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Why Dark Spots Appear on your Skin

by Valerie DeVette

Lentigines (age spots) and ephelides (freckles) are frequently dark, brown or black spots that show over time on sun exposed areas of the skin. These spots are normally on the back of the hands, face and legs. People who tan extensively may also have them on the shoulders, back, chest and several other areas of skin.

Markings such as lentigines are superficial collections of the skin pigment called melanin that have accumulated within the external layer of the skin, called the epidermis.

Ephelides occur commonly in lighter skin types, particularly in individuals who get skin burns easily when exposed to the sun. Lentigines typically appear later in life and can occur on all skin types.

Certain skin marks and age spots medically referred to as lentigos are usually called "liver spots" or "age spots". However, both of these terms are misnomers. While freckles do tend to show over time, they are not by themselves a sign of old age. Rather, they show up on the sun-exposed areas of those who have a genetic tendency to develop them.

When exaggeratedly exposed to ultraviolet rays, whether from a tanning booth, a sun lamp or years of going out without sunscreen, vulnerable skin protects itself by secreting an overabundance of melanin, producing uneven patches. Age spots or lentigos and seborrhoeic keratoses are brown patches that usually appear on the back of the hands, face and the back. This pigment is accumulated as a type of response to damage, just like a scar is a response to a wound.

Even while this condition is inoffensive, it must not be confused with melanoma, a type of skin cancer. Lentigo impacts both sexes equally. Ethnically, the majority of cases occur in skin types I-II, but lentigo has been reported in all other types in rare cases. The lighter complexion in Caucasians boosts one's sun sensitivity and gives way for the elevated danger of having the condition. People that suffer from the inability to tan in natural sunlight are especially at risk and need to therefore tune into the daily practices that effect healthy skin. Inherited factors must also be considered; people with a family history of melanoma, or potential precursors to melanoma, are more prone to forming lentigos.

Lentigo-type freckles & Seborrheic Keratoses

Sometimes older persons who acquire these lentigo-type freckles also have raised, brown, crusty blemishes called seborrheic keratoses. Seborrheic dermatoses are also benign (not malignant) blemishes of the skin. Although they are most often brown, they can vary in color and range anywhere from light tan to black. The unique feature of seborrheic keratoses is their waxy appearance. They seem like they have either been pasted on the skin or can resemble a drop of melted brown candle wax that dropped on the skin. Seborrheic keratoses can occur in the same areas as freckles, but since they are not caused by sunlight, they can also be observed on covered areas. When they first show, the growths commonly start one at a time as tiny rough bumps. Eventually, they thicken and develop a rough, warty surface.

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Published March 12th, 2008

Filed in Health