You look in the mirror and wonder why your skin isn’t as evenly toned as it once was. While plenty of people are born with freckles, or a light smattering of darker spots across their skin, many also develop new spots as they get older. While spots or hyperpigmentation on your skin might not be a cause for medical concern, they can make you feel less confident about your appearance. Understanding the cause of the spots can help you determine the best way to cope or treat them.
It’s probably not a surprise that exposure to the sun is a big cause of dark spots. After all, it’s that sun exposure that makes your skin tanner. When you spend a lot of time in the sun without adequate or any protection, the ultraviolet rays stimulate the production of melanin, or pigment, in your skin. Usually, spots related to sun exposure appear on the face, chest, and hands, or any area that is usually not covered up.
There are several things you can do if you are dealing with spots caused by sun exposure. One of the most important things to do is to protect your skin from further damage. Use a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30, every day, even on cloudy days. When you go outside, make sure to cover up, with a wide-brimmed hat and a pair of sunglasses, for example. Gloves and a scarf can help protect your hands and neck area, too.
You can treat existing age spots in a few ways. Exfoliating the skin and improving cell turnover will help slough off the darkened skin cells, revealing more even skin below. Your surgeon might recommend trying a product that contains Retin-A to help improve cell turnover and exfoliate the skin.
In-office treatments can include intense pulsed light, a type of laser treatment that encourages collagen production and exfoliation without actually damaging the outer layer of the skin. Since it doesn’t cause outward harm to the skin, a major benefit of IPL is that there’s almost no downtime after treatment.
Changes in your hormone levels, usually caused by pregnancy, menopause or even taking the Pill, can also lead to dark spots on your skin. Known as a melasma, the condition is sometimes called the "mask of pregnancy," since it happens to pregnant women. It also usually goes away after a woman gives birth. Although associated with hormones, melasma can also be triggered by sun exposure, which is another reason why it’s important to wear sunscreen at all times.
Women who are experiencing melasma due to birth control pills have a few options for treating it if they wish to stay on the pill. Topical products containing ingredients that can help lighten the skin can often be effective. Such ingredients include hydroquinone and kojic acid, as well as Retin-A. The ingredients increase cell turnover, making it more likely that the darkened skin cells will be sloughed off.
The thing about hydroquinone and Retin-A is that they can cause birth defects, and shouldn’t be used by pregnant women. Women taking birth control need to make sure that their method is reliable and that they take the birth control as directed, to reduce the chance of pregnancy. Some women taking oral contraceptives and using Retin-A or hydroquinone use a back-up form of birth control, too, to be on the cautious side.
Acne and pimples aren’t just annoying when they are on your skin. They also tend to leave a little annoying redness or discoloration, in the form or post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, behind. Although you might think of the pigmentation as a type of acne scar, it’s actually a different type of issue. Unlike a scar, post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation does fade on its own, eventually. It can take as long as a year for the mark to fade completely.
Using an exfoliating product can help the spots fade faster. You might try a light chemical peel that contains an alpha or beta hydroxyl acid to help exfoliate the skin, for example. Protecting your skin from the sun can help minimize any discoloration from a pimple, as well.
Dark spots can add years to your appearance. But, you don’t have to live with them. If you’ve got uneven skin tone and are looking for a way to treat it and to keep the spots from returning, talk to Dr. Jessica Kulak, a board certified facial plastic surgeon and aging face specialist at the Naderi Center, today. Call (703) 481-0002 to schedule an appointment at the practice in Virginia or (301) 222-2020 for a consultation in Maryland.