A lot of the work I did as an esthetician involved me helping women improve their skin tone and decrease the appearance of dark spots, uneven skin tone, and sun damage. Not to mention that I personally have struggled with dark spots and skin pigmentation issues for all of my adult life. Perhaps this is one of your top skincare concerns. If this is you then this blog post is for you! Today I am going to talk about what causes dark spots and skin discoloration, skin treatments that help fade these unsightly skin issues, as well as what ingredients you need to look for in your skincare products to help with treating and correcting these issues so you can diminish and decrease their appearance.
How Skin Discoloration Happens
You may or may not know this but skin discoloration doesn’t just happen all on its own. There are specific things that you are probably doing intentionally or unintentionally that are causing your uneven skin tone.
If you were or you are a sun worshipper then this could definitely be a factor in the dark spots and blotchy skin tone that you are noticing when you look into the mirror. Spending an excessive amount in the sun without using proper sun protection can and will lead to sunspots and age spots. This is due to the UVA rays causing damage to the deeper layers of the dermis. The result is premature aging in the form of fine lines and wrinkles, and photoaging. The UVB rays are the rays that are responsible for causing harm to the superficial layers of skin and are what contribute to the development of skin cancer.
A good way to prevent sun damage is to make sure you’re wearing SPF 30 or higher daily on all exposed parts of the body, and reapply often when you are outside for a prolonged period of time.
While sun damage due to excessive sun exposure is a more direct and intentional way to cause uneven skin tone issues. Skin trauma due to post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation is a more indirect and unintentional way to cause dark spots and skin discoloration. Skin trauma is defined as any type of trauma that occurs on the epidermis or the uppermost layer of skin. An example of skin trauma would be a blemish, a cut, a scratch, or a burn. These types of trauma lead to post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation or PIH. PIH can be simply defined as an excessive amount of pigment production following an injury or inflammatory response by the body.
While there isn’t a clear cut way as to how you can prevent PIH from occurring and leading to uneven, blotchy skin you can avoid picking at blemishes, or picking at scars during the healing process to decrease your chances of the injury turning into a dark spot, while also using products that help the skin to heal properly while decreasing scarring such as Mederma if you’re dealing with an injury on the body. As for the face using acne treatments to clear up blemishes and breakouts as wells as corrective cleansers and treatment serums can prevent the injured area from turning into a dark spot or help it to fade more quickly.
The last cause of skin discoloration is due to hormonal imbalance within the body. Using hormonal birth control, pregnancy, or going through menopause or any major change within the body that causes the hormones to become imbalanced can have an effect on the production of pigment. A hormonal imbalance typically leads to a condition is known as melasma to present itself. This is when a butterfly-like mask covers the center of the face, primarily the forehead, nose, cheeks, and chin, and is brown or grey in appearance.
Similar to skin trauma skin discoloration for hormonal imbalance isn’t something that can be prevented but will need to be treated and in most cases seeking medical-grade treatments from a dermatologist and following a strict at-home regimen that includes decreasing sun exposure and using SPF 30 or higher is the best route to take to properly treat this condition.
Whether you have a less severe case of skin discoloration or a severe case there is a range of treatments that are available to you and can help you in decreasing and managing excess skin pigmentation.
Chemical peels involve the use of a peeling agent which it’s primary purpose is to encourage cellular turnover to help slough off the top layer of skin and reveal the new layer of skin underneath. This process helps to decrease the appearance of the skin pigmentation but proper at-home maintenance must be followed in order to maintain results following the peel.
When you are dealing with less severe pigmentation a series of light to medium glycolic, lactic, or mandelic peel with a licensed esthetician can help you achieve your skin health goals. When dealing with a server pigmentation issue such as in the case with melasma it is best to seek medical-grade peels such as the Cosmelan, Perfect Derma Peel, or the V.I. Peel that is designed to penetrate into the deeper layers of the skin and adhere to a more stringent at-home protocol to manage your condition.
Also unless instructed to do so by your esthetician or you received a specific product in your at-home protocol it is not a good idea to practice a “DIY” chemical peel at home or purchase a peel on Amazon and “give it a try”. As a professional, I have never seen this end up good for anyone. NEVER.
These wonderful treatments are great for those that have a fair to medium skin tone and have sun damage and dark spots on their face they are seeking to correct. The main target with the IPL is the actual pigment itself and with a series of treatments and over a period of time you will notice the pigmented lesion will darken and eventually slough off the face.
With this treatment, it is important to follow an appropriate at-home protocol that will help assist the results of the IPL while also treating the lesions. SPF protection is also important with this treatment.
This gentle treatment is great for all skin types and is a form of physical exfoliation that helps to increase cellular turnover by removing the top layer of skin using a diamond tip, or crystals to detach the dead skin layers from the skin. Similar to a chemical peel a series of treatments is needed to aid in fading the appearance of the dark spots and sun damage while following an at-home protocol. Using SPF 30 or higher will help to protect skin and prevent further pigmentation or damage.
Corrective Skin Care Regimen
This is totally in your hands and your responsibility. Taking care of your skin and maintaining the results you receive from your treatments is the only way you will prevent further damage and pigmentation to the skin. It also helps to treat and correct while brightening and improving our skin’s overall health and aesthetic. Let’s talk more about the different types of ingredients you should look for when working to heal your skin discoloration issues.
Lighteners & Brighteners
The goal with a majority of skincare products that are developed and created for skin with skin discoloration issues is the lighten the areas of excess pigment and to brighten and even the skin tone. There are different levels of ingredients for different levels of pigmentation. You have prescription lighteners or bleaching agents, and botanical lighteners. Many of these ingredients can be found in treatment serums, moisturizers, night creams, and masks.
Lighteners contain prescription bleaching ingredients such as hydroquinone, and Retin-A in a higher concentration and are designed to be used in combination with specific skin treatments such as IPL, or medical-grade chemical peels in order to accelerate results. These products were not designed for long-term use but for a short and specific duration according to what your skincare and skin health goals are.
Ingredients such as hydroquinone work to suppress the tyrosinase enzyme which is responsible for producing melanin regulates the production of melanocytes(melanin-producing cells), and helps to decrease melanin production, and allows the darkened areas to lighten and fade. Whereas ingredients such as Retin-A increase cellular production which helps to exfoliate the top layer of the skin to aid in increasing the ability of the dark spots and skin discoloration to fade. On average a cycle of six to eight months is adequate when combining these ingredients with progressive treatments in order to treat skin pigmentation.
Botanical brighteners are naturally derived skin lightening ingredients that are responsible for disrupting melanin-producing suppressing tyrosinase activity, regulating melanin production, slowing down the production of melanocytes while providing antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits.
Examples of botanical brighteners are peptides, licorice extract, bearberry extract, Indian gooseberry, white mulberry extract, niacinamide, kojic acid, Vitamin C, azelaic acid. To increase the efficacy of these ingredients are often partnered with exfoliating ingredients such as retinol, glycolic, or lactic which aid in increasing cellular turnover and fading and decreasing the appearance of uneven skin tone and dark spots.