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DYK, Not All Dark Spots Are Created The Same?

DYK, Not All Dark Spots Are Created The Same?

We love to blame the sun for most of our skin woes, but is it entirely at fault when it comes to pesky dark spots? Actually, no. The sun is a major factor, for sure, but there are many other reasons your skin becomes patchy or discolored…

No matter how hard you try to keep the tone of your skin free of patchy dark spots as you get older, this seems to be one skincare battle you just can’t seem to win. But what are dark spots and why, oh why, do they creep up on the skin when we have enough skin issues to contend with (yes, we’re talking to you fine lines and wrinkles)?

What Causes Dark Spots?

Dark spots, aka hyperpigmentation, is extremely common and occurs when your skin overproduces melanin, the pigment the gives your skin its natural color. This makes certain areas of your skin appear darker and patchy, while others remain as they were. And it really is as simple as that.

The tricky part, however, comes when you try to pinpoint exactly why melanin has gotten out of control in the first place. And there are three main causes of hyperpigmentation to know about.

The Sun

According to countless studies, exposure to the sun is the most common cause of hyperpigmentation. No surprises there, right? This is because melanin acts like a kind of natural sunscreen to help protect your skin from damaging UV radiation. The more you subject your skin to sunlight, therefore, the more melanin your melanocytes will produce as they work super hard to keep your skin safe.

Tan skin is basically the result of melanin going into overdrive. And when you continue to subject your skin to excessive sun exposure, this whole process can (and often will!) go completely wayward. This leads to an uneven production of melanin which gets clumpy and, of course, leads to the inevitable patchy, sun-damaged skin.

These types of dark spots are called solar lentigines and they usually appear on areas that are most frequently exposed to the sun. Your face, hands, arms and shoulders are those most affected, so keep an eye on these areas for small, flat spots that are either brown, black or a kind of grayish color.

Your Hormones

Dark spots that are the result of unbalanced hormones are called melasma and they’re way more common in women than men thanks to the many hormonal changes women go through during their lives. Menstruation, pregnancy, birth control, hormone replacement therapy and the menopause all cause extreme changes in the female sex hormones and, just like exposure to the sun, this stimulates melanin production which, unfortunately gets a little out of control.

Melasma is usually lighter in color than sun spots and it looks more patchy. It’s also commonly seen on the forehead, over the cheeks or around the lips – but almost always on the face, for sure. The good news is that, more often than not, melasma goes away after you pass through this stage in your life and come out the other end, or if you stop taking the medication that’s the primary cause.

Skin Trauma

Last, but certainly not least comes post-inflammatory hyperpigmention (PIH) which looks most severe in dark skin types but is pretty common in all genders and can happen at any time in your life.

PIH happens when your skin becomes inflamed after its been subjected to some kind of injury or trauma. It’s most commonly caused by acne and in fact one out of every two acne sufferers will experience some form of PIH – or post-acne marks as they’re also called.

But it’s not just acne that can trigger this type of hyperpigmentation: anything that causes inflammation has the ability to leave you with red, pink, brown or black PIH spots. A mild cut, bug bite or burn, for example, can go down that road, as can bouts of psoriasis, eczema or even surgery. As your skin regenerates and heals itself, excess melanin is produced which can leaves the area darkened and discolored long after the wound has gone.

What Can You Do About Your Dark Spots?

While not all dark spots are caused by the sun, UV radiation will make every single one of them worse. So, you gotta protect your skin every day to a) help prevent sun spots and b) lessen your chances of any type of dark spot becoming bigger and/or darker.

Sun avoidance is, of course, the most effective way to keep your skin safe from the sun’s wicked ways, but, well, you have to live, so instead of being quite so drastic, simply up your skin protection game with these two simple must-dos.

1. Apply Topical Antioxidants

Apply an antioxidant serum every morning after cleansing and before moisturizing to kick things off. Antioxidants are the bomb for adding that little extra je ne sais quoi to your regime. How so? Well, they’re almost unbeatable at fighting off free radicals that, if left alone, will have a party when you expose your skin to the elements, damaging collagen, screwing up elastin and doing a number on your DNA. This is not only bad news for dark spots but it’s also asking for wrinkles to come and join in on the (not so) fun.

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There are plenty of awesome antioxidants out there but our favorite for sun protection is vitamin C because it also helps to keep dark spots to a minimum by keeping melanin under control. Win. And win. Try our classic Vitamin C Facial Serum daily. No arguments.

2. Wear Sunscreen ALL YEAR LONG

It goes without saying that sunscreen is essential for preventing dark spots AND for helping to minimize existing ones. Not to mention all the other anti-aging benefits a sunscreen like our fabulous SPF 30 Mineral Sunscreen with Vitamin C brings to the table.

To get the best protection from both UVA and UVB radiation, make sure you always choose a broad-spectrum formulation and never go below SPF 30 which blocks around 97 percent of UVB. Choose a mineral sunscreen that contains zinc oxide, titanium dioxide or both (we believe these are the best!) and apply it generously to all areas of exposed skin every morning. Reckon you can get away without it on cold, gray days? Think again. Sun damage is caused by UV radiation, not heat, which means that chilly, overcast days still have plenty of UV ready and willing to screw up your skin if you let it. The truth is, around 80 percent of UV radiation penetrates right through those clouds. Remember that.

Should You Be Worried About Dark Spots & Skin Cancer?

Hyperpigmentation is not related to skin cancer, but if you notice any kind of new dark spot developing or changing in size or color you should always consult a board-certified dermatologist to get it checked out.

Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the US and around one in five of us will develop it by the time we’re 70. Don’t like those stats? Good, you shouldn’t, so make sure you get any mole, freckle or unusually dark patch of skin looked at by a professional.

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Georgia Gould

Georgia Gould

Georgia is an award-winning beauty writer who has been in the business for over 20 years. British-born, she began her career as a magazine beauty editor in London before moving to San Francisco, CA in 2012 where she now continues her love as a freelance writer and editor. As well as her editorial work, Georgia has created content for many high-profile beauty brands, including Clarins, L’Oréal, Procter & Gamble, Simple and TRESemmé. Her passions include retinol (obviously), golfing, skiing and walking her beloved Schnauzer, Dave.