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.