How to Treat Dark Spots on Asian Skin
Brown spots on the skin are cute when we’re young, but as we grow older they start to distress us when we realize they are difficult to reduce and lighten. It’s made even worse if you are a fair-skinned individual, as the spots are much more pronounced and emphasized when contrasted against paler skin. East Asians in particular, will find that dark spots are a lot more obvious on their skin compared to other races with darker skin tones. In this article, we will go through what dark spots are, what they are caused by, and how to treat them effectively!
What are dark spots?
Dark spots are a type of pigmentation, and it is caused by the pigment called melanin. We are probably quite familiar with melanin itself, but how the pigment works in our skin are a different story. 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, which are dark spots.
There are many factors that can trigger the overproduction of melanin. These are the most common reasons that can affect everyone.
1. Overexposure to the sun
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 hence leading 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. 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.
2. Hormonal changes such as pregnancy or contraception
Pigmentation caused by hormonal changes is known as melasma that affects women. It can be seen during pregnancy or after 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”. The good news is that this type of pigmentation is not permanent and it usually disappears when the pregnancy is over or once the hormone levels normalize.
3. Inflammation of the skin from acne 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. This occurs as the skin responds to inflammation or injury — when the skin is injured or inflamed, 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!
How can Asians effectively treat dark spots?
There are a number of ways you can treat your dark spots both through lifestyle changes and cosmetic treatments!
1. Stay out of the sun
Try to spend as little time as you can under the sun. Wear a broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF 50 every day and wear a hat when you are under the sun and avoid being in the sun for prolonged periods of time. The sun is strongest from 12 pm to 2 pm so try your best to be indoors during this time!
2. Get chemical peel with a dermatologist
Chemical peels are quite effective against pigmentation because it gets rid of the epidermal layer where the pigmentation occurs. A dermatologist will use acid of high concentration to dissolve the layer of the skin in the areas with pigmentation. Some chemical peels might use an even stronger acid that will reach the middle layer of the skin, also known as the dermis, for even more visible results. There is also a downtime required post chemical peel due to the redness and rawness you might feel, so you’ll want to factor that in too.
3. Look out for effective ingredients in your skincare products
The following skincare ingredients are proven to be pretty effective at reducing dark spots and lightening patches:
- Vitamin C: Vitamin C is an antioxidant that can fight the free radicals in UV rays that damage the skin by curbing the enzymatic process that stimulates melanin production. This hence reduces the degree of dark patches formed. Vitamin C also lightens the skin all around.
- Hydroquinone: One of the most effective dark spot treatments for the past half-century, this compound works on a cellular level by inhibiting an enzyme known as tyrosinase, which is required to produce melanin. When less tyrosinase is produced, that also results in lowered production of melanin. Hydroquinone is found in low levels such as 2% as it is quite strong, and you can get it both over the counter and as a prescription.
- Retinoids: These vitamin A derivatives are multi-functional and are very effective for just about all skin functions. For hyperpigmentation specifically, it can help to improve the rate of skin cell turnover, which in turn will reduce the layers of skin with more melanin deposits. You can get retinoids over the counter or have a stronger one prescribed to you by a certified dermatologist.
Asian skin feels the effects of dark spots more since the contrast in skin color is greater. Therefore, take extra precaution under the sun to prevent dark spots from popping up. They can be quite hard to reduce so the best method is always prevention!