What Causes Skin Discoloration?

What causes skin discoloration? Here's what can cause imperfections in skin tone. Avoid, treat, and cover skin discoloration with the right products.

What Causes Skin Discoloation

Skin Discoloration Causes

Skin discoloration has to be a prime motivator for the beginnings of the cosmetic industry boom. It's frustrating and distracting especially when it's on our face. Redness, dark spots, blotches don’t make anyone feel comfortable or at their best. No makeup routine is complete, no face is fully finished without evening out skin tone. No other makeup enhancements can help if our skin is not looking fresh and healthy (thus the rise in popularity of easy-to-use BB creams and CC creams right now).

Many causes can contribute to skin discoloration including genetics, disease, medications, environmental stressors to name a few. There are also different types of discoloration and it can be a complex puzzle to figure out how to rid yourself of this annoyance. The first step is to figure out where the discoloration is coming from.

What Are The Types Of Skin Discoloration?

The two primary types of skin discoloration include hyperpigmentation and hypopigmentation. Inconsistent melanin, or skin pigment, is the culprit behind both of these skin conditions. A naturally occurring substance, melanin, provides the wide color spectrum we see in our hair, skin, and eyes. Special cells in the skin, melanocytes, are used to produce the colors. Melanin’s function is not only to provide color to various parts of our bodies, but it also provides a level of sun protection to our skin. Those with more melanin have greater sun protection than those with much lighter levels. Studies show that melanin can absorb light and diminish close to 100% of the UV radiation in the rays.

Melanin has three main types:

  1. Eumelanin - the most abundant in people and colors skin and hair and is predominantly in brown and black skin
  2. Pheomelanin - found in red hair
  3. Neuromelanin - a modified form of melanin that is related to the nervous system

Hyperpigmentation or excess melanin production can occur in random areas of the body and when it does freckles, melasma, and age spots are the most common darkened skin patches that result. Hyperpigmentation occurs at the highest frequency in humans.

Hypopigmentation causes the exact opposite effect of hyperpigmentation. There is a lack of pigment cells or melanin. One who suffers from hypopigmentation could have vitiligo which are white patches throughout the skin. Those that have albinism do not have any pigment in their skin, hair, and eyes have extreme forms of hypopigmentation.

What Causes Skin Discoloration?

Is skin discoloration inherited at birth or does it manifest with time? A bit of both. Like many things that occur with the body, genetics play a firm and substantial role. Environmental factors then exacerbate many of our genetic predispositions. What does this mean? Take freckles, for instance. Freckles are a type of hyperpigmentation that can be present at birth. Or albinism. Someone who has albinism has a form of hypopigmentation which they were also born with.

How does the environment factor into skin pigmentation? Think skin damage, and there are plenty of causes for skin damage that a person will face in their life which will change the landscape of their skin over time. Both hyper and hypopigmentation are affected by the environment. If you have ever had a blemish, which, let's be honest, we all have had at least one in our life — that is trauma to your skin. Trauma can also be blisters, burns, cuts, scrapes, etc. Acne trauma in specific is a good example to explain how the environment can cause the skin to suffer from post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. This is compared to burns, which are also a trauma but result in post-inflammatory hypopigmentation.

The face, neck, chest, and hands are the most exposed to the elements and therefore the most at risk for environmental factors exacerbating uneven skin. Theses areas get hit with major amounts of UV light which highlights the need for extra protection from regular use of SPF in your makeup and your body lotions. You must look for products that are formulated with SPF to help protect your skin and aid in the reduction of the damage that can lead to skin discoloration. Then, wear these products every day.

As the skin is exposed to UV light the enzyme tyrosinase is activated. Tyrosinase then kicks in to stimulate melanocytes to begin going into overdrive. The fast production of dark pigments is the final outcome. When the fast, increased production of melanin takes place the cells clump together. They work their way towards the top of the epidermis which gives a tan or browned look.

Red blotchy spots can be from many factors including:

  • Irritation from trauma and excessive minor abrasions such as over-exfoliation
  • Weather like wind or sun
  • Allergies, such as hives
  • Skin disorders like Rosacea
  • Extended sun exposure
  • Diseases such as Lupus or Polycythemia Vera

The good news is there are many DIY treatments, over-the-counter treatments, medical interventions, and lifestyle changes that can help skin discoloration, our favorite right now being the many drugstore BB creams that are so easy to find and use. If none of these options are attractive to you, there are always some incredible makeup options and techniques that you can use to provide coverage to discolored, uneven skin.

Resources— U.S. National Library of Medicine, Hellomrdoctor, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

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