Brown Skin Spots

spots horse pat hensen

Ever notice brown spots on your skin after a rash or an injury? Brown spots on your skin are often blamed on the sun, but any damage to your skin can result in skin spots.

Skin color is caused by pigment-producing cells called melanocytes. Anything that excites these cells will cause them to release brown pigment into your skin. Sun causes them to release pigment, but so can an infection, a  rash, and even acne.

When you have an infection, injury or a rash,  inflammation develops to protect your skin from harm and to repair damage. This inflammation is apparent as redness, scaling, swelling, pus, pain, or even itching.  Inflammation triggers the melanocytes to make brown pigment which is dispersed and sinks into the deep layers of your skin.

Long after the inflammation is gone, the pigment remains and the brown spots stay visible. People with darker skin tones release more pigment when their skin is inflamed, which leads to more noticeable brown skin spots.

Brown spots such as these are called post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation because they appear after inflammation resolves. Unfortunately, once that pigment is deposited in the skin, it is very slow to fade. Over-the-counter bleaching creams such as hydroquinone 2% can lighten brown skin when used for weeks to months. More potent prescription creams such as Tri-Luma® can remove brown spots, but are expensive and generally are not covered by health insurance.

It is much easier to prevent than to remove brown skin spots:

  • Minimize inflammation as quickly as possible by treating the underlying problem
  • Avoid sun which could make the spots even darker
  • Be patient — some brown spots can last for years and treating them excessively can lead to inflammation making the problem worse.

Photo: Pat Hensen