We Answer Frequently Asked Questions About Skin Discoloration
Want to address your skin discoloration, but don’t know where to start? Don’t fret! We tapped our team of skin care experts for the answers to common skin discoloration questions. From what causes skin discoloration to how you can improve the look of dark spots, read on for answers to the most frequently asked questions about skin discoloration.
SKIN DISCOLORATION FAQS IN THIS ARTICLE
- What is skin discoloration?
- What causes skin discoloration?
- How can I prevent skin discoloration?
- How can I improve the look of my skin discoloration?
- How can I spot the difference between freckles and dark spots?
- How can I conceal my dark spots without it looking cakey?
Take a look in the mirror. Do you notice dark spots or areas of brown, patchy discoloration on your complexion? It’s likely due to hyperpigmentation, one of the most common skin conditions across all skin tones. According to board-certified dermatologist Joshua Zeichner, MD, and Skincare.com consultant, “hyperpigmentation is an increase in pigment [melanin] that your skin cells have produced.”
If you’re dealing with skin discoloration, you may be wondering how these dark spots appeared in the first place. From overexposure to the sun to family genetics, there are a few culprits to blame for skin discoloration. We list the most common factors below:
Sun exposure: After time spent in the sun, our skin goes into protection mode and increases its melanin production in order to shield itself from the damaging effects of the sun’s harmful UV rays. The Mayo Clinic notes that the extra melanin can give us a sun tan, but in some cases, an uneven increase in melanin production can produce irregular coloring on the skin. In fact, overexposure to the sun is the leading cause of dark spots in light-skinned individuals, according to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD).
Genetics: Do you have a family history of skin discoloration? If so, that could be the reason behind your dark spots.
Hormones: Melasma is a form of skin discoloration that is often associated with pregnancy, though it can affect anyone. It typically appears on areas of skin exposed to sunlight—cheeks, upper lip, forehead, etc.—thought it can appear elsewhere on the body as well. While sun exposure is one of the factors related to melasma, other factors like hormonal fluctuations can also be to blame. If your discolored patches are due to melasma, it’s possible they may fade on their own after pregnancy.
Skin trauma: Changes in skin color can result from damage to the skin, including a bad breakout, or from cuts, burns, infections, and other skin injuries.
Traffic-related air pollution: Recent studies suggest that there may be a correlation between traffic-related air pollution and dark spots. The research from the Journal of Investigative Dermatology found that those who were exposed to nitrogen dioxide experienced more dark spots on their cheeks, but those spots were even more evident on the cheeks of women living in urban areas with increased polluted air.
If your discoloration is caused by environmental factors, such as excessive sun exposure or pollution, the best way to prevent it from getting worse is to protect your skin. This includes applying broad-spectrum SPF 15 or higher each and every day and pairing it with an antioxidant product that can help neutralize free radicals, like vitamin C. Apply a vitamin C serum—like SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic—and follow with a broad-spectrum SPF 15 or higher. For more robust protection, it’s wise to wear protective clothing, seek shade, and avoid peak sun hours—between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.—when rays are strongest as well.
Unfortunately, it’s difficult to address dark spots that have already appeared on the skin, but it’s not impossible. If lasers and chemical peels are out of your budget, you can still turn to topical solutions. Consider some of these options:
Retinol: Products with retinol (a derivative of vitamin A) can help reduce the appearance of dark spots on the skin’s surface over time with continued use. The ingredient is powerful, so be sure to build up your skin’s tolerance if it’s your first time using it, or if you haven’t used it in a while. Note that retinol can also cause skin to become more sensitive to sunlight. When using retinol on your skin, be sure to pair it with frequent applications of broad-spectrum sunscreen to protect your skin.
Vitamin C: One of the best ways to help defend your skin against harmful UV rays and other environmental aggressors is to layer products formulated with vitamin C under your SPF. Vitamin C can help neutralize free radicals, which can latch onto the skin’s surface and can wreak havoc. In addition to acting as an extra line of defense, vitamin C can also help reduce the appearance of an uneven skin tone to reveal bright, radiant skin over time with continued use.
Glycolic acid: Regular exfoliation of skin’s surface can also help to reduce the look of dark spots, so it’s a good idea to bring one of our favorite exfoliating ingredients—glycolic acid—into the mix. Glycolic acid is an alpha-hydroxy acid that’s derived from sugar cane, which gently exfoliates the surface of the skin.
Sun spots and freckles can look practically identical, but there are a few things to look out for if you want to spot the difference. “Freckles are highly active cells that have an increased production of melanin,” says board-certified dermatologist Dendy Engelman, MD, and Skincare.com consultant. “When exposed to the sun, [these cells] can darken and fade with age.” Sun spots are also caused from sun exposure, but are usually bigger in size. “After time in the sun, our cells melanin production goes into overdrive trying to combat UV/UB damage,” Dr. Engelman says. “When a cell overproduces melanin, it causes the area to look darker, thus forming a solar lentigo or sun spot.” If you need more help differentiating between spots on your skin, pay a visit to your dermatologist.
Successfully concealing dark spots begins with the right full-coverage foundation. With so many on the market to choose from, the choice is not always easy. To make things easier, we’re sharing a list of our favorite full-coverage Dermablend foundations here. These formulas can help conceal anything from blemishes to dark spots without looking caked onto your skin.
Editor’s note: If you notice a dark spot on your skin that’s new or growing in size, get a skin check from your dermatologist. Not sure what to expect from a skin check? We have the answers to the most common FAQs, here.