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Skin Discoloration

Skin discoloration can occur for a variety of reason. Areas of dark pigmentation usually come from overproduction of melanin. Sometimes people develop white or light patches on their skin. The most common reasons for this are infection with a fungus called tinea versicolor or a condition called vitiligo, an autoimmune disease. Most commonly, people complain of dark patches on their face and or other areas of their body from excessive melanin production, especially as they age.

What Causes It?
Dark discoloration of the skin occurs for a variety of reasons. Some medical conditions and medications can cause it, especially hormone therapy and birth control pills. Women commonly develop dark patches on their skin during pregnancy, a condition called melasma. Sometimes areas of skin become pigmented due to inflammation. This can happen when people pick at acne blemishes. Other skin conditions such as psoriasis and lichen planus also cause areas of pigmentation in some people.

But by far the most common cause of dark areas of discoloration is sun damage. These areas of damage can manifest as “age spots,” also referred to as solar lentigines. That’s why dermatologists recommend that people wear a sunscreen year round. Sun protection helps to prevent this problem.

Some people use home remedies such as lemon juice to try to fade pigmented areas and age spots. There haven’t been any formal studies showing whether or not this works, but if it does, it would likely take a while. There are other weak acids that are more effective such as glycolic acid, an ingredient available in some anti-aging skin care products. It helps to slough away the outer layer of skin cells and lighten pigmented areas. Another acid called kojic acid blocks an enzyme required for the synthesis of melanin and helps to lighten dark skin discoloration. Retinols products can also lighten pigmentation over time.

One of the most widely used ingredients for lightening dark patches is hydroquinone. Like kojic acid, it blocks the synthesis of melanin by inhibiting an enzyme called tyrosinase and has been proven in clinical studies to work. It’s the ingredient dermatologists most commonly prescribe for darkly pigmented areas. It works even better when used in combination with glycolic acid to slough off the outer layer of cells. It starts to lighten pigmented areas in as little as 4 weeks, but it can take several months to get maximal lightening.

Wearing a sunscreen that blocks both UVA and UVB rays with an SPF of at least 30 is a must to prevent further skin pigmentation and darkening of already existing areas. Additional sun protection such as a wide-brimmed hat and sun protective clothing helps to further reduce sun exposure. Don’t go out of the house without it. Sun exposure accounts for more than 80% of premature aging and dark skin pigmentation.

The Bottom Line?
Dark skin discoloration can be a source of frustration, and most of it is due to sun damage. That’s why it’s important to wear a sunscreen. Fortunately, there are also products that help to lighten the pigmented areas over time. These can have a big impact on how your skin looks.