The Best Ways to Rid Yourself of Dark Spots
Dark spots are pretty annoying because they’re so difficult to get rid of! There’s a difference between dark spots that last and light brown freckles that cropped up after spending a bit too much time under the sun. Chances are, your dark spots are a result of years of sun damage to the skin, and they’re almost irreversible. Dark spots are also a sign of aging skin, no wonder people start getting worried when they notice dark spots popping up! Dark spots are most likely to form on your face, back, shoulders, arms, and hands as these are the areas that are most exposed to the sun. If you’re noticing round, dark spots in these areas, it’s a sign that your skin has likely been damaged by the sun over time.
But what exactly are dark spots, and how do they form? And most importantly, how can we get rid of them, if we can?
What are dark spots?
Dark spots are a form of pigmentation caused by the pigment melanin. Melanin is the pigment that gives our skin color. Melanin is found in pigment-producing cells called melanocytes, and this pigment’s function is 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 brown under the sun, or it can result in more irreversible effects. When there is an overproduction of melanin, the melanin will clump up to result in dark patches on the skin, which is how dark spots form! Dark spots are essentially extra deposits of melanin.
Dark spots can be caused by a variety of factors, such as sun damage, hormonal changes, and inflammation of the skin. Sun exposure causes a lot of damage done to our skin, and it can manifest in 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.
There are also more permanent spots exacerbated by aging that can crop up later in life from the years of sun damage. 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.
Hormonal changes result in pigmentation known as melasma that mostly affects women. It is often caused by pregnancy or hormonal contraception. Melasma occurs as dark patches on the facial areas of the nose, jawline, chin, and forehead. Thankfully, this type of pigmentation is not permanent and it usually dissipates after pregnancy is over or when the hormone levels normalize.
Finally, inflammation, injuries, and acne can cause dark spots and hyperpigmentation called post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. After an injury to the skin, severe acne, or skin conditions like eczema, dark spots in the skin might appear due to the skin’s response to inflammation or injury. To heal, 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”! 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.
How to Reduce Dark Spots?
It isn’t easy to get rid of dark spots quickly, but there are definitely some products and procedures that can help lighten the dark spots! Here are some of the best ways to try and get rid of dark spots:
1. Hydroquinone serums
Hydroquinone is one of the most popular and effective spot treatment ingredients. It is actually classified as a bleaching agent by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and is limited to a percentage of 2% for commercial products and a maximum of 4% for prescription-grade products.
There is a reason why it can only be used in limited amounts, it’s very strong, which is what makes it effective. However, its potency also means that a higher amount would cause irritation, dryness, and even burning should you be allergic to it. Hydroquinone’s usage is a biological process that curbs the activity of an enzyme known as tyrosinase, which is necessary for the production of melanin. When the level of tyrosinase production falls, the production of melanin will also fall. You should see results in 8-12 weeks of using hydroquinone topical spot treatments.
2. Vitamin C
Vitamin C is a very potent antioxidant that has many benefits for our skin, including helping with reducing dark spots. It is known for helping the skin fight against the harmful free radicals in UV rays which cause sun damage and dark spots in the first place. Additionally, it curbs the enzymes that produce melanin in the skin, which can reduce the level of melanin production and hence decrease dark spots. A bonus is that vitamin C works mostly on the targeted spot areas and won’t have side effects on the rest of your skin.
Retinoids are vitamin A derivatives that help to speed up the rate of skin cell turnover. It is a common chemical exfoliant that many use to help rejuvenate and renew the skin. Retinoids can be found in a few forms, with the most popular being retinol and tretinoin. Retinoids are also excellent for preventing acne and slowing down skin aging. The only downside to retinoids is that they make the skin quite sensitive to the sun, so if you are using one you should definitely wear sun protection every day.
4. Chemical peels
Chemical peels are effective for dark spots because they get rid of your epidermal layer where dark spots and pigmentation occur. An acid of high concentration will be used 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 deeper dermis layer of the skin for even more visible results.
There are, of course, downsides to chemical peels including high costs and side effects. Acids can potentially burn your skin and cause irritation if not used carefully. There is also a downtime required post chemical peel due to the redness and rawness you might feel after the procedure.
Dark spots are not impossible to get rid of, but it can be quite tricky and expensive to effectively get rid of them. Prevention is always the best cure, so take care of your skin by staying out of the sun from young!