Brown skin spots - when not to worry

Dr Helena Torpinski|Moles
9 November 2019


Brown skin spots are common on fair skin and specially on skin in Australia. There are many types of brown skin spots, and while some are dangerous, even life-threatening, most are not.

So let’s take a look at a few common types of skin spots that are nothing to worry about.


Freckles are small brown spots on the skin, most commonly seen on the sun exposed areas of fair skin.

They are the product of genetics and the environment, meaning some people are pre-disposed to develop them, but everyone may develop some as a result of sun exposure.

They are most often completely harmless. They are an overproduction of melanin, which is the pigment that determines skin and hair colour.

There are two main types of freckles.

Ephelides are the cute freckles sprinkled over the noses of children. They occur as a result of sun exposure or sunburn – meaning inadequate sun protection has been used.

Any skin colour can develop ephelides, but they’re much more common in fair skin, as there is less natural sun protection in lighter skin tones.

They can occur on any part of the skin that is exposed to the sun, most often this means the nose, cheeks, arms and shoulders.

They tend to appear more in Summer and may fade in Winter somewhat. They can be light or dark in colour, and may fade with age.

Their shape can be irregular, but the edges are clear and well defined. The nature of a spot’s border is an important way to determine it’s likelihood of being dangerous.

Solar Lentigines
Solar lentigines are darker patches of skin that develop during adult life, and can include freckles, age spots and sun spots.

Unfortunately they are less cute than the childhood versions, often leaving overly sun-kissed features looking aged and damaged.

Solar lentigines are more likely to occur in caucasians and specially those over 40. They’re the result of sun exposure.

Therefore, they’re most likely to be quite contained to highly sun exposed skin, such as the face, backs of hands, forearms, shins, chests and backs. They accumulate with age, so they’ll begin to appear after 40, and can continue appearing for decades to come.

They are unlikely to fade, they don’t change with the seasons and tend to get worse over time. Colour can be anywhere from yellowish to dark brown.

The borders of solar lentigines are well defined.


Moles are different from the spots discussed above. They are overgrowths or clusters of pigment producing cells called melanocytes.

Moles can be skin coloured, or anything through to darkest brown.

They’re not necessarily related to sun exposure, though they are still most common in lighter skinned people and can be present from a young age. But because sun exposure does play a small part, we can see a growth in the number of moles during the most vulnerable times for our skin – childhood and early teens.

Moles are harmless. They grow as you grow and the number of moles a person has is determined largely by genetics.

People with large numbers of moles are at an increased risk of melanoma and should get regular skin checks.

Dysplastic naevi

Dysplastic naevi are a type of mole that looks different from the more common mole. They’re often bigger and have different colour tones, surface texture and borders.

Like other moles, they’re most common in sun exposed areas.

They often have a mix of colours, and irregular or poorly defined borders.

The presence of dysplastic naevi indicates an increased risk for melanoma. People with large numbers of these types of moles should have regular skin checks.

Treatments for freckles and moles

Because none of the spots we’ve discussed in this blog pose a medical threat, there is no need to treat them.

However, from a cosmetic perspective, they can cause confidence issues and self consciousness.

Some moles may also exist on parts of the skin prone to damage from constant bumping or rubbing, such as on skin where seat belts sit, hand bag straps lie or on elbows or knuckles.

Laser removal of spots and bumps is possible in many cases. It may take several treatments to get a good result and as some treatments may require some down time, depending on the size of the spot being removed and its location.

For more on the laser removal of brown spots, read this webpage.

When should you start to worry?

There are three types of skin cancers, the most serious being melanoma. We will be talking more about melanomas and other skin cancers in our next blog.

If you’ve got spots on your skin that are worrying you, or that have noticeably changed colour, shape or size, that have recently appeared, or that are showing signs of trauma (bleeding, weeping, swelling etc) we strongly suggest you see your GP, dermatologist or skin specialist.

To make an appointment with our dermatologist, call our receptionists.