beauty

Here's how to treat those brown spots on your face, chest and hands.

You know those brown spots that show up on your face, hands and chest that, like, aren't freckles? You know the ones? It's called hyperpigmentation - also known as liver spots or age spots - and it's SO common among Australian women that it's almost weird if you don't have them.

"Liver spots are also known as age spots, solar lentigines and various other names. They are a large 'blob' of pigmentation that occurs on the skin, usually in sun-exposed areas of the skin," explained Dr Giulia D'Anna from Dermal Distinction.

"They are typically found on the top of the head (particularly in follicularly-challenged men), the back of hands, side of face and decolletage." Cute!

Watch: Need to up your sun care game? Of course you do. We all do. Here's how to protect your skin from the sun. Post continues below.


Video via Mamamia

So they're not freckles? Or they are?

"They are much larger than freckles and look like multiple freckles combined together. They are not in themselves dangerous, but sun exposed skin is always at higher risk of unwanted damage," explains Dr D'Anna.

Okay not freckles, got it.

Sooo... why do I have them?

Y'see, friends - these spots are REAL easy to get. And we'll give you one guess as to what causes them. Go on, just guess!

Yep - got it in one.

The sun is the most common cause of age/liver spots. 

Listen to Mamamia's podcast for your face, You Beauty, where we talk about how to lessen pigmentation caused by sun damage and pregnancy. Post continues below. 

"They occur because of a local and benign (non-cancerous) increase in melanocytes, the pigment-producing cells found at the junction of our epidermis (top layer of skin) and the dermis (inner layer)," explained Melbourne-based dermatologist Dr Shyamalar Gunatheesan.

Melanocytes are basically what causes a suntan (that old school thing that no one does anymore, cause we're all smart little chickens who know waaay better), but also hyperpigmentation or dark spots. 

"These cells do not have stem cells and have cellular arms that extend out into the skin. These arms are quite fragile and subject to damage. When they do get damaged, the arms 'leak' melanin in big patches rather than an even distribution through the skin," said Dr D'Anna. 

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Did we just give you another reason not to hang out in the sun? I think we did. 

Most sun spots and patches of hyperpigmentation that you see are stuff you probably got, like, 20 years ago (it takes years for sun damage to develop into brown spots). Current UV exposure is just baiting it to come out and show itself. Hooray!

Age spots also commonly show up on the hands. Image: Getty.

Okay. How to I get rid of 'em?

We hate to be the bearer of bad news, but dark spots and uneven skin tone has the tendency of making you look older than you actually are (even though we think you look great - love what you've done with your hair!)

Just think of all the products with words slapped on them, like 'brightening' or 'dark spot corrector' that work to fade excessive melanin. 

Most of the time these kinda products will work by exfoliating the skin and removing the layer of cells with brown spots, resulting in a brighter complexion. Some products will also use this in combination with specific ingredients to target the site of the melanin production, preventing these dark spots from getting worse.

To do all this (erm... reduce the appearance of age spots and stop them from getting worse), you should be using skincare products with these ingredients:

Vitamin C

First up, get yourself a skincare product with a big wallop of vitamin C. And use it - daily. 

"Vitamin C and E actives will work synergistically to reduce melanin production and increase your skin’s ability to counteract UV damage," said Dr Gunatheesan.

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"It also hydrates and plumps up collagen making the skin appear more luminous." Go hard on it.

Retinol

You'll also need to have an exfoliant in your routine. We're talking chemical exfoliants, like retinol (can be in the form of a serum or cream - whatever works). 

"Retinol (vitamin A) helps to improve cellular turnover, so that melanin patches are reduced in colour and some pigment may also be permanently shed too," said Dr D'Anna. 

If retinol doesn't agree with your skin at this stage, try lactic acid or glycolic acid (again - can be used in a cleanser, toner, serum etc). These will do the job, too.

SPF

Okay. This is less of an option, and more of a we're-telling-you-to-do-it thing. Even Dr D'Anna agreed: "SPF is mandatory in reducing the darkening of the spots. Without the sun, the amount of melanin produced is very low."

"Prevention is much better than treatment. So, wear SPF every day, and cover your arms/hands and head/face with a good hat or long sleeves," added Dr D'Anna.

Prescription skincare

If all else fails on the skincare front - see your doctor for other topical options.

"There are some pharmaceuticals that may be prescribed by your doctor too to help reduce the pigmentation," said Dr D'Anna. "This needs to be done under medical guidance and care to ensure that the skin has been examined and then diagnosed correctly."

Should I get laser or IPL or something like that?

Maybe. But you need to check in with a dermatologist or skin specialist first to make sure your skin type can be safely treated. 

Dr D'Anna said, "The best treatment will vary according to your skin, the level of pigmentation and other skin considerations. It is best to get the advice of a qualified dermal therapist before proceeding."

Here are some professional treatments that can help reduce these melanin pigmentation patches:

Laser or IPL 

These are good non-invasive solutions that will usually give you significant results after a course of treatments. 

"A combination of topical treatments, light and laser therapies work best," said Dr Gunatheesa. "Broad-based light therapy, fractional ablative lasers will fade or remove existing liver spots."

Okay. How does that work?

"Laser or IPL also reduce the amount of colour in the skin," said Dr D'Anna. "The light energy heats the damaged and pigmented patches, so that the pigment is disrupted and lightened over a series of sessions."

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Skin needling 

"Skin needling is amazing at breaking up the pigmentation, which is located deep in the skin. Not only that, but this treatment assists in thickening the skin and tightening it too," said Dr D'Anna. "This is necessary as pigmented skin is usually damaged and thin skin."

Cryotherapy 

Ever heard of this one? "Cryotherapy, 'cryopen', or 'cold' treatment uses a thin jet of harmless nitrous oxide gas, which is blasted at the pigmented skin," explained Dr D'Anna. "This cools the skin surface so much that the skin in that area works to replace itself entirely, thus revealing a brighter and lighter skin surface."

Allumera

This is another good treatment if you're looking for something with minimal downtime. Allumera is a light-activated, topical cream designed to improve skin tone and the overall appearance of the skin. 

"A photosensitiser is used on the skin for one hour, and then LED is used afterwards. This helps to improve skin clarity and colour all round."

Important: Just FYI, these procedures are not a quick-fix kinda deal. For effective results, you'll more than likely need to undertake a series of treatments so that the skin is slowly improved - so make sure you discuss this with the dermatologist or skin specialist in your first consultation (and check your bank account - cause it can get pricey). Same goes for skincare - you need to be patient because it can take at least four weeks for results to show.

Feature image: Getty

Do you have liver spots on your hands and chest? Any tips? Share with us in the comment section below.

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