If you have dark spots on your legs, you’re not alone. This generally happens when that patch of skin produces or contains more melanin than the surrounding skin.

Melanin is what gives your skin its color. The more melanin you have, the darker your skin. Freckles and dark spots mean those areas have more melanin. Dark spots are common among people of all skin tones. You can have dark spots on your legs or anywhere else on your body.

There are steps you can take to lighten those spots and, in some cases, prevent more spots from developing.

This article will take a closer look at the most common causes of dark spots on the legs, what you can do about them, and warning signs that mean you should see a doctor.

There are several things that can cause dark spots on your legs. While they’re most likely harmless, some dark spots could be a sign of something more serious.

Sun damage

Skin reacts to sunlight by producing more melanin. Some patches of skin may produce melanin in abundance while nearby skin produces less.

Getting too much sun is a common cause of dark spots. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, it’s the leading cause for people with light skin.

If you have dark spots on your legs, there’s a chance that it’s due to sun damage.

Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation

If you’ve had acne, eczema, psoriasis, or an injury to your skin, it can cause inflammation and an increase in melanin in areas where skin lesions have appeared. The American Academy of Dermatology notes that these types of dark spots are most common among people with darker skin.

Diabetes

Some people with diabetes develop a resistance to insulin. This can prevent the body from properly using the insulin produced by the pancreas.

As a result, excessive amounts of insulin can build up in the bloodstream. This can cause a dark band of skin that’s likely to appear around the neck. This is known as acanthosis nigricans and doesn’t generally occur on the legs.

Melanoma

Melanoma is a type of skin cancer. In males, it tends to appear on the face or trunk. In females, it tends to develop on the legs. Melanoma can take many forms and may require a visual examination by a dermatologist for detection.

Melanoma can also develop from an existing mole or as a new lesion. Signs to watch out for include a mole that:

  • has an irregular shape or irregular border
  • is multicolored
  • itches or bleeds
  • is larger than a quarter of an inch
  • changes in size, shape, or color

Other causes

  • Addison’s disease: This rare disorder can cause generalized hyperpigmentation, especially on sun-exposed skin and pressure points. This may cause you to have darker skin on your knees.
  • Tinea versicolor: This yeast infection can cause lighter or darker patches of skin, most commonly on the upper trunk and arms. It doesn’t commonly affect the legs. The patches may become more noticeable if you get a tan.

Sunscreen

Sunscreen won’t lighten dark spots on your legs, but it can help keep them from getting darker. It can also prevent new dark spots from forming.

Protect your skin from the sun all year long. If your legs will be exposed, use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher. Sunscreen may also help you make the most out of any skin lightening products you’re using.

Aloe vera

One study shows that aloin, the active ingredient in aloe vera, has the potential to lighten skin. However, there’s not enough evidence to suggest aloe vera is effective for lightening dark spots. More studies are needed in humans to investigate this use of aloe vera.

Aloe vera gels and lotions can provide relief from dry, sunburned skin. You can open the leaf of an aloe vera plant and apply the gel directly to your skin. Alternatively, you can buy lotions and gels that contain aloe.

However, this is unlikely to be helpful for lightening dark spots on the skin.

There are many OTC products that claim to lighten skin, though evidence is limited. Some work better than others, so you may have to try a few to see how they work for you.

Read the package insert so you know how often to apply the product and how long it may take before you see an improvement.

Studies show that these ingredients may be helpful in the management of hyperpigmentation:

Arbutin, kojic acid, and licorice may cause an allergic reaction in some people. If that happens, stop using the product immediately and follow up with your doctor.

None of these products are FDA-approved for skin lightening. Many OTC supplements and extracts aren’t well-regulated, and some products don’t have well-established guidelines for safe use. It’s important to discuss this with your doctor before use.

Your doctor or dermatologist may recommend laser treatment, depending on the cause of your dark spots. You may need multiple treatments to see an improvement.

Laser treatment can be done alone or in combination with topical skin lightening therapy. How the laser works depends on the type of laser used and your specific cause of hyperpigmentation.

One type of procedure uses targeted beams of light to remove layers of skin. Another type of procedure targets the dermis to promote collagen growth and tightening of the skin.

Laser treatments may not be a good option if you have darker skin, as you may heal with pigmentation that’s darker than it was originally. Laser treatments should only be performed by a qualified physician.

Cryotherapy

Cryotherapy is a procedure in which liquid nitrogen is used to destroy skin pigment cells. As your skin heals, the spots may start to lighten. Cryotherapy should only be performed by an experienced dermatologist.

If OTC products don’t work, your doctor can prescribe stronger bleaching creams that contain a higher strength of hydroquinone, a skin lightening agent. These can be combined with prescription retinoids and mild steroids.

With these prescription treatments, the dark spots may gradually fade over the span of a few months to a year.

However, hydroquinone should not be used for many months without taking a break, since this can actually lead to darkening.

If topical therapy alone doesn’t work, combining it with superficial chemical peels may be an option. Ingredients to look for include:

Talk to your primary care doctor or dermatologist before trying chemical peels.

Dark spots on your legs are usually not a cause for concern, but you may want to mention them at your next doctor visit.

If you’re concerned about the appearance of dark spots on your skin, talk to your doctor or dermatologist about the safest and most effective types of treatment.

Signs that you should see a doctor right away include:

  • spots that are raised and not smooth
  • moles that are changing in appearance
  • dark spots on your palms, fingers, soles of your feet, toes, mouth, nose, vagina, or anus
  • other types of unusual lesions on your body

Dark spots on your legs may be harmless. But if they bother you, there are OTC products and home remedies that may help them fade. You can prevent further darkening and additional dark spots by using sunscreen all year long.

If you want to get rid of dark spots on your skin, see your doctor or a dermatologist. They can help guide you to the treatment with the most potential.