What causes red or brownish-gray patches on the body and what should I do about them?

Symptom Database

Red or brownish-gray patches on the body can be a cause for concern, as they may indicate an underlying skin condition or disorder. Skin discoloration can be a result of various factors, including skin pigmentation issues, dermatological conditions, or even certain lifestyle choices. Understanding the causes of these patches and knowing what steps to take can help in managing and treating them effectively.

Understanding Skin Pigmentation

Skin pigmentation refers to the color of the skin, which is determined by the amount of melanin present. Melanin is a pigment produced by specialized cells called melanocytes. It helps protect the skin from the harmful effects of the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays.

However, an overproduction or underproduction of melanin can lead to skin discoloration. Red patches on the body may be a result of increased blood flow to the affected area, causing the skin to appear red. On the other hand, brownish-gray patches may indicate an excess or uneven distribution of melanin.

Common Causes of Red Patches


Excessive exposure to the sun can cause red patches on the skin. Sunburn occurs when the skin is damaged by UV radiation, leading to inflammation and redness. It is essential to protect your skin from the sun by wearing sunscreen, protective clothing, and seeking shade when the sun is at its peak.


Rosacea is a chronic skin condition that primarily affects the face, causing redness, visible blood vessels, and sometimes small, red bumps. While the exact cause of rosacea is unknown, triggers such as sun exposure, hot beverages, spicy foods, and alcohol can worsen the symptoms. Consulting a dermatologist can help in managing and treating rosacea effectively.

Allergic Reactions

Allergic reactions to certain substances can cause red patches on the body. Common allergens include certain foods, medications, cosmetics, and environmental factors such as pollen or pet dander. Identifying and avoiding the trigger can help prevent further allergic reactions and reduce redness.

Common Causes of Brownish-Gray Patches


Melasma is a common skin condition characterized by brownish-gray patches on the face, particularly on the cheeks, forehead, and upper lip. It is more prevalent in women and is often associated with hormonal changes, such as pregnancy or the use of hormonal contraceptives. Protecting the skin from the sun and using topical treatments prescribed by a dermatologist can help manage melasma.

Post-Inflammatory Hyperpigmentation

Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation occurs when the skin produces excess melanin in response to inflammation or injury. It can result from acne, eczema, psoriasis, or even minor cuts and scrapes. The dark patches may fade over time, but using topical treatments and avoiding further skin trauma can help speed up the process.

Age Spots

Age spots, also known as liver spots or solar lentigines, are flat, brownish-gray patches that appear on areas of the skin exposed to the sun, such as the face, hands, and shoulders. They are more common in older individuals and are caused by years of sun exposure. Protecting the skin from the sun and using topical treatments can help fade age spots.

What Should You Do About Red or Brownish-Gray Patches?

If you notice red or brownish-gray patches on your body, it is essential to consult a dermatologist for an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment. They can evaluate your skin condition, identify the underlying cause, and recommend the most suitable course of action.

In the meantime, here are some general tips to help manage and improve the appearance of red or brownish-gray patches:

  • Protect your skin from the sun by wearing sunscreen with a high SPF, seeking shade, and wearing protective clothing.
  • Avoid triggers that worsen your symptoms, such as certain foods, beverages, or cosmetics.
  • Keep your skin moisturized to prevent dryness and irritation.
  • Use topical treatments prescribed by a dermatologist, such as creams or ointments containing ingredients like hydroquinone, retinoids, or corticosteroids.
  • Consider cosmetic procedures, such as chemical peels or laser therapy, under the guidance of a dermatologist.

Remember, everyone’s skin is unique, and what works for one person may not work for another. It is crucial to consult a healthcare professional for personalized advice and treatment options.

In conclusion, red or brownish-gray patches on the body can be caused by various factors, including skin pigmentation issues and dermatological conditions. Understanding the underlying cause is essential in managing and treating these patches effectively. By protecting your skin from the sun, avoiding triggers, and seeking professional guidance, you can improve the appearance of these patches and maintain healthy skin.

Haroon Rashid, MD
Rate author
Urgent Care Center of Arlington, VA
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