Dark spots on face and skin - possible causes and how to treat them
Time spent in the sunshine is great for the soul. But it can often lead to dark spots, uneven skin tone and blemishes forming.
Dark spots on your face and skin are normal across all skin tones and the good news is they can be easily treated if you want to get rid of them.
What are dark spots – and what are the symptoms?
Dark spots, or hyperpigmentation, are caused by melanin in your skin being overproduced and can occur pretty much anywhere on your skin.
Dark spots are known by many names, such as age spots, liver spots, sun spots, senile lentigo and solar lentigines and are generally caused by sun damage. They are a way of your body showing you it’s healing. By creating these dark pigments, your skin is trying to protect you against further injury from sunlight.
These flat and darker-coloured areas usually aren’t painful. They vary in size, sometimes look like freckles, and often appear on areas that have been exposed to the sun the most such as the face, shoulders, chest and hands.
What causes dark spots?
Dark spots on your face and body develop for a few different reasons.
Exposure to UV rays over time is the number one cause of dark spots. UV light speeds up melanin production, whether that’s on an artificial sunbed or in natural daylight.
Both men and women can develop dark spots, but hormones can cause them to develop sooner. Women on birth control or who are pregnant can develop a condition called melasma, which are larger patches of darkened skin. These are different to hyperpigmentation as they’re triggered by internal stressors such as hormonal shifts.
Dark spots usually appear in over-40s, because the number of melanin-producing cells in your body naturally decreases while the amount of time one has been exposed to the sun is obviously longer. Cells left start to overcompensate and become bigger and can then appear as single spots or as large clusters.
Your electrical devices at home and work can also be a cause of darker spots. According to research, the blue light rays that are produced from mobile phones, computers and tablet screens can contribute to the appearance of dark spots on the face.
You may also experience darker-coloured marks on your underarms due to a reaction between the aluminium in your deodorant and bacteria from sweating, as well as any shaving products you may use.
How can I get advice, and find treatments?
There are a few things you can do:
Avoid UV rays
Avoid spending prolonged hours in direct sunlight, as too much exposure can be dangerous, causing dark marks, premature ageing, and even more harmful lesions such as skin cancer. Wear sunscreen every day to protect yourself from UV rays. As a rule, half a teaspoon of (minimum) SPF 30 is recommended on your face and neck. Reapply throughout the day.
Developing a good skincare routine, using cleansers, exfoliators, acids, moisturisers, and retinoids, can reduce the visibility of dark spots. A dermatologist will be able to advise you on the best skincare products for your skin type, however, vitamin C products are packed with skin brightening antioxidants which help to fight hyperpigmentation and are a great place to start.
Laser therapy treatment targets the darker areas of skin by safely breaking down the increased melanin. Initially the spots will turn darker but as the melanin sheds, they will start to lighten and fade, with results in one to three sessions.
During a chemical peel, a high concentration of acid is used to reduce the appearance of hyperpigmentation by penetrating the deeper layers of skin (the dermis). Chemical peels can cause your skin to be UV-sensitive so stay out of the sun for at least a week after your treatment.
Regular microdermabrasion facial treatments can help to reduce the appearance of dark spots on your face. The treatment deeply exfoliates using tiny exfoliating crystals which are rolled over the skin. However, it isn’t an instant cure, and you’ll need a number of sessions to see results.
Microneedling can also be used to help disperse pockets of melanin by encouraging healthy skin to grow replacing the darker areas. It isn’t recommended for people with inflamed acne or sensitive skin as the treatment works by using tiny needles to kickstart the skin regeneration process.
Speak to your doctor
If you’re unsure about any dark spots on your skin, ask your doctor for advice. They will determine exactly what they are or take a biopsy for further examination.
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