A Skin-Care Expert Describes Every Stage of a Dark Spot

A Skin-Care Expert Describes Every Stage of a Dark Spot
Photo: Allison Kahler

Skin blemishes are annoying in general, but none are more stubborn and longer lasting than a dark spot. Beauty companies are constantly churning out solutions in the form of spot treatments, all-over face creams, and other concoctions, but have you ever wondered what’s actually causing it in the first place? The life span of a dark spot could be brief or never-ending, but knowing what it’s doing at every stage certainly helps during the treatment process.

Ahead, Heather Woolery-Lloyd, MD, board-certified dermatologist and founder of Specific Beauty, a line created to address the needs of multi-ethnic skin, explains exactly what’s happening underneath the surface before, during, and after we spot a brown mark.

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The Causes

In the simplest terms, dark spots or hyperpigmentation are due to the overproduction of melanin in the skin and according to Dr. Woolery-Lloyd, can be can be activated in a couple of different ways.

“The most common causes include acne and chronic sun exposure. In fact, any irritation in the skin (for example from a rash, a scratch, or a mosquito bite) can lead to a dark spot,” she says.

Inflammation and Color

Once the cause has made contact with the skin, inflammation begins. On a surface level, this may be in the form of a pimple or other blemish, but underneath (sometimes before the pimple is visible), it turns on the melanocyte, which is the cell that makes pigment in the skin.

“The melanocyte produces packages of pigment called melanosomes and delivers these packages of pigment to the skin cells called keratinocytes,” says Woolery-Lloyd. “As the skin cells become filled with pigment, the skin becomes darker and a dark spot is formed.”

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Size Is Relative

The dark spot depends on the level of inflammation. This is why skin-care experts always advise against picking and rubbing blemishes, as this will not only extend the life of the blemish but the size of the dark spot, too.

Woolery-Lloyd adds, “Dark spots from chronic sun exposure (called solar lentigos) can be larger and, in some cases, can be as large as a quarter.”

Healing Ingredients

We typically don’t notice a spot until the melanocyte has done its damage, which is why it can feel like an eternity waiting for a treatment to reverse it all. At the same time, it is still possible to heal beyond the skin’s surface level. The key is utilizing a combo of products ranging from cleansers to moisturizers to establish a consistent regimen. A spot treatment alone won’t do the trick.

“Using a combination of ingredients such as Specific Beauty’s signature Melatone Therapy, which combines botanical brighteners (licorice extract, kojic acid, bearberry extract, and niacinamide), a synergistic blend of exfoliators, and skin-calming agents, is effective in targeting dark spots.”

Pro tip: Woolery-Lloyd’s Specific Beauty line also includes a handy 30 Day Kit that features an Intense Skin Brightening Serum, Advanced Dark Spot Corrector Pads, Active Radiance Day Moisture SPF 30 and Accelerated Dark Spot Corrector, all of which effectively treat dark spots and brighten skin tone.

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Waiting Time

The sort-of bad news: On average, dark spots take four months to go away on their own. The good news: If you’re using treatments consistently, you will start to see the appearance of stubborn dark spots fade in as little as 14 days.

Once you start using a proper treatment, like her Dark Spot Corrector Pads, Woolery-Lloyd says they’re working in a couple of different ways that aren’t visible to the naked eye.

“One mechanism is slowing down the production of pigment by the melanocytes with botanical skin brighteners. Another is to reduce inflammation to prevent further activation of the melanocytes. Finally, gentle exfoliation is essential to remove the upper layers of dead skin to achieve a more even and brighter complexion.”

Back to Brand New?

In most cases, once a dark spot has been treated consistently, it will fade completely. The only cause for continued maintenance would be if the cause of your brown spots is hormonal.

Here’s a refresher on the skin-care ingredients that play nice to each other while treating hyperpigmentation.