shape, or size since you noticed it? Does it bleed or feel itchy?
If you think your brown spots match any of these signs, no matter how small, contact your dermatologist or a healthcare professional. It’s better to be safe rather than sorry.
Brown splotches on face, neck and shoulders can be frustrating, but they are more common than you might think! They can occur for several reasons, including hormonal changes, sun damage, and age.
Sunlight is one of the main causes of pigmentation, but you can prevent it from occurring by wearing sunscreen and avoiding tanning beds.
Treating brown spots can be hard to do, but it isn’t impossible! You may see success with adding a retinoid or exfoliating acid to your skincare routine.
Laser treatments and IPL can be more expensive, but they can deliver excellent results.
However, do be careful with these procedures if you have darker skin, as it can be prone to pigmentation.
Always make sure your practitioner is familiar with treating darker skin, and if possible, check reviews from others with your Fitzpatrick skin type.