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Imagine a morning where you wake up, look in the mirror, and not a single dark spot, red patch, splotch or scar is anywhere to be found. You skip your concealer and opt for a tinted SPF and you’re out the door. No makeup required.
It may sound like a dream for some, but achieving an even skin tone is possible with high quality clinical grade skincare, a commitment to sun protection and prevention-focused lifestyle habits. Learn more with Flawless by Melissa Fox today!
In this article, we’re diving deep into the different types of spots you may see on your skin, how they’re formed, and how to treat and prevent them. Get ready to ditch the concealer, an even skin tone is your dream come true!
What Is Hyperpigmentation?
Hyperpigmentation is the clinical term for dark spots or patches on the skin that are different in tone from the surrounding areas of skin. Hyperpigmentation is caused by an increase in melanin production. Melanin is what gives our skin its pigment and is produced by cells called melanocytes.
Melanocyte activity can increase with varying lifestyle, environmental and hormonal changes. When diagnosing and treating hyperpigmentation, it is helpful to understand what is triggering this increase in pigment production. Different skincare ingredients and routines as well as certain lifestyle triggers will affect each type of hyperpigmentation differently.
Getting to the root cause of your hyperpigmentation is an essential first step towards achieving your dream even skin tone. Here’s how to identify each type of skin hyperpigmentation.
Types of Hyperpigmentation: Sun Spots, Melasma and Acne Marks
There are three main types of skin hyperpigmentation: sun spots, melasma and acne marks (post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation.) Each of these causes can lead to a variety of colored marks and redness ranging from pink to grey, to dark brown spots and patches. Identifying your type of hyperpigmentation is helpful when it comes to treatment and prevention.
Each of these three main types of hyperpigmentation have a different trigger that causes the melanocytes to produce more pigmentation, sending a darkened or red mark to the surface and leaving a patchy and uneven skin tone.
Skincare ingredients can interrupt this pigmentation production at different levels in the pigment-making process and certain active compounds found in clinical grade skincare are more effective for certain types of pigmentation than others.
Let’s dive deeper into each of the three main types of hyperpigmentation and each of their most effective treatment and prevention methods.
A sun spot is a type of hyperpigmentation that appears on the skin as a result of prolonged exposure to the sun's ultraviolet (UV) rays. Sun spots are most commonly found on areas of the skin that are frequently exposed to the sun, such as the face, hands, and arms.
Sun spots form deep inside the skin due to an overproduction of melanin. When the skin is exposed to UV rays, it triggers the production of melanin as a protective mechanism against further damage. Over time, this excess melanin can become concentrated in certain areas of the skin, resulting in the formation of sun spots.
Sun spots can take years to develop and may not be visible until later in life, especially in people who have spent a lot of time in the sun without protection. This is why even though your mom or grandma has been diligent with SPF in the last 10 years, her sun spots are still prominently visible on their skin. Most sun damage happens in our youth.
Sun spots can range in color from light brown to dark brown and are typically flat and oval-shaped.
Sun Spot Prevention
If it’s not already obvious, the single most effective method of preventing sun spots is UV protection. Wearing SPF every day, avoiding prolonged exposure to the sun, especially during peak hours of 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and wearing protective clothing such as wide brimmed hats are essential, especially in tropical climates such as Miami.
How much SPF is recommended? You were probably once told that SPF 30 is sufficient. After an SPF level 30, there is not much percentage increase in UV protection as the SPF level increases. SPF 50 is only slightly more protective than SPF 30. While this is still correct, our recommendation has changed in recent years due to application methods. People do not usually apply the recommended amount of sunscreen - they apply much less. And reapplication is usually out of the question.
To make up for this reduced amount of sunscreen application, it is now recommended to apply a higher SPF so that once applied, it still falls somewhere around SPF 30.
Any easy trick to ensure proper SPF dosage is to use the “Two Finger Rule.” Apply two finger lengths of SPF to your pointer and middle finger. That’s the amount that should go on your skin. With an elegantly formulated, lightweight mineral sunscreen, this should still feel silky on the skin, never thick and suffocating.
Sun Spot Treatment
Once the damage is done and UV exposure has caused increased melanin production and sun spot formation, the best course of action is treatments focused on lightening.
Look for ingredients such as Alpha Arbutin, which mimics prescription strength hydroquinone but is a much safer alternative. Alpha arbutin releases hydroquinone over time, slowing the production of tyrosinase- the enzyme that is responsible for the secretion of melanin.
Mandelic Acid is another must-have ingredient when treating sun spots. Mandelic Acid is an alpha-hydroxy acid that exfoliates the skin, effectively lightening sun spots and preventing further pigmentation.
Vitamin A, or retinol, is a potent antioxidant and cellular regenerator that promotes even tone by interrupting melanin triggers and speeding cell turnover.
To quickly and successfully lighten suns pots, look for products with a combination of these spot fighting ingredients.
Here are our top faves for sun spots:
Melasma is another common type of hyperpigmentation. Though it may look similar to sun spots, melasma is usually found in larger, symmetric patches on the forehead, cheeks, or upper lip. Melasma is commonly triggered by hormonal changes. Hence the term “pregnancy mustache.”
If you’ve recently been pregnant, started or stopped hormonal birth control or are experience menopause, your hyperpigmentation is most likely melasma.
Different hormones, such as estrogen, can trigger our melanocytes to produce more pigment.
Treating melasma can be difficult because the trigger is coming from inside our bodies, unlike sun spots that are triggered externally by the sun. Regulating your hormones can be helpful in prevent further hyperpigmentation. Speak with your doctor if this seems the case for you.
While the cause of melasma is hormonal, there are some lifestyle changes that can help reduce flare ups. Heat and sun exposure are common melasma triggers and can worsen hormonal pigmentation.
We often hear from clients that their melasma has worsened after a day outdoors even though they wore SPF 50 and reapplied throughout the day. This is because heat is also a trigger for melasma. Staying cool with a fan or shady umbrella is necessary along with proper SPF protection to prevent melasma flare ups.
Melasma is a chronic skin condition, so consistency and commitment to topical treatment must be rigorous to see a real change.
Look for ingredients like Azelaic Acid, Retinol and and Kojic Acid to help lighten melasma hyperpigmentation.
Our favorite serums for melasma:
Acne Marks (Post-Inflammatory Hyperpigmentation)
Also known as acne scars or acne marks, this most common form of skin hyperpigmentation is the result of injury or inflammation to the skin. A breakout is concentrated with inflammation, causing the skin to product pigmentation as a protective measure. This leaves behind a brown or purple mark.
Post-inflammatory erythema or redness is also a common form of skin discoloration. This is when an acne breakout leaves behind a red mark caused by dilated blood vessels due to inflammation.
As annoying as acne marks are, they respond very well to topical treatment. Acne scars are the easiest type of pigmentation to treat.
Acne Mark Prevention
When it comes to prevention, it’s all about reducing inflammation. When you feel an acne breakout coming on, apply cold compress, use your LED light and anti-inflammatory acne treatments to prevent too much damage.
Read all about the causes of inflammation here.
Acne Mark Treatment
The best treatments for acne hyperpigmentation are Mandelic Acid, Niacinamide and Retinoids.
Shop our favorite acne mark treatments: