If you’ve ever sat down at your laptop and typed ‘What are these dark spots on my skin?’ into the search bar – you’re not alone.
Every year, Google searches for ‘dark spots’, ‘sun spots’, and ‘hyperpigmentation’ rise without fail between July and August, all over the world. But why the connection with the summer months? As you might have guessed from one of the names they go by, sun spots are largely connected to sun exposure – even though that’s not their only cause.
So, let’s take a look at what causes this type of pigmentation, how you can help prevent it, and how to treat dark spots on your skin.
What do dark spots look like?
Not all of these spots are created equal. They commonly vary in size, from simple sun spots to large patches of discoloration, and color, ranging in shades of light brown to black. And while typically found on sun-exposed areas like the face, backs of the hands, décolletage, and forearms, dark spots can develop on any part of the skin.
What causes dark spots on skin?
When the pigment-producing cells (melanocytes) in the skin start to overproduce melanin, this can lead to the formation of uneven pigmentation or dark spots on the skin. But what triggers this process? When you spend time in the sun unprotected, your skin produces more melanin to try to protect itself from the damaging rays – resulting in a toasty tan or sensitive sunburn.
So, it makes sense that you might notice more dark spots during summer or early fall if you’ve been soaking up the rays at the beach or relaxing by the pool. While typically harmless, they aren’t always welcome aesthetically. And of course, you should regularly visit your dermatologist and inform them of any changes in your skin, including size, color, or the number of dark spots.
But is the sun the only culprit? Spoiler: there’s more to it than that. Age, genetics, hormones (such as in pregnancy), free radical damage from pollution and tobacco, and other factors such as underlying conditions, or types of medication can also cause skin discoloration.
How do I get rid of dark spots on my skin?
While Google image searches might help you identify dark spots, getting rid of them takes a bit of offline effort. And much like many skin concerns, dark spots typically increase with age. So it’s never too early to start a targeted routine.
A dark spot treatment skincare routine should provide protective and corrective benefits, both morning and night. Let’s check out some options –
First off, it’s a great idea to visit your dermatologist to discuss the type of pigmentation you’re experiencing. Depending on the type, they may suggest in-clinic treatments, which can include chemical peels, laser treatments, or microdermabrasion. The most suitable treatment will vary depending on the appearance of dark spots, and your skin type.
Effective at-home treatments
While in-clinic treatments are an option, there are just as many ways that dark spots can be tackled at home, too! Targeted products can help to correct the visible signs of premature skin aging, including the formation of dark spots and uneven pigmentation.
And when it comes to ingredients to look out for, there are three topical superstars to note:
A life-long skincare bestie, vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant with the ability to neutralize free radicals – from both pollution and UV rays. What’s most interesting about vitamin C, though, in the treatment of dark spots, is that it can help even skin tone and brighten the skin.
What does this mean? Topical application can help repair existing skin damage, while also helping to decrease the appearance of new dark spots on the skin.
Try out a powerful brightening serum that’s specifically designed to improve the appearance of dark spots and unify skin tone. For maximum effectiveness, look out for products combining vitamin C and phytic acid together. This killer combo helps combat free radical damage and brighten the skin, while also being gentle enough for everyday use.
Even harder working than it is difficult to pronounce, this essential helps to restore and even skin tone. Niacinamide has many remarkable properties, especially when it comes to powerfully fighting discoloration at the surface of the skin.
Try getting started with a pigment-correcting serum containing niacinamide to be well on your way to fresh-looking skin.
Without a doubt, this exfoliating ingredient ranks among the best. A basic in any routine, glycolic acid helps to improve your complexion while making it easier for other products to penetrate the skin. As if that wasn’t enough, it also helps to even out skin tone and stimulate cell renewal, working to help delete the negative effects of the sun like fine lines and wrinkles (AKA photoaging).
So if your beauty goal is to achieve a more uniform skin tone, it’s time to add a glycolic acid peel into your routine.
How to prevent dark spots from forming
Apart from using targeted products to combat discoloration, a high SPF sunscreen is a key player in helping reduce the appearance of dark spots on the skin. Even if your dark spots are connected to genetic or hormonal causes, or free-radical pollution damage, they can get darker when exposed to UV radiation.
Sunscreen should be applied as part of your morning skincare routine, as the last step before makeup (if you wear it), 15 minutes before sun exposure. Remember to re-apply for every two hours of exposure, and more frequently if you’re exercising outdoors or enjoying a day at the beach.
Time to get even
Make sure to include skin-tone-evening products in your daily routines to improve the appearance of existing dark spots and reduce the chances of developing more. Using super-ingredients in both your morning and evening routine is a one-two punch for knocking out discoloration.
Through a combo of skincare products and sun protection habits to even out your complexion, we bet you’ll find your Google search history updated with more funny cat videos or tips for keeping houseplants alive – and fewer skin concerns.
Sources and references:
Pullar, JM., Carr, AC., Vissers, MCM. The Roles of Vitamin C in Skin Health. In Nutrients (2017) Aug; 9(8): 866.