Our skin releases melanin as a way to defend our skin against harmful sunrays. Dark patches on light skin can be called many things including brown spots, age spots and solar lentigenes according to Sue Chung of HealthCentral.
We may notice these spots at different times of life. They can occur as a result of sun damage especially on the face, arms and legs. Hormonal changes can cause brown spots to appear on the face and neck often during pregnancy or if the individual has a dark skin complexion they may become noticeable after a blemish or cut has healed.
Mayo Clinic defines age spots or liver spots as being flat, brown, black or gray in color and having the medical name of solar lentigines. According to the Mayo Clinic staff these spots can appear on arms, face, hands and shoulders as well as any area of skin that is exposed to the sun. Adults older than 40 typically experience these spots more often than younger individuals but can occur in younger individuals too. These spots are usually harmless and do not require treatment. They bother most people especially if they have numerous spots in the same area. Age spots no matter the color can make the skin lose its youthful appearance and are often used to classify someone as being ‘older’.
Mayo Clinic suggests that using sunscreen products and avoiding the sun as much as possible to lessen your chance for developing these skins spots.
Individuals most likely to develop these spots are those with light skin and those who spend a lot of time in the sun. Commonly found on areas of the skin not covered by clothing such as the tops of the feet, back of the hands, face, upper back and shoulder areas they can be small like freckles or more than a centimeter in size. Spots can appear one at a time or they can appear in groups. Skin spots caused by sun damage can occur in the same skin area as other skin problems that result from sun exposure such as dry skin, rough skin, deep wrinkles and fine red veins seen on the nose, ears and cheeks of the face.
Just because these skin spots are usually harmless does not mean you can discard them altogether. According to Mayo Clinic if the spots darken or change in appearance they can be a symptom of a skin cancer known as melanoma. If skin spots have these characteristics medical advice should be sought to determine if they are cancerous. Any spot or skin lesion that becomes darker, increases rapidly in size, has an irregular border to it or appears with an unusual combination of colors should be examined by a skin specialist such as a dermatologist.
HealthCentral Sue Chung (2007). How Do I Get Rid of the Brown Spots on My Face? http://www.healthcentral.com/skin-care/c/38641/16341/rid-brown-face/
Mayo Clinic Age Spots (liver spots) by Mayo Clinic staff http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/age-spots/DS00912/DSECTION=symptoms