When it comes to our skin, we all want to be “flawless.” So, when we were told that by simply living our lives we could be causing hyperpigmentation (better known as dark spots or melasma), we kind of freaked out. Stress causes a bevvy of issues, but it can also cause uneven skin tone? Ugh. We consulted dermatologist Dr. Dennis Gross, of his namesake dermatology practice (and maker of those cultishly popular Alpha Beta Glow Pads), to get real about how we’re secretly letting hyperpigmentation into our (skin’s) lives.
In case you needed a better explanation for hyperpigmenation, Dr. Gross added a new moniker for it: “Warning flags—created by your body to inform you that it is injured or under attack.” It all starts with Melanin (the protein that gives your skin color) and how its production goes into overdrive as your body’s way to protect itself via darkened spots on your skin. No one is born with hyperpigmentation—which include freckles—mind you, they appear because of a genetic pre-disposition of your skin behaving that way in response to environmental aggressors.
So please keep in mind that those environmental aggressors might actually include your own behavior…
… Like Not Wearing Sunscreen. Your tan is actually a broad form of hyperpigmentation, technically. “When the skin is assaulted by repeated exposure to UV rays, it can cause brown spots and hyperpigmentation from overproduction of melanin,” Dr. Gross explains. “Since brown spots are created by the sun – think of it as your skin talking to you, and telling you that it has had too much exposure.” Time to seek shade or reapply that SPF.
… Using Skincare Treatments That Are Too Aggressive. If a skincare product has ever made your skin turn red, that’s grounds for possible discoloration in its aftermath, no matter what your skin type or tone. The visible aftermath of that irritation is known as Post-inflammatory Hyperpigmentation (PIH). Think of the redness caused by a product as another warning flag for a possible hyperpigmentation cause. Also as unfair as it may seem—certain products made to treat hyperpigmentation can actually cause it if it’s too strong for you, or if you apply it more excessively than instructed.
… Picking At Scabs And Improper Wound Care. All those who suffer from acne scars, listen up—if you wouldn’t pick at a healing wound, don’t pick your acne. Believe it or not, one of the ways your body responds to injury involves overproducing melanin. “Your body responds to injury via inflammation which triggers melanin production and can result in a brown patch,” Dr. Gross explains. Acne scars are a prime example of post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. They result when there’s too much collagen in a targeted area like a healing wound, leading to a bump or raised area on top of the dark spot it leaves behind. Great.
… Smoking Cigarettes. In case you were looking for another reason to quit cigarettes (other than the fact that they could kill you with regular use after time), they’re ruining your skin. All of the toxic chemicals in cigarettes deplete the antioxidants in your body as well as produce more free radicals. Those free radicals damage your skin cells, which then replicate more damaged skin cells, so your likelihood of forming dark spots increases exponentially the more you smoke.
… Stress. Yup, yet another way stress messes with your body and skin. When you’re stressed out, your body can send your hormones out of whack, triggering responses that lead to breakouts and rashes, while leaving you vulnerable to other ailments as your free radical numbers increase. It’s definitely in your best interest—inwards and outwards—to take time to zen out once in a while.
Other than always wearing sunscreen, ditching cigarettes and offending skin care products, and refraining from picking at your skin, it’s possible that you may still be plagued with hyperpigmentation beyond your own devices. In this case, Dr. Gross recommends gentle chemical peels, like his Alpha Beta Professional Peel, as a non-invasive method, or laser treatments specifically made to destroy darker pigments effectively for much more stubborn cases of hyperpigmentation.