Freckles, Sunspots and more – How to Recognize Brown Spots on the Skin
Now that summer is coming to a close, many of our Reno dermatology patients are starting to examine their skin for any sun damage. Often a patient will come in concerned about brown spots on their skin. Sometimes it’s a cosmetic concern, while others are worried about the health of their skin.
There are many different types of brown spots that one may see on the skin and they are all treated differently. It’s important to pay attention to any changes in your skin and visit a dermatologist annually to get a thorough skin check.
If you’re in between your annual skin check, here are some tips to help distinguish between the various types of brown spots you may see on your skin.
The first type a brown spot is a freckle or ephilid (the medical term for a freckle). By definition, a freckle gets darker with sun exposure and fades when not exposed to the sun. At times, freckles can be completely resolved in the wintertime.
Freckles are most common on the cheeks in red haired or fair skinned patients, but also occur in people of medium or darker skin if they are genetically predisposed. If recognized early, freckles do not need to be treated other than more sun protection in order to prevent the recurrence. Using an SPF 45 or more, reapplied every two hours, is usually sufficient. If the freckles continue to arise, they may become permanent later and be called a sunspot.
Sunspots can arise in any sun-exposed area from chronic sun exposure or a freckle that has been so stimulated that now it stays all year round. The other common names for sunspots are liver spots, age spots, or the medical term, lentigo.
By definition, a sunspot is present all year round but may be darker after sun exposure. These can be prevented with sunscreen, and can be treated with lightening creams such as hydroquinone or Skin Medica’s Lytera. However, once they multiply, most people opt for intense pulse light or other types of laser therapy to treat them.
The sunspots we treat with a laser usually get at least 50 to 75 percent better, or disappear completely. People who form lentigos or sunspots usually get more over the course of the next few years and require more treatments in the future.
Another common brown spot is melasma. This is typically seen in women with Hispanic, Asian, or Caucasian ancestry, and presents as irregular shaped brown spot on the forehead, cheeks, and upper lip.
It is directly related to cumulative sun exposure, and may have some relation to hormones as it is very common after pregnancy or oral contraceptive use. Melasma is a difficult condition to treat and requires daily sunscreen, and usually a combination of lasers, bleaching creams and chemical peels in order to keep it under control.
4. Melanoma or Skin Cancer
The most dangerous type of skin cancer is called melanoma and can present as a dark spot with an irregular border, multiple color, changing shape, bleeding, or enlarging spot.
Melanoma can occur on any part of the body but is most common for men on the back and for women on the back of the legs. That being said, I have seen melanoma on almost every body location including those that are not subject to sun exposure such as the buttocks.
If you have a new dark lesion, the first step is to have it evaluated and characterized by your dermatologist. If there is cause for concern, a biopsy will most likely be performed, if not the lesion will be characterized as either a melasma, sun spot, or freckle and you and your dermatologist can discuss how to best prevent and treat this lesion.
Understanding and monitoring any brown spots on your skin is very important to maintaining your overall beauty and health. If you would like me to check out any brown spots you are concerned about, set up a consultation in our South Reno dermatology office any time.
~ Dr. Jennifer Janiga