I have dark spots on my legs, what does it mean. That is a concern among many people worldwide. Dark spots on legs in most cases signify a case of hyperpigmentation. Although they are typically harmless, most people find the spots unappealing especially if they won’t go away. For women, dark spots that occur on lower legs are in particular pesky since they are hard to cover. Here we explore common underlying causes along with how to get rid of dark spots on legs with medical treatments as well as home remedies.
What Causes Dark Spots On Legs And Arms?
|Dark spots on legs due to diabetic dermopathy. Courtesy: Skinsight.|
Sun ExposureSun exposure is the top cause of dark spots on legs and other exposed parts of the skin. Our skin contains special cells called melanocytes. These cells produces a pigment called melanin.
Melanin determines the color of our skin, eyes, and hair. Dark-skinned individuals, for example, have higher levels of melanin in the skin than their counterparts with light skin. Melanin also helps to protect the skin against sun damage.
When exposed to the sun, the skin increases the rate at which melanocytes produce melanin. Because melanin is not always produced uniformly, a condition known as hyperpigmentation often occurs.
This is manifested by dark spots on legs and other parts of the body. These spots are referred to as sun spots, age spots, liver spots, or solar lentigines. Hyperpigmentation can affect anyone regardless of the race or skin color.
Hormonal changes e.g. during pregnancy tend to enhance hyperpigmentation. It is thus even more imperative to protect your skin while pregnant.
AgingFor most people, old age means years of accumulated sun damage. This usually manifests itself in dark spots on legs, arms, and other exposed parts of the skin in old age. These patches tend to appear after 40 years. They can occur on any exposed part of the skin including the lower legs.
Improper ShavingYou can also get dark spots on legs after shaving improperly. Here we are talking about use of blunt razors and shaving against the grain. This exposes the hair follicles to the air which causes oxidation of the sebum in them and hence darkening of the pores. You should ideally shave with a clean, sharp razor, in the direction of hair growth.
Shaving spots tend to be more defined in the hair follicles than on the surface of the skin and the term “strawberry legs” is sometimes used to refer to them.
Other hair removal methods such as tweezing, waxing and epilating also carry the risk of not only ingrown hairs but also strawberry legs. Only laser hair removal and electrolysis hair removal techniques cut out these risks completely since they don’t involve pulling.
As regards how to get rid of dark spots on legs after shaving, applying a hydrocortisone cream on the affected area of the skin 2 to 3 times a day for 3 days will suffice.
Laser Hair RemovalAlthough it provides a permanent solution for unwanted hair, laser hair removal can cause dark spots on legs that look like bruises.
According to Sanusi Umar, MD., a Dermatologic Surgeon at Fine Touch Dermatology Clinic in Redondo Beach, CA, these spots are caused by post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. This is caused by excess melanin production in the skin in response to the heat generated by the laser.
The spots occur more commonly in darker-skinned patients but it can as well affect light-skinned individuals.
On a good note, dark spots on legs from laser hair removal are usually temporary. They fade away on their own in a couple weeks to a few months’ time. In the meantime, you will want to limit your exposure to the sun as sun damage can make the dark bruise-like patches worse.
DiabetesDiabetes may also be the underlying cause of dark spots on legs that seemingly just won’t go away. People suffering from diabetes sometimes develop a condition called diabetic dermopathy.
According to Cleveland Clinic, diabetic dermopathy results when diabetes affect the small blood vessels in the skin. Diabetic dermopathy is characterized by scaly patches of skin on the front of the lower legs that range in color from light brown to red. These spots do not itch, blister, or hurt and require no treatment.
Bug BitesBites by insects such as mosquitoes, bedbugs etc. can also cause small dark spots on legs. These bugs cause inflammation on the affected areas of skin. The spots are usually the result of post-inflammatory hyper-pigmentation.
ExerciseWhat some people describe as unexplained dark spots on lower legs are actually splotchy patches that result from running and other exercises. These patches are caused by increased blood circulation. They tend to appear more in light-skinned individuals. It is also possible to get bruises on lower legs if you overexert yourself.
If the problem insists, see a doctor to rule out any medical condition and medication side-effect.
Other Causes of Dark Spots on Legs:
- Scratching: itchy skin conditions such as eczema can cause a continuous urge to scratch the skin, ultimately leading to dark spots on legs or any other part of the body.
- Injury: Trauma on the legs can also cause dark patches to appear on the affected areas of the skin. The lower legs are more predisposed to injury-related darkening.
- Friction: Friction can also cause dark spots between your legs, especially on upper legs. Overweight and obese people are more predisposed to such marks.
- Use of certain medications: Darks spots on legs (or any other part of the body) could also be caused by the use of certain medications. Such medication either make the skin more sensitive to the sun or cause hyperpigmentation even without the involvement of the sun. Good examples of are estrogens, sulfonamides, phenytoin, and tetracyclines.
How to Get Rid Of Dark Spots on LegsWhether from shaving, mosquito bites, sun exposure, name it, dark spots don’t put you at any health risk, but you may still want to remove them for cosmetic reasons. There are lots of over the counter and prescription treatment products and procedures available to get rid of any patches that you feel makes your skin imperfect. Here is a rundown of how to get rid of dark spots on legs:
Fade Cream for Dark Spots on LegsThere is an ever growing number of over the counter creams on the market formulated to fade dark spots on legs or any other part of the body. These creams usually have ingredients that gradually lighten dark spots by slowing down the rate at which melanin is produced and/or promoting skin turnover (exfoliation) in the affected areas of the skin.
You however need to be realistic with your expectations. Most creams will not work overnight or as fast as medical procedures such as laser treatment. They will most probably fade, but not completely remove the dark marks on your legs.
Before using any cream for dark patches removal, it is a good idea to perform a patch test on a small, unbroken area of skin for a period of 24 hours or so. If symptoms of irritation such as itching, blistering, and swelling occur, avoid using the product and instead seek advice from your doctor. Mild redness is to be expected and treatment can continue if it doesn’t get worse.
Verywell.com suggests looking for a cream that is formulated with ingredients such as:
- Glycolic acid
- Alpha Hydroxyl Acid (AHA)
- Kojic acid
- Best Age Spot Remover
- RéVive Perfectif Even Skin Tone Cream: With its unique RES Technology and SPF 30 sunscreen, RéVive Perfectif Even Skin Tone Cream SPF 30 is acclaimed for its ability to remove dark spots and prevent the formation of new ones.
- Pink Madison Whitening Mask Cream
Most prescription creams used to remove dark spots contain hydroquinone as the main ingredient. Typically, these creams contain two times the amount of hydroquinone as that in over-the-counter creams.
For severe cases of dark spots on legs, your dermatologist may prescribe tretinoin (the medication used to treat acne,) cream and/or a cortisone cream.
Laser Treatment for Dark Spots on LegsAlthough costly, laser treatments such as q-switched ruby can help to get rid of even the most stubborn of dark spots on legs and, better still, without scarring if done properly. Laser also gives fast results. Most people will see positive results within a week or treatment with laser.
Laser treatments involves sending high-pulse laser light into the deep layers of the skin. Once there, it heats up the targeted dark patches and cause them to flake off. A test is usually done in a hidden place to see the results to be expected once the actual laser treatment is done.
The right laser treatment will vary from one patient to another but Jill Waibel, M.D., a dermatologist based in Miami generally recommends 1-2 sessions of Intense Pulsed Light (IPL) or photodynamic therapy. The best place to begin is a consultation with a board-certified dermatologist in your area.
Chemical Peels for Removal of Dark Spots on LegsChemical peels can also help to remove dark spots on legs or any other part of the body. As the name suggests, chemical peels are formulated with chemicals that injure the surface of the skin to stimulate a wound-healing reaction that eject the dark pigment in the skin. Trichloroacetic acid (TCA) and glycolic acid peels are among the most common.
Patches of dark skin usually fade in one to four sessions of treatment with chemical peels depending on factors such as skin tone and the extent of discoloration. Maintenance treatment is often necessary at intervals once or twice per year.
According to Dr. Waibel, daily at-home chemical peels such as Glycolix Elite Gly-Sal Pads are milder and can help fade dark spots if used daily.
MicrodermabrasionA medical procedure known as microdermabrasion may also help to get rid of superficial dark spots on legs such as those caused by bug bites.
During the procedure, the superficial layers of the skin are mechanical scraped off to give way for growth of new skin cells and thus a normal-toned skin. Several sessions are typically required to remove the dark spots completely.
Home Remedies for Dark Spots on LegsSometimes the help you need is just around in your house or readily and cost-effectively available at your local convenience store. Most home remedies for dark spots on legs are also safe but on the downside they are often don’t give overnight results. With that said, here is how to get rid of dark spots on legs at home:
Lemon JuiceLemon juice is apparently a miracle healer with many home treatment uses. Just in case you are wondering if lemon juice heals dark marks on the legs, it does.
As a matter of fact, if any of the home remedies for dark spots on legs is widely talked about, it has got to be lemon juice. It has natural skin lightening properties that goes a long way in bleaching the darkening patches of the skin to give you an even skin tone. Below is how to remove dark spots on the legs with lemon juice:
- Cut a fresh lemon into two parts, then squeeze out the juice.
- Soak a cotton ball with the lemon juice and then dab it on all the areas of the legs affected by dark marks. If you have sensitive skin, start by diluting the lemon juice with an equal amount of water.
- Allow it to dry on for 30 minutes, then wash the skin with cool water.
- Repeat this home treatment two times each day until the spots go away. Don’t use more than 2 times per day to avoid excess drying of the skin. You should also avoid direct sunlight for at least two hours after treatment with lemon juice.
Aloe Vera for Dark Spots on LegsThe healing properties of aloe vera extend beyond acne and burns. It can also help to naturally lighten dark skin on lower legs and other parts of the body. As a bonus, it will also hydrate your skin when applied topically. Below is an outline of how to get rid of dark spots on legs with aloe vera:
- Get a fresh leaf from an aloe vera plant and cut it open.
- Rub the juice oozing out of the leaf all over the darkened patches of skin. If you don’t have an aloe vera plant at home, you can use an aloe vera gel such as the one by Amara Organics.
- Allow it to dry for 30 minutes, then rinse the skin with cool water.
- Use this home remedy twice daily until the dark marks fade away. This may take about a month.
Vitamin E oil for Dark Spots on LegsVitamin E has long been recognized for its skin healing properties. It is a fabulous dark spot remover and is even formulated into some over the counter dark spot treatment products. Some people its healing properties to abundance of antioxidants which fight free radicals a swell as even out the skin tone.
How to get rid of dark spots on legs at home is really easy. Simply pop a vitamin E capsule and apply the content on the darkened section of the legs with the help of a cotton ball.
Exposure to sun can worsen dark spots but that is not all. As the American Osteopathic College of Dermatology (AOCD) says, “A single day of excess sun can undo months of treatment”.
Therefore, in addition to using the above home remedies for dark spots on legs, you will want to avoid sun damage by observing the following tips:
- Avoid going outdoors during the time of the day when the sun is hottest.
- Wear a broad-brimmed hat when walking or working outdoors.
- Use a broad spectrum sunscreen with at least SPF 30. A good example is EltaMD SkinCare Broad-Spectrum Sunscreen. As Dr. Waibel says, dark spots can reappear if the skin is exposed to UV rays again. You therefore need to continue protecting your skin even after those offensive spots on your legs have gone away.
- American Osteopathic College of Dermatology (AOCD): Hyperpigmentation
- ClevelandClinic.org: Foot & Skin Related Complications of Diabetes
- Stylecaster.com: 5 Surprising Causes Of Dark Spots
- VeryWell.com: What Are Dark Spots and How to Get Rid of Them?
- RealSelf.com: Is Hyperpigmentation After Laser Hair Removal Permanent?
- Rendon, Marta and Gaviria, Jorge. Skin Lightening Agents. Ed. Zoe Draelos. Philadelphia: Elsevier, 2005. 103-104
- RunnersWorld.com: Why Does Running Make My Legs Blotchy?
- Vogue Magazine: How to Get Rid of Dark Spots
- WebMD: Hyperpigmentation, Hypopigmentation, and Your Skin