You take a quick peek at your reflection on your laptop screen as you wait for the others to jump on your next Zoom call of the day. As you tilt your head back and forth, you see it. There’s another dark spot.
Sunspots, or age spots, can ruin an otherwise perfect complexion, even after you’ve worked so hard to keep your skin looking flawless.
No doubt you've heard there’s a connection between melanin and dark spots. But you haven’t figured out how to take control of the situation.
We’ve got your back on this one. We’re here to help you dive deep into what role the shade of your skin plays and the factors that determine whether certain patches appear as your normal skin tone or as a dark spot.
But don’t worry, we’re not here to blow you away with a complicated scientific lecture on skin cells. We just want you to know what you’re dealing with and how to keep your skin happy and healthy.
What Is Melanin?
Melanocytes, which are specialized skin cells, produce melanin, which gives every skin, hair, and eye cell its color. How dark your skin is depends on the amount of melanin in your cells. Even though everyone has the same number of melanocytes, what varies is how much melanin those cells produce.
So, if you have a small amount of melanin, that means that your hair, skin, and irises will be light in color. More melanin will result in darker colors. Your parents and your genes dictate how much melanin your cells make, so you can thank them for your skin color.
Now, three types of melanin are responsible for the shade of your skin:
- • Eumelanin is responsible for darker colors. There is brown eumelanin and black eumelanin. When people have blonde hair, it’s because there is only a small presence of brown eumelanin and an absence of black eumelanin.
- • Pheomelanin makes the reddish-pink body parts, like the nipples and lips. Red hair occurs when there is the same amount of pheomelanin and eumelanin produced by your melanocytes.
- • Neuromelanin doesn’t affect anything you can see on the outside of the body. It plays a role in your neurons’ coloring, so we won’t get into this one here.
If you are born with a body that doesn’t make very much melanin or any at all, your skin will be extremely pale, your hair will be almost white, and your irises will have little color at all, which means they appear red because you can see straight through to the blood vessels in your eyes.
When you go outside to bask in the bright sun, your cells are triggered to increase their melanin production. That’s why people tan, but it’s also why people burn too. The UV rays from the sun are warm and lovely, but it is possible to have too much of a good thing, and that includes sunlight.
If left exposed for too long, the sun’s rays will burn your skin and damage your skin cells. For many people, while the sunburn peels off and heals, the skin underneath is darker than it was before. This result is because your skin has been producing more melanin in response to the sunlight in an attempt to protect you.
Now, although melanin is great when it comes to the brilliant color of your skin, it is no substitute for sunscreen. Everyone is in danger of too much sun exposure without protection.
When you’re going to attempt to enjoy the great outdoors, remember to wear sun protection, such as:
- • Sunscreen
- • Lightweight long-sleeve shirts
- • Floppy hats
- • Sunglasses
It’s also important to know that if your cells become irritated in a certain area, it can lead to hyperpigmentation, where some patches of your skin appear darker than the surrounding area. This condition can happen to anyone, anywhere, regardless of your genetics. Those spots are often referred to as age spots, sunspots, or liver spots.
Preserve Your Skin
We’ve already discussed how vital sunscreen and sun protection are, but what else can cause hyperpigmentation? How can you prevent your melanin production from becoming unbalanced and causing dark spots to pop up on your beautiful skin?
Sun exposure is one factor, but hormonal changes, acne, skin trauma, and genetics can all influence your skin as well. While some of these things simply can’t be controlled, there are several preventative steps that you can take to counter the overproduction of melanin, and ultimately, prevent dark spots from forming.
One of these preventative steps is to resist the temptation to scratch at bug bites and pick at your acne. If you pop a pimple before it’s ready, you open up the blemish and expose it to the harmful bacteria of the world. It can become infected and potentially end up scarring. Those scars can potentially cause an imbalance of melanin and lead to the formation of more dark spots. The same goes for certain types of skin trauma.
You can also help your skin by staying moisturized. There are plenty of special moisturizers, toners, and face masks that can help purge your skin of its impurities and lock in your skin’s natural moisture barrier. Just think about it - when your skin stays moisturized, it’s less sensitive to sun damage, and your sebaceous glands won’t overproduce facial oils that could lead to severe breakouts.
You want to embrace skincare ideas and remedies that help you improve what you’re already working with, right? There are several key ingredients to look for in your skincare products that help even out your skin’s appearance where melanin overproduction has left you with unwelcome dark spots.
Yes, it’s a spice – and maybe one you recognize from the last time you enjoyed some curry. Turmeric can help reduce excess pigmentation in your skin, so regular treatments involving turmeric can work to both reduce the appearance of pre-existing dark spots and help to prevent new ones from forming.
The active compound, curcumin, reduces excess melanin production, which leads to a more even skin tone. You can also combine turmeric with other exfoliating products to help fade the appearance of acne scars. Plus, turmeric fights off inflammation, which can cause new breakouts and can reduce the redness and swelling of current zits.
Vitamin C can help slow the production of tyrosinase, an enzyme that can increase melanin production, causing dark spots to form. It also helps skin to repair itself naturally and reduce redness. Also, vitamin C can help your body produce collagen and elastin, which work in tandem with turmeric in many face masks to leave your skin with an undeniable glow.
Aloe vera gel soothes and smoothes your skin in more ways than one, working to lessen the redness and itchiness that comes along with a sunburn, reducing the chances of dark spot formation. Aloe plants contain aloesin, a compound that may suppress tyrosinase, similarly to Vitamin C. Aloe is a common addition in facial masks because of its soothing properties and ability to help keep your skin moisturized.
Although a little harsher on the skin than the other ingredients, many people use lemon juice to spot-treat dark spots. It is rich in vitamin C and strongly acidic, so it has a combined effect of reducing tyrosinase while also exfoliating your face.
Green tea is yet another winner because it’s a compound that can help prevent the accumulation of excess melanin. That doesn’t mean that your body isn’t producing it at all – it just means that there’s less chance that the melanin will build up in a specific area and cause hyperpigmentation.
For any home remedy that inhibits melanin or reduces dark spots, be mindful that most of these treatments leave your skin more sensitive to sunlight and sunburns, so be extra careful to stay protected from the sunlight.
If you’re looking for something more advanced and have some money to spend, you can talk to a dermatologist about prescription medications, topical creams, or laser therapy. These options can be a drastic change, though, so you should talk to your doctor before using it.
If any treatments lead to side-effects such as a rash, redness, swelling, or hives, stop using the product immediately and get in touch with your doctor. These symptoms may be a sign of an allergic reaction, and you shouldn’t use the product again.
We totally understand that when it comes to melanin and your skin, it’s a lot to take in. But knowledge is power, and it’s always better to know what your skin is doing and why.
Melanin is a completely normal and healthy pigment in your body. Still, sometimes, that melanin builds up in certain areas after you’ve sustained skin damage, and then it causes unwanted dark spots. Luckily, there are lots of ways to prevent future dark spots from showing up, so you can keep the balance of your melanin perfect for a beautifully even skin tone.
You should always love the skin you’re wearing. So, give a shout out to your parents because their genes have given you your unique skin color. While you’ll never be able to change the shade of your skin, there’s nothing stopping you from finding a happy medium when it comes to your melanin levels, where you can fully appreciate your skin tone and its radiant beauty.