If there’s one thing everyone wants in life, it’s flawless skin. The reality of dark spots, freckles, and unsightly blemishes shatter that perfect vision, and while we are all for embracing the spots and stripes that make us unique, it is just as important for your health to understand why these pesky skin discolorations can appear. While there are lots of modern treatment options available from at-home remedies to over-the-counter creams and beauty devices, it’s also just as crucial to know how to prevent and keep dark spots at bay.
What are dark spots, and why do they appear?
Dark spots on the skin are caused by the overproduction of melanin, which is the natural pigment that gives your hair, eyes, and skin their color. You might know them as sunspots, and these hyperpigmented patches of skin come hand-in-hand with the natural ageing process as a result of sun damage. The sun’s UV rays destroy skin cells, causing a reaction deep within the skin layers to produce more melanin for protection. Melanin can form as clumps and cause flat brown or black spots to appear on the skin.
Another common cause for dark, splotchy skin is hormonal changes, especially in women during pregnancy. Triggered by a sudden increase in hormones, melasma is a pigmentation disorder that appears as patches of brown-gray discoloration usually on the face.
Often, healed pimples can leave dark, flat marks on the skin that appear tan or dark brown in color. The technical term for this is post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH). This unpleasant reminder of acne breakouts is more common in naturally darker skin tones, and will take much longer to heal if picked or squeezed.
How to get rid of dark spots?
Skin lightening creams
Before making a beeline to the dermatologist’s office, try to incorporate key blemish-lightening ingredients into your daily skincare regimen. Sometimes, a good topical cream is all you need! There are a few ingredients proven to fade dark spots over time. For freckles which tend to fade more easily with less sun exposure, try alpha hydroxyl acids (8% AHA toner), Trichloracetic acid (TCA), phenol. For sun spots which are more difficult to fade even with less sun exposure, try ingredients such as hydroquinone, azelaic acid, glycolic acid, vitamin C, kojic acid and retinoids. Just in case, remember to do a patch test 24 hours before applying any new product on your face.
Depending on the area you want to treat, the type and scale of pigmentation, you might want to go for this surefire solution to get rid of unwanted blemishes. The laser emits energy that is absorbed only by skin cells with an excessive concentration of pigmentation, making sure not to damage the surrounding tissue. Each laser pulse is described like a snap of a rubber band against the skin, and pain is usually minimal.
Microneedling is a procedure that creates micro-injuries in the skin with tiny needles to promote fresh collagen production. This wound-healing effect improves elasticity and brightens the treated skin. Typically, patients will experience slight discomfort during the procedure, followed by mild swelling and redness for up to 48 hours after the treatment.
LED Light Phototherapy
LED Light therapy is a non-invasive, safe, and painless treatment with zero downtime. Using different color wavelengths, the UV-free light hits different depths in skin to stimulate skin rejuvenation. Green LED (520nm) regulates melanin production, reduces pigmentation and acts to “normalize” skin to reduce redness.
This expert-approved method for skin rejuvenation works to remove the top layer of skin, making way for new, healthy skin to surface. Typically, the benefits of chemical peels include overall smoother skin texture, unclogging of pores and lightening of dark spots and pigmentation. With today’s beauty innovations, both professional and at-home chemical peels are virtually painless, with little to no downtime.
Best prevention of dark spots
There are so many causes of dark spots, from diabetes and irritation from certain cosmetic products, to superficial skin trauma and inflammation. But the most common source of blemishes, freckles, and splotchy, uneven skin tones? Sun damage. Think twice about basking under the sun without protection this summer – because sun damage is a long, drawn out process that becomes more apparent with age. You can pursue various anti-aging treatments like the ones outlined above, or you can take matters into your own hands with special at-home beauty devices. A few preventative tips you can consider in your day-to-day:
- Use broad-spectrum sunscreen with at least SPF 30 every day, and re-apply every 2 hours
- Wear a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses
- Avoid going outside during peak sun hours between 10am-4pm
Avoid tanning beds & salons that use artificial UV rays
|Dark spots||Appearance||Causes||Treatment suggestions||Tips|
|Post-acne dark spots||
Flat against surface of the scar
-No long-term damage
|-Avoid anything that lengthens inflammation e.g. picking or squeezing a blemish.|
|Freckles||- Flat, red or brown marks on skin, usually smaller than 2mm||
- Sun exposure
-Often developed in childhood, darken over time
-Topical skin lightening cream
-Wear sunscreen with at least SPF 30 and re-apply every two hours.
-See a doctor if you notice freckles changing shape.
|Sunspots||-Flat brown or black spots on sun-exposed skin, can be larger than 2mm||-Sun exposure, often develop after 40 yrs old||
-Topical lightening creams
|-See a doctor if sunspot has changed in appearance, feels itchy, painful, or is bleeding.|
-Patchy brown, tan or blue-gray discoloration
-Appears on the face e.g. upper cheeks, upper lip, forehead
-Birth control pills
-Hormonal changes during pregnancy
-Topical creams containing hydroquinone
-Avoid sun exposure
-Use sunscreen containing 4% hydroquinone.
When to call up your skin doctor?
Post-acne dark spots, freckles, sunspots, melasma are all harmless. If you however observed a dark spot becoming larger than 2mm, changes in shape, with irregular, ragged uneven in shape, change in color and size, become itchy or bleed, these could be signs of changes associated with skin cancer which warrants a visit to your dermatologist.