Think about the greatest trip you’ve ever taken. Maybe you spent it lounging in a hammock, swaying over hot white sand that faded into crystal blue waters, or you carved a masterpiece into the powdery white snow on a mountainside.
Whether your fondest memories are of a Roman holiday or a girls trip, they have one thing in common: these events can leave you with unwanted souvenirs – dark spots.
Dark spots take a variety of forms and the causes can vary greatly, so identifying the root cause is key to fading these spots into a distant memory.
What Are Dark Spots?
Ever wonder if dark spots and hyperpigmentation are the same thing? The short answer is yes. Dark spots is the more casual term for a common condition where certain parts of your skin contain more melanin than others. Age spots, melasma, liver spots, sun spots, freckles, post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH), and dark spots are all part of the same disruptive family: hyperpigmentation.
Melasma vs Dark Spots – What’s the Difference?
While both of these skin conditions are caused by an increase in melanin, the way they look differs.
Melasma shows up as brown blotchy patches that often cover larger parts of your face. It is often referred to as the “pregnancy mask” because it can be brought on by high estrogen levels during pregnancy. But this hormone-driven skin condition isn’t limited to those expecting; melasma can also pop up while taking hormonal birth control.
Dark spots can be caused by sun exposure, inflammation (like a pimple), or a disruption to your hormones. Whatever the cause, these pesky brown speckles present similarly in a confined and targeted spot.
So How Do We Get Dark Spots?
No matter what skin tone you have, you can thank melanin for giving it its color. (Well, melanin and your genetics.) This skin-toning substance is produced by cells called melanocytes, which are evenly distributed throughout your epidermis when you are born.
However, as we age we experience micro damage to our skin from say, a tanning session gone too long or a flurry of pimples. When this happens, the damaged skin cells produce too much melanin, which causes them to clump together and – voilà – a dark spot. While the result is the same, each of these very fun but potentially skin damaging activities works in a slightly different way.
Too Much Time in the Sun
When your skin is exposed to excessive UV rays, it can send a signal to boost melanin production to help protect itself, which is why your skin often gets darker in the summer. Because melanin offers broadband UV protection and antioxidant properties, it’s believed that more pigment in the skin is one of the most important protective factors against ultraviolet radiation.
But when the summer sun beats down on you without proper protection from mineral sunscreen, it can damage skin cells causing them to overproduce melanin, cluster together, and create dark spots.
Too Many Sweet Treats
We all know that when it comes to the health of our bodies and skin, sugar is the sweetest sin, creating a brief moment of pleasure on your lips before it begins to cause chaos everywhere else. Too many treats or drinks during happy hour can wreak havoc on your digestive system and metabolism(not to mention give you the Sunday Scaries), but it can also be the cause of pigmentation problems.
Here’s the science: The molecules in sugar can hijack your cells, attaching to proteins and fats in a process known as glycation. This forms advanced glycation end products (AGEs – I know, how fitting) which cause protein fibers critical to skin elasticity, like collagen and elastin, to become stiff, malformed, and damaged. The result? Premature aging, for one. But studies also show that AGEs turn on melanin production, resulting in dark spots and hyperpigmentation from renegade sugar.
And Then There Are Your Hormones
Hormones can have a profound effect on the health and appearance of your skin. When in balance, these signals keep your body functioning in top shape. But when your hormones are out of whack, everything else (including the glow of your skin) can go awry. A few hormones can have very specific effects on your skin:
Insulin: Insulin resistance occurs when your cells don’t properly respond to the insulin hormone, preventing your body from effectively utilizing glucose for energy. Chronic low grade inflammation – which can be a result of stress, gut issues, or hormone imbalances – plays a major role in insulin resistance. Studies show that insulin sensitivity and resistance can cause a vitamin C deficiency. Vitamin C is one of the most popular and reliable skincare ingredients and is known for its ability to brighten skin, reduce inflammation, promote collagen production, and provide antioxidant protection. So, if you experience insulin resistance, you may also have an increased sun sensitivity and likelihood of developing dark spots.
Estrogen: Hormonal birth control, exposure to hormone disruptors known as EDCs, and pregnancy are the main culprits behind an estrogen surge. Studies show high estrogen levels can cause dark spots and melasma by stimulating the overproduction of melanin.
DHEA: DHEA is a precursor hormone that helps modulate the production of other hormones, like testosterone and estrogen. When this hormone isn’t functioning properly it can throw everything else off. But DHEA also has some profound anti-aging properties that can affect the glow of your skin. When DHEA levels are too low, your skin can become prone to premature aging. With thinner and drier skin, the effects of sun damage and other environmental factors can leave your skin vulnerable to damage and dark spots. But the good news is that the right additions to your routine can make a major difference. An early study on women between 60 and 79 years old shows a 50mg dose of DHEA supplementation taken daily not only helps with wrinkles, but may also reduce dark spots and improve overall skin tone.
A Few Lifestyle + Diet Changes Can Keep Your Skin Bright and Even
Load Up on Polyphenols: Ingesting polyphenols, a type of antioxidant found in foods like berries, green tea, and coffee, have been shown to improve the appearance of dark spots and prevent more from popping up.
Protect Your Skin: Proper sun protection is crucial to fighting and preventing sun damage and hyperpigmentation. Whether it’s the middle of a heat wave or 35 degrees and raining, put on your daily mineral sunscreen.
Manage Your Inflammation: Regardless of its cause, inflammation can break down your skin barrier and make you susceptible to dark spots. So, figure out what’s behind your inflammation (start with your stress level and how much alcohol and sugar you’re consuming) and take steps to reduce it.
Know your Levels: Hormones can play a huge role in how well your skin is functioning. If you’re religious about your sun protection but are still dealing with dark spots, it may be a sign that your hormones need attention. The Skin + Health Test can tell you why your skin is doing what it’s doing and give you personalized skincare, lifestyle, and supplement recommendations to get your best skin.
Skincare Ingredients That Can Help Prevent – and even Fade – Dark Spots
Your daily routine can go a long way in creating glowing skin just as your skincare routine does. But you have to be careful — some ingredients that claim to fade dark spots, like hydroquinone, can do more damage than good. Hormone-clean alternatives can give you the same results and keep your hormones happy. Here are some of Veracity’s clean, skin-brightening favorites:
Vitamin C: This powerful antioxidant stops the formation of dark spots and melasma while helping to reduce the appearance of existing spots. Vitamin C also helps boost collagen production and protect against environmental damage and oxidative stress. Some forms of vitamin C can be sensitive and unstable leaving you with underwhelming results. That’s why we use (and suggest) Ascorbyl Glucoside, the most stable form of Vitamin C.
Ferulic Acid: Ferulic acid is a powerful antioxidant that helps improve hyperpigmentation and protect the skin. But we love it even more because it boosts the efficacy of the ingredients it’s paired with.
Glycolic Acid: This AHA (alpha-hydroxy acid) exfoliant is a must have for treating dark spots. Not only does it gently slough away dead skin cells and help with breakouts, but studies show glycolic acid actually inhibits the production of melanin when it’s producing too much.
Copper Peptides: This amino acid complex boosts collagen and elastin production and repairs the skin. Copper peptides are rich in antioxidants and can remove dead and damaged skin cells to reveal brighter, more even skin.
A great trip stays with you long after you’ve unpacked your bags. But with the right protection, better insights, and more balance, the souvenir can be your stories and memories, not dark spots.