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Brown spots: all about age spots Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Brown tasks or age spots, what is it?

The brown spots are also called age spots, although they are not directly related to age, sun spots or freckles. These are small spots on the skin of varying size that appear on areas of sun-exposed skin such as the face, hands, shoulders or arms. They are linked to an excess production of melanin.

Brown spots usually occur in people over 40, after years of sun exposure. However, they can sometimes be seen in the youngest because of intense or prolonged exposure.

They are generally not dangerous for health. Although benign, it is necessary to remain vigilant because a melanoma can pass for a lent go and only a dermatologist can distinguish the two. They do not require any treatment but, for aesthetic reasons, it is possible to want to make them less visible.

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Brown spots are to be differentiated from moles that develop all over the body, seborrheic keratoses (skin lesions that look like a dark wart) or melanoma especially in its form of Dubreuilh , also called lentigo malignant, which can develop at the level of the face and the neck in particular. The diagnosis is made only on biopsy.

The causes: why do we get spots on the skin?

The brown spots are mainly caused by exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet rays.

After years of exposure, melanin can concentrate on certain areas of the skin and pigment it further. Brown spots then appear definitively classically in people over 40 years.

The diagnosis of Brown spots

The diagnosis is made by a simple observation of the skin by a dermatologist. He can help himself with a painless instrument called a dermoscope, a sort of magnifying glass that allows him to refine his diagnostic impression. A biopsy, which consists of a skin sample that will then be analyzed under a microscope, may be necessary if the doctor has the slightest doubt about the origin of the spots.

monitoring of brown spots is required. If they seem to change (increase in size, color change, bleeding, enlargement, etc …) it is important to consult a specialist because it can be symptoms of development of a melanoma (see our sheet “Skin Cancer” “).

Melanocytes and melanin
Melanin (from Greek melanos black) is a dark pigment of the skin produced by melanocytes. It is mainly genetics, but also exposure to the sun that dictates the amount of melanin contained in the skin and which will define its color. This pigment is present in the epidermis, the upper layer of the skin.

The main characteristics of the spots on the skin

  • Oval or round, flat spots of brown color that appear on areas that have been exposed to the sun.
  • Brown spots usually appear on the back of the hands, face or shoulders that is to say in all areas regularly exposed to the sun.

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People at risk for Brown spots

Some people develop more brown spots than others. The genes do indeed play a role in their appearance. These people usually have fairly white skin   although brown spots may also appear on darker skin.

Risk factors

Prolonged and regular exposure to the sun greatly increases the risk of developing brown spots. Ditto for sunburns that are major factors in the appearance of brown spots, especially on the shoulders. It is therefore common to observe the appearance of many brown spots on the shoulders after big sunburn.


Prevention of brown spots requires reasonable exposure to the sun. It is thus advisable to avoid the sun between noon and 4 pm, to seek the shade, to wear a hat and clothes and to apply on the unprotected areas sunscreen adapted every two hours.

Medical treatments of Brown spots

Treatment is not mandatory since brown spots have no health consequences. However, it must be assured by consulting a dermatologist that any spots appearing on the skin is indeed a brown spot. Some people may find them unsightly. Treatments can then be considered to make them less visible.

There are for example creams to make the brown spots lighter. Cosmetic creams containing plant extracts are available for self-service, but it is not clear if they are really effective. Other creams, on prescription, are generally based on hydroquinone, a depigmenting agent. This treatment requires the imperative use of a total screen at each exposure to the sun. It can also cause itching, irritation or dry skin. This cream, however, gives only modest results. This treatment can also be reconciled with a tretinoin cream and a mild topical steroid such as hydrocortisone.

The laser or the IPL (Intense Pulsed Light) can be a solution because the photon beam released on the skin destroys the melanocytes and melanin, which blurs stains little by little. Do not expose yourself to the sun after a session of laser or IPL because the sessions cause redness and crustella that may give other pigmented spots if they are exposed to the sun is the phenomenon called pigmentation post inflammatory.

The cryotherapy, the same technique to burn the warts for example, consists in liquid nitrogen on the brown spots to the depigmented. This technique is not recommended for dull skins. Exposure to the sun right after treatment is strongly discouraged for the same reason as laser or IPL.

The peel is also often proposed. This technique involves applying an acid on the skin to exfoliate and eliminate brown spots.

The choice of the technique is done in consultation with his dermatologist and according to the type of your skin.

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