We all want skin that’s evenly toned and glowing – without looking red, splotchy, or discolored. However, as we age, patches or spots of red (from rosacea, flushing, or broken capillaries) and brown (from sun damage and melasma) increase in our skin.
Not all pigmentation is equal though, and different types of pigment changes require different treatments. Correcting your pigmentation issues starts with knowing what they are in the first place. With that in mind, here’s what causes brown discolorations in our skin, and how to get rid of them!
Brown Spots caused by Sun Exposure
Why it happens: By far the most common cause of brown spots on the skin is sun damage. UV rays cause the skin to produce excess melanin – the same thing that gives you a tan – as a protective mechanism, but the spots stay after the UV light is gone. These spots (commonly called ‘age spots’), are usually light to dark brown, and occur on the face, chest and hands, making the skin look much older than it really is.
How to treat it: The best way to treat sun-related discoloration is with retinols and IPL (Intense Pulsed Light) laser resurfacing. IPL works by sending a beam of light through skin that seeks out melanin. As the light is absorbed by the pigment, it breaks it up and kills the cells that are producing it, leaving your skin even and glowing. A series of treatments – between 2 and 3 – is usually needed to clear out decades of sun damage. After this is done, you only need one additional IPL a year to maintain your results. Regular use of a Retinol will both fight aging and suppress the formation of new brown spots – extending the benefits of your laser treatment that much more.
Brown and Red spots caused by Acne
Why it happens: Acne can cause brown and red spots that last long after a pimple has healed. The more inflamed a blemish becomes, the more likely it is to scar. Known as post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH), the physical texture of the skin isn’t affected, just the color. The deeper the inflammation, the darker the discoloration – and the longer it’ll take to fade.
How to treat it: The first step is to stop the acne itself – which is sometimes easier said than done! However, good medical grade skin care, including a Retinol and a salicylic acid cleanser, is a good place to start. The good news is that a Retinol, in addition to being the best medication for acne, also helps fade brown spots. For a more intense treatment, chemical peels can also help control acne and reduce brown spots.
Once whatever has been causing the irritation in your skin is under control, and the damage has stopped, the best thing to do is wait a few months. Your skin tends to be irritable immediately after whatever issue causes the pigment to form. You can speed up this part of the process by using a good Retinol or non-hydroquinone lightener to help suppress those activated melanocytes. After the skin has calmed down, we can treat any remaining browns and reds with IPL laser treatments.
Brown Patches caused by Hormones (Melasma)
Why it happens: Pregnancy, birth control and menopause can all cause a spike in melanin production, because estrogen triggers the cells in our skin to make more pigment. Pigment from hormones is called melasma. It tends to be symmetric; occurring on the same spots on both sides of the face, and is most common on the forehead, upper lip, and cheekbones. Melasma can be differentiated from sun damage by its size and color. Sun spots are small, and usually look similar to freckles while melasma usually creates a large (bigger than a thumbnail) patch of discolored skin. Also, spots from sun damage tend to come in a range of colors; some spots will be darker, and some will be lighter. Melasma tends to be all the same color – no matter where on the face it is.
How to treat it: The bad news is that melasma does not respond as well to lasers as sun damage does. The good news is that melasma can usually be faded with good medical grade skin care. At home you will need to use a brightening agent such as hydroquinone or Arbutase, and a Retinol. Chemical peels can be done as often as every month, and will help your home care to suppress your melasma.
It is important to be patient though – melasma treatments are gradual and additive. You shouldn’t expect to see full results for about 12 weeks. Also, melasma is notorious for something we call ‘rebounding’. If you stop your home care, or get too much sun exposure, it will come back, so good protection and maintenance are key!
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