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

8 thoughts on “Brown Skin Spots”

  1. What other key ingredients should I be looking for in skincare products to combat these brown spots?

  2. Thank you for your site! I want to know what other ingredients have
    clinically been shown to fade these spots besides the ones you mention.
    For example, kojic acid. I have health concerns with hydroquinone.

  3. What do you think about the Yag laser for brown spots? My dermatologist will charge me about $400 and will do all 8 of the spots on my upper chest.

  4. Great posts…very entertaining and current. Well done. I will be following.

  5. Skin spots are nothing to play around with– they can be early signs of skin cancer and everyone should definitely get them checked out by a dermatologist. This site has some good information about precancers so you can know what to look for in the spots you find. Stay healthy and informed!

  6. Hi! I have issues with brown spots which has developed on my skin around my feet area… strange, yes I know. But I got this while in Africa and cant not get raid of them. I have tired everything and nothing seems to work. also the sunburn on my face has developed into dark scars which is now impossible for me to cure, even with Pro-activ.
    what can I do to prevent these spots????????????????????? Am serious in need.

  7. Dr. Benabio, this is great information, and important for managing patients’ expectations regarding their treatment results and options.

    Tri-Luma is currently on manufacturer backorder and is available from compounding pharmacies (I know this because I work for a compounding pharmacy). Generally speaking, what advice do you have for patients requiring a customized or commercially-unavailable medication such as Tri-Luma in terms of finding the right pharmacy for them? On what criteria can they determine if a pharmacy will be able to provide the proper medication at the best price? How likely is it that someone treating their skin will need a compounded medication?

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