Dark Spots On Skin: When to Worry

How do you know if dark spots on your skin are dangerous or just aesthetically annoying? Here's our guide. Check it out, and stay safe.

Which Dark Spots Are Dangerous?

While no one enjoys having dark spots appear to mottle our previously smooth and flawless skin, it’s a normal—if unwelcome—part of aging. Dark spots, or hyperpigmentation, can happen at any age, but are much more common beginning in middle age. Fade creams and other dark spot correctors have been marketed to the public for years in order to turn back the hands of time. Today, some of the best dark spot correctors on the market do much more than the fade creams of the past.

Dark spots, often called age spots or liver spots, may be flat brown, gray or black spots which appear on the skin. While most dark spots are generally nothing to worry about—other than worrying about how they make us look—it’s important to know when a spot on your skin is harmless, or when it’s something that you should be concerned about.

Common Causes of Dark Spots on Skin

Melanin is the substance in our bodies that provide the color of our skin, hair, and eyes. Dark spots that appear on the skin during middle age are often the result of sun damage, even sun damage that occurred many years ago. Tanning beds are also a cause of skin damage that may take years to show up on your skin as dark spots of hyperpigmentation.

While even doctors aren’t always certain of the causes of all dark spots, it is clear that they appear most in places that receive the most UV rays. Dark spots commonly appear on the hands, shoulders, forearms, and even the face and ears. Those with fair skin, those who have had frequent sun exposure, or tanning bed exposure, are most at risk for developing many dark spots during middle age.

Dark spots may also be caused by frequent skin irritation, such as from eczema outbreaks. When eczema commonly flares up in the same area, a darkened or mottled patch of skin may result.

When a Dark Spot on the Skin is Concerning

Any time a new spot appears on the skin, you should have it checked by your doctor. Yearly visits to a dermatologist for a thorough skin check is important; especially for those with a multitude of freckles, moles, and spots.

For the most part, normal age-related hyperpigmentation is nothing to be concerned about. These spots are harmless and not at all painful. There are over the counter dark spot correctors that can help to minimize the appearance of dark spots.

You should be aware of the normal appearance of all dark spots on your body, including freckles, moles, birthmarks, and sun and age spots. These spots you should occasionally check over on your own to make a note of any changes. Any changes at all in a mole or dark spot warrants a trip to the dermatologist. Moles that change, or have uneven colors or borders should be checked by a dermatologist immediately. Moles that change, are uneven, have ragged edges or borders may be melanoma, a potentially deadly form of skin cancer that is aggressive once it penetrates beyond the skin layers, but is easily curable when caught in the earliest stage while it’s still on the surface of the skin.

Other Skin Spots of Concern

Basal cell carcinomas are a skin cancer that typically appears in skin areas exposed to the sun, but may show up anywhere. They are often flat, firm, yellowish or pale areas that resemble a scar. They may also appear as raised, red, itchy spots. Some basal cell carcinomas are raised pink areas with a depression in the center, possibly with blood vessels radiating out from them. Also beware of open sores that refuse to heal and may ooze or crust.

Squamous cell carcinomas are another form of skin cancer that appear as rough, red scally patches that may bleed or crust over. They could be raised red lumps or growths that have a depression in the center, or may resemble wart-like growths.

If any of these types of spots or lesions appear on your skin see a dermatologist immediately.

If your dermatologist determines that your dark spots are normal age and sun-related hyperpigmentation, ask about the best dark spot correctors recommended in order to minimize or correct their appearance. There are also concealers that specialize in covering hyperpigmentation and uneven skin tones that can be helpful.

Resources— VeryWellHealth, HarvardHealth, American Cancer Society, Healthline

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