There are a number of causes that lead to skin discoloration. The body may either make too much or too little melanin, the chemical that gives skin its color.
- Hypopigmentation describes a lack of normal melanin amounts. The result is light or white skin.
- Hyperpigmentation is caused by too much melanin, and affected spots look brown or dark brown.
There are many conditions that cause whitening or darkening of the skin, including exposure to ultraviolet light. Although most skin discoloration is harmless, there is a possibility that it signals skin cancer. Whenever you have discolored skin, it’s time to see a Ascension Seton dermatologist. Proper evaluation can help you care for and treat any condition you may have.
What is Vitiligo?
What is Melasma?
Wellness & Prevention
Taking care of your skin by avoiding the sun can help prevent some types of skin discoloration, like age spots. Melasma, another type of skin discoloration, can be aggravated by sun exposure. Try to stay out of the sun as much as possible during the middle of the day, and always wear a good sunscreen that’s SPF 30 or higher. Ultraviolet rays can pass through clouds and glass, so it’s always important to protect your skin from sun damage, even if it’s cloudy or you’re inside.
When spending long periods of time outdoors, apply sunscreen every two hours. Wear wide-brimmed hats and other sun protective clothing to further help reduce exposure.
As for other skincare, wash the face once to twice a day with a gentle cleanser, stay hydrated and eat a healthy diet to help maintain healthy, glowing skin. Your dermatologist may also recommend over-the-counter products that can help to even out your skin tone.
There are several different types of disorders that cause skin discoloration:
- Vitiligo is a condition that causes patches of skin to lose color. It can happen anywhere on the body, including the scalp, inside the mouth, and the eyes. Although it can affect anyone, it’s more noticeable in people with darker skin. Vitiligo is a chronic condition. It is not life-threatening, but discoloration can spread throughout the body and may cause feelings of self-consciousness.
- Melasma is a common condition aggravated by sun exposure. This skin problem shows up as grayish-brown patches on the face or other parts of the body that are regularly exposed to sun. Hormones and pregnancy are thought to affect melasma, which is far more typical in women.
- Post-inflammatory hypo- and hyperpigmentation is discoloration that results from skin inflammatory disorders. Once the inflammation goes down, hypo or hyperpigmentation can occur. A range of skin conditions, including acne, eczema, psoriasis or something as simple as a bug bite, can lead to discoloration.
- Age spots are brown or dark brown spots that result from repeated, unprotected sun exposure. Although age spots are harmless, they are an indication of sun damage and can make skin appear old.
Treatment for skin discoloration varies depending on the cause. Some topical treatments can help clear up discolorations on the skin. If a chronic disorder is the cause for discoloration, your dermatologist may prescribe a topical cream medication. Over-the-counter products may also be recommended to help correct discolored skin.
Skin discolorations can also be improved and treated using surface treatments like chemical peels, microdermabrasion and laser or light-based treatments. Your dermatologist can provide information about these options and determine if you are a good candidate.
Most skin discolorations are easily diagnosed by your dermatologist, but there are instances when a diagnosis is not clear. Some harmless conditions can look like more serious ones. Your dermatologist may be concerned that discolored skin could be a sign of cancer and may perform a skin biopsy. During a biopsy, a small piece of tissue is removed so it can be examined under a microscope. Based on the results of the biopsy, your dermatologist will recommend the next step in treatment.
Aftercare for skin discoloration depends on type of treatment. After light-based therapy, avoid exposing the site to sunlight. Redness or swelling may occur in the treated area but should subside within several days. An ice pack can be used to relieve discomfort. Your dermatologist may recommend a specific product, such as Aquaphor®, to aid in healing.
If a skin biopsy has been performed, keep the treated area clean. You may be advised to apply an antibiotic ointment for several days.