Dark spots on the skin (hyperpigmentation) affects millions of people and can occur for different reasons. Although UV damage is the biggest cause of hyperpigmentation, it can also occur from can be caused by heat (from infrared lights or spending extended time in a hot kitchen or factory), or by pregnancy or hormones. What you may not know is that the majority of skin damage is caused before the age of 18, becoming visible as we get older. But don’t worry, it’s not too late to reverse some or all of the damage. There are several things you can do to minimize the appearance of dark spots or even remove them completely. From serums and cream to laser resurfacing treatments, it’s not too late to turn back the clock on your skin.
Hyperpigmentation occurs when patches of skin produce more melanin than they should. Although dark spots are not generally a cause for concern, some people choose to treat them for cosmetic reasons. Dark spots are common on the face, neck, shoulders, and back of the hands, the severity can range from barely noticeable to dark brown, and appear as discolored patches. There are several different causes of hyperpigmentation, let’s take a look at the potential causes of dark spots on the skin and how to treat them.
Causes of Hyperpigmentation
This type of hyperpigmentation is the most common. It’s also called solar lentigines, sunspots and it can occur from unprotected sun exposure, or from a tanning bed. These dark spots generally affect areas of the body exposed to UV rays, like your face, hands, arms, and chest.
Hormones may cause melasma, a type of hyperpigmentation common to women during pregnancy, but it can also affect women on birth control, or people undergoing hormone therapy. Stress and thyroid disease may also trigger this kind of hyperpigmentation.
Some medications can increase pigmentation and produce dark spots on the skin, including tetracyclines, psychotropic drugs, and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).
Skin inflammation can also cause hyperpigmentation. Post-inflammation dark spots can occur after a flare up of eczema, psoriasis, or acne, or after an injury. Certain cosmetics and beauty products can also irritate the skin, causing inflammation and dark spots.
Wounds can cause scarring and hyperpigmentation. Things like insect bites, burns, or cuts can leave discoloration that usually fades with time.
Diabetes can cause discolored patches to appear on the skin. Hyperpigmentation associated with diabetes includes acanthosis nigricans (which can cause darkened, velvet-like skin), and diabetic dermopathy (shin spots), which looks very similar to age spots.
How To Treat Dark Spots
While hyperpigmentation on the skin is not a health risk and does not require treatment, there are ways to get rid of dark spots if they bother you. One solution is regular use of topical creams or serums with active ingredients, like vitamin C, retinol, and hyaluronic acid. These ingredients can lighten and brighten skin and fade hyperpigmentation over time.
Depending on the size and color of your dark spots, you may also want to consider skin resurfacing treatments. Laser technology has come a long way in recent years, and it’s now possible to reverse significant skin damage in just a few sessions. Procedures are more pricey than creams, but they offer quick results.
IPL (intense light pulse) is a very effective treatment for dark spots. It works by targeting the melanin and breaking up the dark spots. It’s relatively painless, and dark spots naturally exfoliate off the skin a few days after treatment.
This treatment involves a special device with an abrasive surface, which removes the outer layer of skin. This works to stimulate new collagen growth, and also reduce dark spots.
During a chemical peel, an exfoliating solution is applied to the skin, which removes the top layer of skin causing new skin to grow. This also helps fade dark spots.
This procedure uses liquid nitrogen to freeze dark spots, injuring the skin cells. This controlled damage works to stimulate new cellular growth and lighten dark spots in the process.
How to Prevent Hyperpigmentation
If you are going to spend the time and money reversing skin damage and hyperpigmentation, it makes sense to protect your investment with post-care. This will ensure you can enjoy your clear, bright skin for a long time to come. The #1 way to prevent hyperpigmentation is, you guessed it, sunscreen! The sun can seriously damage and age your skin, to prevent this, regular application of sunscreen is a must. The higher the SPF, the better, but you should always wear a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30, even when it’s cloudy. Wearing a brimmed hat and sunglasses during prolonged exposure is a plus, and avoiding the sun between 10 am and 4 pm will go a long way in keeping your skin spot-free.