Treatment for Dark Spots
Dark spots are hyperpigmented areas of skin that appear darker than surrounding skin. Many times, dark spots are due to natural aging of the skin, but in some cases, they can be due to medications, sun damage or disease. It is important to uncover the cause of dark spots before attempting to treat them.
Several diseases can cause the skin to become darker in some areas. Addison's Disease is an autoimmune disorder caused by a gradual destruction of the outer layer of the adrenal glands. The Mayo Clinic says one symptom of the disease is hyperpigmentation, or a darkening of the skin. Hyperthyroidism can cause dark spots similar to Addison's Disease and acne can leave dark patches on the skin after acute lesions have healed. Skin cancer can also start out as a dark spot or patch.
The key to treating dark spots caused by diseases is to treat the disease itself. Getting an accurate diagnosis from a doctor or dermatologist is imperative before trying to treat dark spots on the skin independently.
According to the American Family Physician (AAFP) wesbite, a number of medications can cause the skin to become darker or create patchy-looking skin.
Treating dark spots caused by medications usually involves discontinuing the medication in question. If dark spots don't resolve themselves spontaneously, cosmetic procedures like bleaching and laser treatment can be used.
Most dark spots are sun-related. The skin produces melanin in response to sun exposure. Some areas of the skin produce more melanin than others, causing spots and blotches. Dark spots that are caused by excessive sun exposure are called lentigines.
The AAFP says the best way to treat lentigines is with cosmetic skin bleaching or peeling agents in combination with a sunscreen. Hydroquinone is the most common skin bleaching ingredient and can be found in a number of over-the-counter skin lightening creams. A stronger version can be obtained by prescription from a doctor or dermatologist.
Several peeling agents are effective at removing the top, sun-damaged layer of skin and revealing new, even-toned cells. Retinoids, like prescription-strength Retin-A, and over-the-counter retinol are effective exfoliants. Salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide can also remove dead skin cells and reduce the appearance of dark spots.
The most effective way to prevent dark spots from sun damage is to use a sunscreen on exposed skin.
Melasma, also known as the "mask of pregnancy," can cause diffuse dark spots on the skin. Melasma can be caused by excess hormones and may occur while using some birth control pills. The AAFP suggests combining Retin-A and hydroquinone to treat hyperpigmentation due to melasma.
Freckles, also called ephelides, and birthmarks like café au lait macules (flat spots) stem from genetic causes. Freckles are red, tan,or brown macules, usually 1 to 3mm in diameter that appear on sun-exposed areas. Freckles can be treated using cosmetic measures like bleaching or laser removal but are usually so prevalent that removal is impractical. The use of sunscreen can minimize the formation of subsequent freckles.
Café au lait macules look like very large freckles and may be present at birth, or appear later in childhood. The AAFP says that numerous macules can indicate the presence of neurofibromatosis and should be evaluated by a doctor. Treatment for these dark spots consists mainly of cosmetic removal by bleaching or peeling agents or laser removal.
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