If you suffer from dark spots on your skin caused by hyperpigmentation, one thing is clear: today there are more options than ever before to remove this harmless but annoying discoloration.
What exactly is hyperpigmentation? It is any area of skin that appears darker than the skin’s natural color due to an overproduction of the brown pigment melanin. Hyperpigmentation can be seen in liver spots (or age spots) and sun spots, as the Cleveland Clinic notes.
Four factors that can cause hyperpigmentation
According to the Cleveland Clinic, these are the most common causes of hyperpigmentation and can affect people of all colors to varying degree.
For example, skin damage caused by vigorous rubbing, such as acne, eczema, insect bites, wounds, scratches, even scratches or abrasions, can cause inflammation. Inflammation, on the other hand, can boost the pigment-producing cells, leaving a dark spot after the lesion heals. When inflammation is the cause of discoloration, it is often called post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation.
According to the Mayo Clinic, the sun’s UV rays trigger the production of extra melanin to protect the skin from damage. That extra melanin makes you tan. But when sun exposure is frequent or excessive, dark sunspots can appear. Although sunspots are not cancerous, according to the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery, sun-exposed skin can develop precancerous lesions resembling sunspots. This is why it is important to have your skin checked by a dermatologist every year.
Melasma, often called the “mask of pregnancy,” is characterized by brown spots that often appear in women with fluctuating hormone levels, such as during pregnancy. This type of hyperpigmentation is more common in women, but it can also occur in men. According to experts at the American Osteopathic College of Dermatology (AOCD), it is believed to be caused by a combination of sun exposure, genetics and hormonal changes, Additionally, according to the Cleveland Clinic, other hormone medications used for birth control and menopausal symptoms can cause melasma, as can other types of medications discussed below.
Diseases or medicines
Hyperpigmentation can be caused by Addison’s disease, a disorder of the adrenal gland that can increase melanin production. According to a July 2022 book by StatPearls, certain medications, including antibiotics, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and anti-malarials, may increase the risk of hyperpigmentation. Cancer Connect advocacy group. In the case of chemotherapy drugs, the dark spots associated with them usually disappear 10 to 12 weeks after the end of treatment, as new skin cells replace the dead ones.
The best ways to treat and prevent future
There are many dark spot correctors to choose from these days, but it’s just as important to treat them beforehand.
Keep skin moist to increase cell turnover
While your main goal with hyperpigmentation is to lighten dark spots, an effective drugstore moisturizer should contain ingredients that benefit the skin in other ways. Day, MD, assistant professor of clinical dermatology at NYU Medical School of New York. York and author of Beyond Beautiful: With the Power of Your Mind and Aesthetic Breakthroughs to look Naturally Young and Radiant.
A good moisturizer can also restore the skin’s lipid or fat barrier and keep new skin cells healthy as they appear to replace old ones, notes the University of Tennessee Medical Center.
Keep your hands away from insect bites, blackheads and other injuries
As tempting as it may be to scratch a mosquito bite or squeeze a stubborn blackhead, remember your mom’s warning, “Don’t pick!” — and follow that advice. “The more you joke about it now, the worse it will be later.”
Explore the OTC whitening options
The sooner you treat hyperpigmentation, the easier it will be to remove it. “The pigment in brown spots can penetrate deeper into the skin over time,” explains Dr. Downie out.
Anti-blemish ingredients to look out for in OTC treatments include azelaic and glycolic acids, vitamin C and retinoids, says the American Academy of Dermatology Association (AAD).
New York cosmetic chemist Ni’Kita Wilson. In 2017, the Journal of Enzyme Inhibition and Medicinal Chemistry supports Wilson’s advice, noting that knowledge of the link between tyrosinase and excess melanin development has led to the emergence of several OTC products containing the above ingredients.
While many of these over-the-counter ingredients have “whitening” effects on dark spots, the AAD cautions against applying liquid bleach to the skin. The group recommends sticking with products made in the United States, as some imported skin lightening products have been found to be contaminated with mercury, steroids and other harmful ingredients.
Consider an X-ray for Stubborn Skin Discoloration
If OTC remedies don’t help, it’s time to call the professionals. Dermatologists consider hydroquinone-containing products, alone or in combination with other lighteners, to be the gold standard for fading dark spots because it slows pigment production. These are available by prescription, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). “This is our goal,” Downie says, “because unlike many ingredients in OTC products, it almost always works to eliminate hyperpigmentation.” Ask your dermatologist to monitor your hydroquinone treatment closely, he adds, because hydroquinone in high concentrations can cause sun sensitivity and lighten skin.
In addition to hydroquinone, the AOCD notes that your dermatologist may prescribe other treatments, such as topical cortisone cream or tretinoin, a type of synthetic vitamin A.
Protect your skin from the sun
The most effective way to prevent sun discoloration is to diligently apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 every day, even on cloudy or cool days.
SPF only means protection against shortwave UVB rays. To also protect against long-wave UVA rays, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends choosing a product that contains memory, Parasol 1789, titanium dioxide, zinc oxide, or avobenzone.
In addition, the AAD recommends avoiding outdoor activities between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. when the sun is strongest. You can also wear a wide-brimmed hat to protect your head, face, ears, and neck.
Ask Your Dermatologist About High-Tech Options
If topical solutions don’t solve the problem, you can talk to your dermatologist about more aggressive ways to get rid of the discoloration, such as chemical peels, microdermabrasion or dermabrasion, or, according to the International Association of Aesthetic Medicine Physicians, lasers. coating procedure. (Important note: If you have melasma, lasers are considered third-line treatments because they have not been found to remove excess melanin production, according to a March 2017 review in the International Journal of Women’s Dermatology.