Have you noticed dark spots appearing on your face? Or you may have seen them on your hands, shoulders and back. In a nutshell, these dark spots are primarily a result of melanin production.
Melanin is a pigment that gives your eyes, skin and hair their colour. They are produced in the skin’s deeper layers to absorb the UV radiation of the sun’s rays and protect skin cells from being damaged by the UV rays. Moderate exposure to the sun will give you a nice and even tan, but prolonged sun exposure without adequate protection will result in an overproduction of melanin causing dark spots.
When the skin experiences inflammation or gets injured, there will also be an increase in melanin production as part of the skin’s healing process. In addition, age, genetics and hormonal changes have a part to play in the formation of dark spots too. We break down what the most common types of dark spots and what you can do to treat them.
They are small and flat brown or dark yellow spots that can appear alone or in a cluster on areas that frequently get exposed to the sun such as your face, shoulders or back. Most people are not born with freckles although they can be genetic. Freckles are triggered by sun exposure and caused by an overproduction of melanin in the skin cells. They are usually painless and harmless and do not need to be treated. However, if you want to lighten their appearance, you can try a range of methods including laser treatment, chemical peels, Intense Pulsed Light (IPL) treatments and topical retinoid or bleaching creams. You can also prevent them from appearing by ensuring that your skin is always protected by sunscreen in the daytime.
Also known as sun spots, liver spots or age spots, these spots are flat, small and darkened patches ranging from light brown to black in colour and may have uneven or rounded edges. Typically caused by the skin being exposed to UV rays from the sun, the spots usually appear and increase with age due to accumulated sun exposure. They can appear on the face, hands and other areas that are regularly exposed to the sun.
Although they are commonly found on people over the age of 40, they may surface earlier in some cases. They are not painful or itchy and do not require medical treatment as they are usually harmless. If you want to lighten them for aesthetic reasons, common treatments include chemical peels, laser or IPL therapy, and topical retinoid, Vitamin C or bleaching creams. It is also essential to wear sunscreen whenever you go out in the sun to prevent sun spots from appearing or from worsening.
Melasma is usually caused by sun exposure and hormonal changes, and are commonly seen on women during and after their pregnancy. It can appear on the face especially the forehead area, chin and nose bridge as large blotchy patches of darkened pigmentation in colours ranging from dark brown to light yellow. Although it frequently occurs on women (especially in women with darker skin tones), men can experience it too. The good news is that melasma can fade with time but for those who want faster results, treatment options include chemical peels, microdermabrasion treatment and topical retinol and bleaching creams.
Whenever a pimple is formed, your skin gets inflamed and melanin is produced to help heal damaged skin cells. Dark spots can appear after a pimple or acne outbreak because our body might produce excessive melanin during the healing process. Those with a lighter complexion might get red and purple spots, while those with darker skin tones tend to get brown spots. They usually fade away after some time but if you are self-conscious about the marks, treatments include laser treatments, chemical peels and microdermabrasion, as well as products that include ingredients such as alpha hydroxy acids or AHA, azelaic acid, and retinoids.
The previous types of dark spots are usually harmless and can be largely ignored unless you are self-conscious about them because of cosmetic reasons. However, melanoma spots are not benign and require immediate medical treatment. They are the deadliest form of skin cancer and can resemble normal flat dark spots in its early stages. If it occurs on a pre-existing mole, it will be raised and smooth and if it appears on normal skin, it will start out as a flat brown or black growth and eventually grow upwards or downwards.
If you find a bump growing on a mole or on a discoloured spot that used to be flat, get it checked at the skin doctor immediately. Melanoma that has been detected early can be removed through surgery but once it deepens or starts to spread, the treatment can get complicated.
Use the ABCDE rule to determine if a dark spot should be cause for concern:
- Check to see if the growth is Asymmetrical. One side of the growth will typically be bigger than the other.
- Look out for an irregular Border.
- Examine the growth to see if it has more than one Colour, or if the colour is extremely dark.
- The Diameter of melanomas tend to be larger than a pencil eraser (about 6mm) but be aware that tiny melanomas may be harmful too.
- Watch out for the Evolution of the spot. If there are sudden changes in size, shape and colour, pain, bleeding or itching, you need to visit the doctor immediately.
If the doctor thinks that the spot might be suspicious, they will remove part or all of it and send it for a biopsy. If your dark spots turn out to be benign, you can remove them by getting a dermatologist to remove or lighten the spots by freezing it, using a chemical peel, or going for a laser treatment. Regular and consistent use of sunscreen can also help prevent new dark spots from popping up.
Images: Unsplash, Pexels, Pixabay