If you have skin discoloration on your face, you're not the only one. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, experiencing dark areas on the skin (known as hyperpigmentation) is one of the most common reasons many people visit a Dermatologist.
Although most cases of hyperpigmentation are harmless, the cosmetic effects can make some people feel uncomfortable in their own skin. If you're looking for solutions to help minimize or even remove dark spots altogether, doctors may recommend several at-home and clinical treatment strategies. Here's what you should know.
Common Causes of Skin Discoloration
Skin discoloration on your face—or anywhere else on your body—happens when the body makes an excess of melanin, the pigment that produces skin color. Although it can occur in people of any ethnicity, people with medium to dark skin may be most prone to the noticeable dark patches caused by hyperpigmentation.
You may also be at a higher risk for skin discoloration as you get older. "Age spots" are one type of hyperpigmentation that happens in people with long-term exposure to the sun. These tan, brown, or black spots tend to show as you age on areas of the body that see the most sun, such as the hands or face.
Other types of hyperpigmentation can stem from hormonal or inflammatory influences. Melasma, a form of discoloration that causes large areas of dark skin, can be triggered by hormones—which puts women who are pregnant or take birth control pills at higher risk. (It's also why melasma is often called the "mask of pregnancy.") Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation is another type of discoloration that happens after an injury or skin condition, such as a bug bite, burn, wound, surgery incision, acne, or psoriasis.
Certain medical conditions such as Addison's disease or hemochromatosis can affect hormone or iron levels, leading to discoloration of the skin. You should check with your primary care doctor if you believe you may have other symptoms associated with these conditions, including weight loss, abdominal pain, or fatigue.
And finally, some antimalarial or tricyclic antidepressant medications can also raise the risk for hyperpigmentation, but you should never abruptly stop taking your medications if you have these concerns. Instead, discuss the potential side effects with your doctor to determine whether there are alternatives you could try.
How to Get Rid of Skin Discoloration
For those with recurring hyperpigmentation—such as dark spots that coincide with acne or psoriasis—the best way to treat the discoloration is to treat the underlying problem. Consult with a Dermatologist to identify the root cause of your discoloration so that you can make a treatment plan that works for you. Once those issues are addressed, spots tend to fade away naturally, although they may take up to six months or a year to do so completely. You may find a similar timetable with instances of pregnancy melasma.
Want something that works faster? Ask your Dermatologist about skin-lightening topical products you can use at home, as well as clinical treatments and/or procedures you can get in an outpatient setting. Products with ingredients such as retinoids, vitamin C, or glycolic acid may also help lighten up dark spots, whereas procedures such as chemical peels or laser therapy may be another treatment option.
And don't forget the most essential part of hyperpigmentation treatment: sunscreen! Regular use of sunscreen can help prevent further darkening of existing discoloration, so grab a broad-spectrum product with SPF 30 or greater to use all year long. If you have sensitive skin, look for a mineral-based sunscreen that's non-comedogenic to give your skin the protection it needs without the risk of breakouts. EltaMD's UV Restore Broad-Spectrum SPF 40 is a top pick for exactly that reason.
Feel at Home in Your Own Skin
Although skin discoloration probably won't hurt you, know that you don't have to live with it forever if it makes you feel uncomfortable. Treatments can help get your skin back to looking and feeling more like yourself, so book an appointment with your Dermatologist to start your journey toward improved skin health.