Dark Spots? These Might Be the Reasons Why
In our twenties, we spend time under the sun cultivating a golden tan in hopes to look like a Victoria’s Secret supermodel. We don’t mind the slight brown patches and spots that crop up on our back and arms, and the freckles that smatter across our nose and cheeks are just a cute bonus. However, as we grow older these spots begin to distress us. The brown spots are no longer tiny little dots that give us a bit of character, they are larger round patches that can’t seem to go away no matter how much we try. When these brown spots begin to stick around on our hands and arms, that’s when we know — it’s dark spots, and it’s probably a sign that we are aging.
Dark spots, liver spots, sunspots, or it’s medical name solar lentiginosis, is a result of sun damage. We don’t pay much attention to them when we are younger, but as we approach our thirties and forties, these spots mark our skin as a sign of our aging bodies. Lots of products promise to lighten and get rid of these dark spots, but the truth is it’s pretty difficult to actually lighten dark spots once they have set in. Let’s understand first how dark spots form.
What are dark spots?
Dark spots are a form of pigmentation, and it is caused by the pigment melanin. Many of us are familiar with the pigment melanin, but we might not be familiar with how the pigment works in our skin to give it color. Melanin is found in pigment-producing cells called melanocytes, and melanin is meant to help protect our skin. Pigmentation, or hyperpigmentation, occurs when there is an overproduction of melanin in the skin. The overproduction of melanin can either be temporary, like when a fair person gets a suntan, or it can result in more irreversible effects. When there is an overproduction of melanin, the melanin will clump up in deposits that result in dark patches. That is how dark spots form!
What Causes Dark Spots?
There are many factors that can trigger the overproduction of melanin, including sun exposure and even hormonal changes. Irritation of the skin from acne scars or injury can also cause an overproduction of melanin.
The sun is a known enemy of the skin, which is why dermatologists recommend against suntanning and encourage everyone to wear sunscreen every day to protect against UV rays. The sun causes a lot of damage done to our skin, and one of the ways sun damage manifests is dark spots. When our skin is exposed to harmful UV rays, this triggers the production of melanin by the melanocytes to protect our skin against these rays. Unfortunately, when the sun is strong, this results in more melanin being produced and hence can lead to patches of darker skin. Sometimes these spots are small and they wear off, but there are also more permanent spots known as age spots that can crop up later in life from the years of sun damage. This sort of hyperpigmentation is caused by years of sun exposure and appears on the parts of the body that are most exposed to the sun, such as the face, hands, shoulders, and back. The aging process also exacerbates these spots. When we age, the number of melanocytes starts to fall but they become bigger and start to increase melanin production. Our skin also starts to thin out and get more translucent as we lose collagen and elasticity in the skin, resulting in the look of dark spots and patches to be more obvious and emphasized.
It might sound like a strange reason but hormonal changes are actually a pretty common reason for dark spots! There is a type of pigmentation known as melasma that affects women. It is often seen during pregnancy when hormone levels are changing and causing an increase in the production of melanin. This can also be a result of going on hormonal contraception such as birth control. Melasma occurs as dark patches on the facial areas of the nose, jawline, chin, and forehead, and it is also known as the “mask of pregnancy”. Thankfully, this type of pigmentation is not permanent and it usually dissipates after pregnancy is over or when the hormone levels normalize. It is important to stay out of the sun if you are affected by melasma as sun exposure can aggravate the melanocytes to produce even more melanin and cause the spots to darken and enlarge.
Inflammation or Injuries
Inflammation of the skin or injuries can also result in dark spots and hyperpigmentation. This form of pigmentation is known as post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. After someone sustains an injury to the skin, severe acne, or some other skin condition like eczema, they might experience some dark spots in the skin. This occurs when the skin responds naturally to inflammation or injury. When the skin is injured it becomes inflamed and while healing, the melanocytes produce more melanin and cause patches of the skin to darken. This is especially common after one has a bout of acne. A darker patch of skin is likely to be seen in the area which was affected. The deeper and more severe the acne was, the darker the spot will be. You might be familiar with these as “acne scars”, it is in fact a form of pigmentation! Now you know why dermatologists warn against picking or poking at a pimple, it will leave a patch of dark skin that is hard to fade.
It is hard to reduce and lighten dark spots, and the best measure is always prevention! Get serious with your sun protection from young and stay out of the sun as much as you can. Wear a hat when you are under the sun and make sure you wear a broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF 50. Double up with some brightening serums and retinoids with vitamin C and acids to improve your skin turnover process and boost your skin’s ability to fight free radicals. Dark spots are hard to rid of, so do yourself a favor and prevent them from even occurring!