Your skin goals may never seem attainable if you strive for healthy, flawless skin. In our teens, we develop acne, and as we age, fine lines, wrinkles, and dark spots creep their way onto our faces.
It is a never-ending fight against time, hormones, and stress, all of which make an impact on our skin's texture. Hyperpigmentation is one of these factors. Dark spots occur for many reasons, so let’s dig a little deeper into this skin phenomenon.
What Are Dark Spots on the Skin?
Freckles, age spots, scarring, and sunspots sneak their way onto our complexions, sometimes without notice. These areas have darker pigmentation than the other areas on your skin, and this change in pigmentation may result from excess melanin production.
Sometimes these areas are hereditary, birthmarks, or caused by the sun. Not everyone gets dark spots, but those who do usually seek treatments to fade or make them disappear.
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What Causes Dark Spots?
There are many reasons why dark spots may occur. Hyperpigmentation of the skin is usually a result of one of the following:
- Acne Scarring
- Overexposure to the Sun’s UV Rays
- Hormonal Changes (Pregnancy & Menopause)
Hyperpigmentation is most often a result of the overproduction of melanin in the skin by cells called melanocytes. Factors like hormones, such as estrogen and progesterone, sun exposure, and age trigger excess melanin. And as we age, the size of the melanocytes increases, resulting in what we know as age spots. Other reasons dark spots occur are harsh skin exfoliation, acne, and over-waxing in some skin regions.
Most of these dark spots are harmless but contact your doctor or dermatologist immediately if you see anything unusual.
What Is Post-Inflammatory Hyperpigmentation?
Some skin damage causes post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. PIH is a condition that causes inflamed dark spots on the skin. It occurs when the skin produces excess melanin after an injury or excessive irritation to the skin.
Post Inflammatory Hyperpigmentation is associated with the following:
- Ingrown hairs
- Bites, cuts, and burns
- Harsh skincare products
- Incorrect hair removal techniques
If you begin to see changes in moles or other dark spots, see your healthcare provider right away.
How To Get Rid of Dark Spots
There are what seems like millions of dark skin spot treatments available today. There's undoubtedly something for everyone from creams, laser treatments, and vitamins. Here is a run-down of the many therapies available today.
Topical Treatments for Dark Spots
Topical skin treatments are creams or serums that apply topically to the skin. There is a variety of these available, including:
Vitamin C is one of many popular home remedies for dark spots. It is an excellent antioxidant that fights free radicals and deters oxidative damage that causes premature aging.
Vitamin C targets dark spots on contact. It is a natural ingredient that many people choose for its effectiveness and natural components. Vitamin C is available in cream, gel, serum, and liquid forms.
Alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) are chemical exfoliant acids that exfoliate by sloughing away dead skin cells and promoting cellular turnover. It also improves skin texture and reduces the signs of aging.
AHAs increase your sensitivity to the sun, so you must wear sunscreen during sun exposure and while you undergo an AHA skincare protocol. AHAs work by gently exfoliating the skin to reveal new, glowing skin underneath.
Retinoic acid increases cellular turnover and promotes new cellular growth and activity. Clinical research indicates that retinoids improve signs of photoaging (aging caused by the sun) on all skin types and colors. This product is another one that causes sensitivity to the sun’s rays, so make sure to wear an SPF of 30 or higher when you head outdoors.
Kojic acid comes from fermented rice and mushroom, and it works well as a skin lightener when combined with hydroquinone. Kojic acid works by suppressing activity in pigmented cells.
People with sensitive skin should use small doses at night in an allergic reaction.
Kojic acid takes several months before noticeable skin lightening results occur, so be patient with this method.
Soy is a popular ingredient in many dark spot treatment products. Soy extract is derived from the soybean plant, and it works by preventing melanin from entering the top layer of skin. Soy proves to be a skin lightener and is best used during the day and at night.
Azelaic acid is a dermatologist-recommended dark spot treatment for the face. It is a naturally-occurring extract from wheat, oat, and rye, interfering with abnormal pigmentation. Azelaic acid can help reduce the signs of acne and scarring.
Chemical exfoliants (peels) can help reduce dullness in the skin and stimulate collagen production. Chemical exfoliants include:
- Azelaic Acid
- Alpha Hydroxy Acid (AHA)
- Beta Hydroxy Acid (BHA)
- Lactic Acid
- Salicylic Acid
- Glycolic Acid
When you begin an at-home chemical treatment for the first time, use it sparingly to reduce risk of irritation, especially if you have sensitive skin!
Schedule a consultation with your dermatologist to discuss the procedure and possible reactions. It usually takes three to six treatments or more spaced three to four weeks apart before you see results. Deeper peels reveal quicker results in a shorter amount of time.
Cosmetic Procedures for Dark Spots
Some people opt for the in-office approach to skin lightening when at-home treatments are not effective. Popular cosmetic procedures for dark spots include:
The most expensive route to take for dark spot treatments is laser therapy. Lasers use concentrated light energy to zap the actual pigment itself rather than the top layers of skin. The laser burns the darkened layers of the skin.
There are side effects of laser treatments which include:
- Skin Textural Changes
Intense pulsed light (IPL) treats hyperpigmentation by delivering a less focused light ray. It can have unwanted effects on the skin around the area being treated though, and this effect is especially common in tanned and darker skin tones.
Ask your skincare specialist whether they use treatments involving a focused beam. Educate yourself before laser treatments to avoid inflammation, burns, and damage to the skin.
Microdermabrasion utilizes tiny crystals to buff away dead skin cells. This procedure does not damage the top layer of skin, so it is more gentle than chemical exfoliants and does not require downtime.
Microdermabrasion is ideal for mild hyperpigmentation and usually takes three to six treatments or more to see results.
Microneedling involves stainless steel, a medical-grade roller covered with hundreds of tiny needles. These needles create mico-injuries in the skin, forcing the skin to build collagen and elastin.
Microneedling may cause darker pigmented skin tones to become darker, but these treatments produce glowing results when properly conducted.
How To Prevent Dark Spots
Preventing sun damage is your first line of defense against dark spots on your skin. Protect your skin from UVA and UVB rays with titanium dioxide and zinc oxide. These ingredients block the sun’s rays effectively and help prevent dark spots on the skin and premature aging.
Dermatologists recommend using an SPF of 30 or higher to prevent sun damage.
Factors To Consider Before Choosing Your Treatment
The type of treatment you choose is dependent on your skin tone and skin type and a few other factors. Here are some things to consider before choosing your dark spot treatment.
Some skin conditions cause hyperpigmentation. These conditions must be addressed to prevent these dark spots.
As an example, if you have PIH, treatments need to focus on fading the dark spots and treating and preventing the acne that causes them. Diet and lifestyle changes are effective, along with BHA and retinol treatments.
Sun damage is one of the most prevalent causes of sun damage. Sunscreen effectively prevents dark spots and prevents existing ones from becoming darker.
Wear sunscreen of 30 or higher daily and use a topical vitamin C to prevent melanin formation and combat the signs of premature aging.
Medications, oral or topical, may cause or worsen hyperpigmentation. Read the side effect label on your medications to find if this is a side effect. Existing dark spots caused by medications usually fade between six to twelve months. Darker spots may take longer to fade.
Always make sure to consult your doctor before making any medical decisions.
Hyperpigmentation caused by hormonal changes is not avoidable; however, it is treatable once the cause is eliminated. Pregnancy is an example of this, seeing that dark spots fade when the pregnancy ends. If you are pregnant or nursing, consult with your doctor before treating hyperpigmentation with topical, oral, or cosmetic procedures.
Melasma is a deep form of hyperpigmentation that reoccurs with exposure to the sun even after the spots fade.
Home Remedies for Dark Spots
Some people claim that home remedies help treat hyperpigmentation. These at-home remedies may include:
- Aloe Vera Gel
- Lemon Juice
- Beta Carotene
- Licorice Extract
- Pomegranate Extract
- Green Tea
- Soy Milk
- Tea Tree Oil
- Ripe Papaya
Things To Avoid
Some skin lightening treatments may damage your skin. For instance, the American Academy of Dermatology warns against using bleach as a lightening agent on the skin. Using bleach may cause burns and severe injury.
Mercury is an ingredient that sneaks its way into some skin-lightening agents. It is highly toxic and disguises itself on labels by the names of:
- Hydrargyri Oxidum Rubrum
Be cautious when purchasing skin-lightening treatments to use at home. Purchase from reputable companies, stores, and online sources.
If you use a product and experience an allergic reaction, rinse the product off with soap and water, and contact your doctor or dermatologist immediately.
There are many causes for dark spots on the skin, but prevention is the key to reducing these spots. Wear sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher every day, read medication labels, and determine the hormonal changes your body may be going through.
All of these may be causing some or all of your dark spots.
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