Brown spots, also known as age spots or liver spots, are just one type of the lesions that can occur on skin. Even though most people think their brown spots have suddenly “appeared overnight,” what finally comes to the surface of the skin as a brown spot is really the result of decades of sun damage. Even if you were not a “sun worshipper” like I was – using baby oil, iodine and tin foil – you can still get brown spots.
While these spots can occur on the face, chest, hands and body at any time, they often start to appear around age 40.
Unfortunately, skin cancer is one of the fastest-growing types of cancers in men and women of all ages. The incidence of melanoma – the deadliest type of skin cancer – is rising at alarming rates.
Adequate precautions against unnecessary sun exposure are essential for the prevention of skin cancer, but most of us have gotten enough sun exposure in our youth to make us vulnerable to all types of skin lesions, including skin cancer. Sun also causes the vast majority of other lesions on the skin, including harmless brown spots known by many different names.
It is essential that any new skin lesion that does not go away and any spot that changes size, shape or color be evaluated by a physician. Regarding lesions on the skin, there is a saying in medicine, “If it grows, it goes,” meaning, it at least requires an assessment and possibly a biopsy, or complete removal with evaluation by a pathologist.
Once the spots have been determined to be benign, there are a few effective ways to mitigate or erase them. Most effective treatments require a visit to a physician’s office, and few treatments for brown spots are covered by insurance. But that does not mean that their removal has to be expensive or unsightly.
Chemical peels – performed in a medical office – can be very effective. Peels work by removing skin layers at a deeper level and faster pace than normal skin sheds. Peels can be used on the face, chest, arms, hands and more. Usually, when the right peel is used, a significant reduction in discoloration of the skin can be eradicated with minimal to no downtime.
Another common way to remove brown spots is liquid nitrogen, or what most patients think of as “The Spray Gun at a Doctor’s Office.” Liquid nitrogen works by temporarily freezing a brown spot, thus causing it to crust and fall off over time – hopefully taking away the brown spot that was treated.
In the cosmetic physician’s office, there are often some more advanced techniques available for the removal of brown spots. Lasers and Intense Pulsed Light (IPL) treatments have really become the gold standard for removal of these lesions. It is essential that you receive a consultation before you sign up for a laser or light treatment as there are numerous things to take into account when getting these treatments. Medications, sun exposure, baseline skin color and medical conditions can all play a role when choosing a laser or light treatment for your skin.
Lasers and light treatments can be used for “spot treatment” of your spots, or if the spots are numerous or confluent, a full face, neck, chest, hand and/or other extremity can be treated.
IPL treatment is one of the most popular treatments in my office. It can remove brown spots and help with overall skin rejuvenation. But, not all IPL machines are created alike. In order to be effective, and IPL machine must be medical grade (meaning it requires a physician to own this type of machine,) well-maintained and operated safely and effectively by an experienced laser technician. You should never receive an IPL treatment if you have had recent sun exposure!
The biggest reason I see for patients not receiving treatment for their brown spots is simply a lack of knowledge that anything could be done! So, whether you have one brown spot or too many to count, if you would like to have them removed, seek the attention of a medical professional for proper diagnosis and removal of any spots that bother you. It is truly amazing how removing just a single spot or two can make you look and feel significantly better about your appearance.
Elizabeth VanderVeer, M.D., is a board-certified internist and president/medical director at VanderVeer Center. A native Oregonian, she is a fourth-generation doctor who has dedicated her practice exclusively to aesthetics for many years and specializes in nonsurgical cosmetic medicine. Dr. VanderVeer is a published author and a sought-after international lecturer as well as a national trainer for numerous industry leaders.