Skin Discoloration Causes & Treatments

Hyperpigmentation
Melanin
Skin Discoloration
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Skin Discoloration Causes & Treatments

The goal? Even, infallible skin. The reality? Dark patches over your face since you were a sun lover. While getting back to an even complexion may seem challenging, reducing skin discoloration is manageable once you understand skin pigment, how dark patches appear, and how to handle hyperpigmentation. Welcome to your masterclass on all things skin discoloration.

What Causes Skin Discoloration? 

Discoloration, which also goes by hyperpigmentation, dark patches, or dark spots, is characterized by skin color changes and is a result of sun exposure, acne, bruises, or dermatitis. Regardless of the cause, dark patches have one thing in common: they occur due to melanin overproduction. Understanding melanin is the first step in maintaining skin sans discolorations.

What is Melanin? 

Everybody has melanin in the body; it's the pigment that gives skin color and protects the skin by shielding it from the sun. Responsible for melanin production are melanocytes, cells present in the skin's outer layer that make the skin darken pigment. That's where tanning comes indarker-skinned people tan more deeply than lighter-skinned people because their melanocytes produce more melanin.1

Types of Skin Discoloration & Pigment Disorders

Many types of skin discolorations are found under the umbrella term hyperpigmentation, where one patch of skin becomes noticeably darker than the surrounding skin of the same area. Here we'll break down the most common two types of cosmetic concerns that affect almost everybody at some point:

Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation

When skin gets injured, has been irritated, or when acne heals, the remaining brown, red, or dark spots are called post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. It happens as a result of cells reacting to damage by producing extra melanin and can occur on the top skin layer down to the deeper layers.

Melasma

Melasma is a type of hyperpigmentation commonly caused by hormonal changes, mainly induced by pregnancy. But it can also appear after sun exposure, oral contraceptives, or as a result of cortisol hormone increase (aka stress). Regardless of the cause, melasma is characterized by dark patches on the face and appears as a result of melanocytes going into overdrive and producing too much melanin.2

The best skincare routine for hyperpigmentation

Now that you know how discoloration appears, it's time to find out the best skincare for hyperpigmentation. 

Sunscreen

The number one cause of dark spots? Sun. So, do yourself a favor and use sunscreen with at least 30 SPF all year round. What kind of sunscreen you use is essential too. Briefly, there are two types of sunscreen: chemical, which works by turning UV light into heat, and physical, which deflects and scatters UV rays away from the skin. Neal Schultz, MD, a New York-based dermatologist, explains that "Chemical sunscreen works by absorbing bad light and turning it into heat. Well, the heat it turns it into can be construed by the skin as an injury and that can stimulate your pigment."3 Meaning chemical sunscreens can trigger the pigment-producing cells, leading to dark spots. Hence, physical sunscreens based on natural minerals like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide do better at preventing dark spots induced by sun exposure. 

Chemical peels

Even if the skin has the ability to shed dead cells every 30 days, pushing a bit with a chemical peel feels just right. Chemical peels do more than instantly soften skin and increase products absorption. They're good at tackling hyperpigmentation, too. By exfoliating the outer skin layer, alpha-hydroxy acids take off damaged, darkened cells, allowing new, brighter cells to replace them. We suggest a glycolic acid peel which not only encourages cell turnover but also increases the production of collagen and fibroblast proliferation.4 The amino acids in collagen are great at evening skin tone and minimizing dark spots look.

Vitamin C 

Vitamin C is the savior that can improve skin tone on all fronts since it's a free radical scavenger, pigment inhibitor, and collagen booster. All these perks make vitamin C a staple in your anti-dark-spots routine. Have a peep at our Brightening Boost Vitamin C Superior Serum full of 10% L-ascorbic acid that vows to minimize dark spots look and even tone and texture while leaving you with firmer skin.

Retinol

The anti-aging gold standard ingredient, retinol is not only ideal for softening wrinkles, but it manages dark patches, too. Responsible for this is retinol's cell turnover ability that allows old cells that are harboring excess pigment to die, making room for new, brightener cells. On top of this, retinol has a role in inhibiting tyrosinase activity and melanin synthesis, revealing brightener, more even skin.5

Find the Best Skincare Products to Treat Hyperpigmentation, Melasma & Melanin Deficiency at Exponent

Now that you know the why and how-to, there's one more thing: arm yourself with patience. Getting rid of dark spots does not happen overnight, especially since hyperpigmentation can occur under the epidermis. This means it can take up to a few months to over a year to banish some of your dark patches. To kickstart the process, check out our Products Recommendation List — clinically proven products including the best skincare for skin discoloration.

Words By: Ana Vasilescu

Footnotes

  • Cichorek M, Wachulska M, Stasiewicz A, Tymińska A. Skin melanocytes: biology and development. Postepy Dermatol Alergol. February 2013. Source
  • Paula Ludmann, MS. Melasma: Causes. American Academy of Dermatology Association. Source
  • Lindsey Metrus. How to Even Your Skin Tone, According to Dermatologists. Byrdie. January 2022. Source
  • Kim SJ, Park JH, Kim DH, Won YH, Maibach HI. Increased in vivo collagen synthesis and in vitro cell proliferative effect of glycolic acid. Dermatol Surg. October 1998. Source
  • Ortonne JP. Retinoid therapy of pigmentary disorders. Dermatol Ther. Sep-Oct 2006. Source

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