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Skin discoloration is a tricky thing to treat in the skincare world. Appearing often from cumulative sun exposure or acne-related damage, these brown spots, sun spots, or age spots often appear suddenly without warning or welcome.
And, once they take residence on your face, they can be tricky squatters to get rid of.
Luckily, there arepowerful skincare ingredients that can help you effectively tackle all forms of skin discoloration. Here’s what you need to know.
Discoloration refers to any dark patches on the skin that appear due to melanin overproduction. Pretty much anyone can deal with discoloration at some point in their lives, and it’s commonly caused by:
Any kind of skin trauma - including acne, cuts, bug bites, or eczema - can cause inflammation. Inflammation, in turn, can actually trigger pigment-producing cells - or post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH - which is why acne is often linked to hyperpigmentation.
Any kind of sun exposure is going to trigger melanin in the skin - that’s what a tan in. Over time, though, frequent or excessive sun exposure will cause lentigos, or darker “sun spots” to appear. Unfortunately, these don’t generally appear for years after the damage has been done, so it’s difficult to spot these pesky spots in time.
Melasmais characterized by brown patches that are commonly found in pregnant women. These spots are thought to be triggered by some combination of hormones, sun exposure, and genetics, and they can often resolve with time.
Lighter skin tones are more prone to lentigos or actinic bronzing, while darker skin tones are more prone to melasma. Darker skin tones also have more melanin. This provides more natural protection from the sun’s damaging rays - but it also makes dark spots much more frequent visitors.
UV exposure will lead to melanin production and discoloration. Plain and simple. So the number one thing you need to do to address discoloration is to avoid the sun as much as you can.
Yes, this does mean physically staying out of the sun. But it also means protecting yourself against its damage when you’re in it. That calls for protective clothing and effective broad-spectrum sunscreen, which can help protect you against both UVA and UVB rays (normal sunscreen cannot).
From there, certain effective skincare ingredients can help fade spots andprevent new discoloration from forming. These include:
Specifically, because of its ability to neutralize free radicals, vitamin C can reduce oxidative stress and slow down the formation of fine lines and wrinkles. Similarly, by protecting against UV damage, vitamin C also assists in preventing sunburn and preventing future spots from forming.
It also enhances the photo-protective properties of sunscreen, thus make your sunscreen stronger.
There are many complementary ingredients that can serve as “helpers” to make vitamin C’s pigment-fighting powers even stronger.
If you’re looking for everyday, gradual maintenance and moisture, you can find an everyday brightening vitamin C moisturizerpacked with MSM and skin-softening jojoba oil here. Alternatively, if you’re looking for something a little more targeted, you can find a concentrated treatment that tackles age spots, scars, and discoloration (with the help of vitamin E and jojoba oil) here.
It may seem unrelated, but dry, dead skin cells that accumulate from lack of exfoliation can actually make dark spots worse.
The reason here is twofold. First, it can actually make the hyperpigmentation seem more pronounced. Think about it: if you’re not exfoliating, you have layer over layer of dead cells on your face, and you have extra brown pigment in each layer. That’s going to make any hyperpigmentation concerns more pronounced - and prevent any actives, like vitamin C, from getting to the fresh skin below and doing their job.
Plus, an uneven skin texture can actually affect how the light hits your face - and what it does when it bounces off. When the surface is smooth, light can reflect off and your skin tone will appear more even. If it’s uneven, though - due to dead skin, fine lines, and large pores - then it’ll cause shadows or darkness that’ll make pigment concerns seemmuch worse than they are.
That’s why proper and regular exfoliation is key to effectively addressing hyperpigmentation.
You can choose a physical exfoliant, a chemical exfoliant, or both. On one hand, a physical exfoliant can slough off dead skin cells, accelerate cell turnover and effectively deliver any good ingredients - like antioxidants or minerals, if it has them - into the skin.
Similarly, a chemical exfoliant acts likeskin brightening products,and can exfoliate and hydrate deeply into the skin, revealing healthy, luminous skin. In either case, make sure that you look for a product with skin-safe, gentle ingredients that won’t be comedogenic or strip your skin of its natural barrier (you can read more about how to choose a great physical exfoliant here).
Now, the operative word here is gentle.You may think, “the stronger the better… a more intense glycolic acid peel with help me get rid of my pigment problems much faster.” While this is technically true, you could actually make the problem worse if you use a product that’s too intense for your skin.
Why? Any product or treatment that’s going to cause downtime, flaking, peeling or redness is going to trigger a lot of inflammation in your skin. As we mentioned, that inflammation can actually turn on the hypersensitive pigment cells, making your discoloration worse. That’s why, if you’re going to use a chemical exfoliant like an AHA, we recommend you stick to an effective glycolic acid treatment that’s safe and effective for everyday use.
Finally, remember that it’s not just about your skincare. You must also consider your lifestyle and rethink any habits that caused the spots to appear to begin with.
For example, with melasma, going off the pill can help a lot. If you’re outside a lot without sun protection, maybe think about how you can be safer.
Bye-bye, dark spots!