Quick Facts about Dark Skin Spots
- About 45-50 million women worldwide are currently living with melasma, 6 million of them in the U.S.
- 90% of adults who experience melasma are female.
- Some teens experience dark spots as a result of acne.
Dark skin spots - or hyperpigmentation - are related to the increased or uncontrolled production of melanin, the most abundant skin pigment. Hormones regulate the activity of melanocytes, or the cells responsible for producing said pigment. The characteristics of these dark spots vary depending on the type of hormonal imbalance and the individual's own melanocytes.
It is important to note that some women may be experiencing a different kind of dark spots or patches, which are related to a separate disorder entirely. These patches appear under the armpits, on the neck, and on other skin folds. They are velvety, sometimes thick, and uniformly cover the affected area. This disorder almost always indicates a more serious underlying disease, such as type II diabetes and polycystic ovarian syndrome, which are both hormonal disorders. This type of hyperpigmentation is called acanthosis nigricans. Click here to learn more about brown and velvety skin patches.
Significant hormonal fluctuations occur during certain stages of reproductive life - namely puberty, pregnancy, post-partum (including breastfeeding), and menopause. Because hormones stimulate and regulate the production of melanin, and excess insulin can cause abnormal skin coloration, an imbalance can very easily affect the appearance and health of the skin.
Identifying Dark Skin Spots
Dark skin spots come in various shapes and shades, depending on the woman. While experiences will differ from woman to woman, many experience the average for their age group. There are three criteria that can help to qualify dark spots: frequency, duration, and intensity.
To better understand the various causes behind dark spots, continue reading the next section.
Understanding the causes behind various types of dark skin spots - or, more generally, hyperpigmentation - is essential for knowing how to appropriately manage and treat the disorder as necessary. In most cases of dark blotches that women experience, the primary cause is a hormonal change or imbalance. In addition to these normal hormonal causes, there are other factors that may provoke or aggravate dark patches.
Read further to learn more about both the hormonal and additional causes of dark skin splotches.
Hormonal Causes of Dark Skin Spots
Hormones, the brain's signal messengers, are responsible for regulating and stimulating many of the body's processes. The endocrine system, or the group of glands and organs that produce hormones, experiences changes in the different stages of a woman's reproductive life. The resulting hormonal imbalances can have negative effects on all parts of the body, including the skin.
A hormonal imbalance of estrogen and progesterone - the chief female sex hormones - can trigger melanocytes (pigment-making cells in the skin) to produce additional pigment, or melanin. This excess pigment can give rise to dark spots or patches. One function of estrogen is regulating melanocytes, so changes in estrogen level can have a profound effect on the amount of melanin produced. Because hormones affect the activity of melanocytes, other types of imbalances can also result in dark skin blotches. For example, acne is caused by increased testosterone levels. Sometimes, in the aftermath of acne blemishes, post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation occurs - that is, dark spots appear where the pimples were. Any kind of hormonal shift can cause a change in the production of melanin, often resulting in dark spots.
Typical cases of dark skin spots experienced throughout a woman's life are the result of natural hormonal changes during the reproductive stages: puberty, pregnancy, post-partum, and menopause.
Puberty, when a girl's body starts producing reproductive hormones, often brings the first hormonal changes and imbalances in a young woman's life. These natural fluctuations, such as those behind acne, can cause dark skin spots.
Pregnancy brings great changes in hormone levels in order for the body to care for the growing baby. Sudden dark skin patches are most common during this time of hormonal flux.
Post-partum and breastfeeding is another stage in which hormones are changing constantly. This can lead to a continuation of the dark skin patches that appeared during pregnancy.
Menopause refers to the stage in a woman's life in which hormone levels naturally decline as the fertility period comes to a close. The hormonal imbalances can cause brown spots to appear on the skin, especially if a woman has had strong sun exposure throughout her lifetime.
Other Less Common Causes of Dark Skin Spots
While hormonal fluctuations are the primary cause of the types of dark skin spots that women most commonly experience, some blemishes have other causes, such as the use of some medications and strong sun exposure.
Continue reading to learn about certain risk factors and external triggers that can make a woman more prone to having dark skin patches.
Risk Factors and Triggers
Risk Factors for Dark Skin Spots
Some women are more likely to develop dark skin blemishes than others because of certain health and personal reasons, such as obesity and genetics. These risk factors can affect a woman's hormones and increase the likelihood of developing dark skin spots.
Triggers of Dark Skin Patches
In addition to long term risk factors, dark skin spots can flare up suddenly because of certain triggers. Avoiding contact with these triggers – namely certain products – as much as possible will reduce the incidence or recurrence of dark patches on the skin.
Keep reading to find out more about the signs and symptoms of brown spots and to choose a treatment specific to its cause.
Signs and Symptoms
The hormonal fluctuations in the female body will affect each individual woman differently throughout the course of her reproductive life. Women who do develop dark skin spots will find different types on different areas of their skin. However, there are some common symptoms that the majority of women have.
Common Symptoms of Melasma
- Dark brown or yellow patches or spots
- Patches or spots on the face, neck, or upper body
- Patches or spots often symmetrical when occurring on the face
The symptoms of melasma only appear on the skin; there are no internal symptoms. The dark spots appear to be part of or inside of the skin and do not have any texture or smell. They are not associated with any itching, dryness, or other sensation. The only symptom is merely their dark, patchy appearance.
Diagnosis of Dark Skin Spots
To diagnose and identify the symptoms of darkened skin, a doctor or dermatologist typically performs nothing more than a simple skin exam. In some less common cases, they may also run some tests, especially if an underlying hormonal condition is the suspected cause.
Complications of Dark Skin Spots
Melasma – or the “mask of pregnancy” - is not associated with any health complications and is not a sign of cancer. Nonetheless, a woman may be concerned about the way the spots affect their appearance, especially if they emerge on the face and neck. This can lead to low self-esteem and less self-confidence.
Women who have large or embarrassing spots may wish to learn how to treat or prevent them. Continue reading to find some useful prevention methods and management techniques that may help with dark spots.
Prevention and Management
Preventing Dark Skin Spots
There is no single, surefire way to fully prevent dark skin spots, since there is no way to hold back the body's natural hormonal processes. However, there are some steps a woman can take to reduce the chances of developing dark skin patches or to minimize their appearance.
An important means of prevention is lifestyle changes, especially concerning diet, exercise, and healthy habits. Additionally, lifestyle adjustments can be complemented with supplements that help enhance the endocrine system and thus prevent or lessen hormonal imbalances.
In some cases, prevention may not be possible. If dark skin patches have already appeared, there are some management techniques that can help to reduce the intensity of dark spots. Continue reading to learn more about the various ways that dark splotches can be managed or lessened.
Managing Dark Skin Spots
Some women may find dark spots embarrassing, although the majority of women do experience the appearance of some spots during the hormonal changes throughout their lifetime. They may wish to manage or mask dark spots once they have emerged. Sunscreen or makeup can be applied directly to skin to lessen the appearance of dark splotches.
Read on to learn more about the various treatments for dark skin spots and which may be most suitable, based on their underlying cause.
Brown patchy skin, which is commonly caused by a hormone imbalance, can be frustrating and embarrassing. Fortunately, there are many possible treatments, each tailored to the cause behind the dark spots. The most effective treatment depends on both the underlying cause – usually some form of hormonal imbalance – as well as the individual woman.
Three Approaches to Treat Dark Skin Spots
Three levels can be considered for treating dark skin spots. These are categorized as: (1) Lifestyle Changes, (2) Alternative Medicine, and (3) Pharmaceutical and Surgical Options.
Women are recommended to start with the least risky approach to treating dark skin spots – lifestyle changes – before proceeding to the next level of treatment. Medical intervention is not usually needed to treat melasma, since the condition has no health ramifications. However, women who wish to remove dark spots and are unable to do so through lifestyle adjustments and alternative medicine may consider pharmaceutical options, after properly assessing the risks related to those treatments.
Lifestyle Changes for Dark Skin Spots
The first level of treatment involves the least amount of risk, but it entails the highest amount of self-discipline. In many cases, simple lifestyle changes can lead to healthier skin and the fading of dark spots. Generally, a good diet and healthy habits for the skin can help in treating this condition.
Though these lifestyle changes may help reduce or eliminate the appearance of dark patches, they do not treat the hormonal imbalance that commonly lies behind the emergence of dark spots. Therefore, further treatment may be necessary. Alternative medicines have proven to be a tremendous way of treating dark skin blemishes related to hormonal fluctuations in the body safely and naturally.
Alternative Medicine for Dark Skin Spots
Alternative medicine and supplements involve little to no risk and can be a very effective means of treating tan skin spots. In terms of herbal supplements, there are two main kinds that can be utilized: phytoestrogenic and hormone-regulating supplements.
Phytoestrogenic herbal supplements
These supplements contain estrogens produced by plants, which function as a complement or replacement for estrogen in a woman's body. The introduction of these plant hormones treats the estrogen deficiency that could be the cause of dark spots. An example of such a supplement is black cohosh.
These treatments are more effective for women going through menopause, since they are more likely to have low estrogen levels; therefore, these supplements are not necessarily as efficacious for women in other life stages, such as pregnancy.
Hormone-regulating herbal supplements
These supplements, including Macafem, stimulate natural hormone production by supporting the endocrine glands, which in turn helps the body produce hormones more efficiently and at the right levels. This results in a balance of hormones in the body, not just an addition of estrogen.
This type of supplement is considered the safest and most natural way of treating the basic hormonal imbalance that causes many dark spots. In addition, they can be used throughout a women's life, as they promote natural hormone production.
There are some other kinds of supplements that can also eliminate the appearance of dark patches or at least lighten them, including vitamins and other herbal supplements.
A combination of these two approaches - lifestyle changes along with alternative medicine - is likely to be the most effective way of reducing the appearance of dark skin spots. However, sometimes the symptoms will be so severe or persistent that a more drastic treatment becomes necessary.
Pharmaceutical and Surgical Options for Dark Skin Spots
Treatment at the third level involves the highest risk and is often the costliest. Not all treatments are appropriate for women at a given life stage, so it is highly recommended to consult a licensed medical professional before starting any pharmaceutical treatments for dark skin spots. In addition, some treatments may require a doctor's prescription.
Very few pharmaceutical treatments address the underlying hormonal imbalance. The majority are topical medicines or surgeries. Melasma can be tough to treat, resistant to treatments, and take a long time to show results.
These three approaches to treatment – lifestyle changes, alternative medicine, and pharmaceutical options – are not mutually exclusive. A woman may choose to employ different approaches at different times or a combination thereof, depending on the severity and durations of the symptoms. Many women find that their symptoms are best alleviated through a combination of healthy lifestyle and alternative medicine treatments.