Medically reviewed by Minimalist Health Specialist -  Written by Viddhi Patel (Journalist)  on 31st Dec 2020

Dark spots on your face: Causes, Treatment and Prevention

Dark spots on your face

You are not alone if you have long been fighting jarring black spots on your face that are just not ready to go away with simple home remedies.

Dark spots are a common cause for concern, and there are several reasons you may have been exposed to them. They are classified broadly and go by age spots, liver spots, or sunspots. But what they do is target your self-esteem.

Uneven skin tones bring with them a wave of self-consciousness.

Although they can mean no harm, we feel compelled to try products to get rid of these spots. The racks are stacked with products that may bring more harm to you than good. Being aware of your needs, the right product, and the ingredients that give you your desired even skin tone is essential in this booming industry full of suspicious products. 

Dark spots: an outcome of hyperpigmentation

These dark spots, or rather hyperpigmentation, are caused when your skin produces excessive melanin. The color of the spots depends on their skin tone and ranges from light brown to dark brown. Melanin is a pigment that is produced by melanocytes that protect your skin. The excess of melanin creates spots that appear darker than their surroundings. They are not painful and have the same texture as the skin.

Dark spots on your face are signs that you have probably been unfair to your skin in the past. And what we need to learn is what exactly you or the environment did to your skin for this to happen. All skin tones may suffer from dark spots, but it is more likely to affect darker skin types.  

What causes dark spots on your face?

Sunspots, skin age spots, or liver spots are types of dark spots bifurcated based on their causes.

Although they are likely to occur on any body part, the occurrence is more likely on your skin areas that are most exposed to the sun.  

1. Sun exposure

Sun or tanning beds may cause your skin to form dark spots as a response to damage. The top reason that causes dark spots on your skin is sun damage. UV exposure prods melanocytes to release more melanin than is required. This sun-exposed skin develops dark patches.

Furthermore, sun exposure, apart from causing sunspots, one of the forms of dark spots, also causes liver or age spots. The accumulation of sun damage of all those years causes your skin to form brown or black spots on your most sun-exposed skin.  

2. Inflammation

Any wound or inflammation to the skin may compel your skin to develop dark spots. Also called post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, it is a reaction of the skin to inflammation. When you suffer from an injury, eczema, acne, etc., your skin is inflamed, and the healing process involves your skin producing more melanin and hence the dark spots. 

3. Acne 

A form of hyperpigmentation due to inflammation, acne often leaves dark spots in its place. Acne irritates the skin, and its healing process leads up to the formation of dark spots. The spots may be pink, red, purple, brown, or black.

If you pop, prod, or pick on the pimple, the likeliness of a dark spot increases manifold.  

4. Aging  

Your skin turns thinner and translucent as you age, and it loses the elasticity that made it immune to dark spots and damaged cells. Lentigines are spots that occur due to aging.  

5. Hormones  

Fluctuations in hormone levels may affect the pigmentation of your skin. Pregnancy, birth control, or any other reasons that cause the hormones to boost melanin production leads you right to hyperpigmentation.

Pregnant women are likely to develop dark spots on the nose, cheeks, chin, forehead, or jawline. This is also referred to as the "mask of pregnancy" or "chloasma."

Skin conditions like melasma, triggered due to hormones, may cause dark spots, and they usually worsen with sun exposure.

Apart from the above reasons, wounds like cuts or burns, irritation, certain medications, or skin products can cause hyperpigmentation.  

Treatments that can help with Dark Spots 

These black or brown spots may pop up out of nowhere, and on any skin type, it is unlikely that you can avoid such a common skin condition. You must know how to go back to your flawless skin by using the right treatment. Often you may not even need to interfere with the dark patches, and they may disappear, but not all are that obedient and need effective treatments to disable their appearance.  

1. Hydroquinone

The common ingredient in many skin-lightening products, hydroquinone, works by regulating melanin production in the tension area. The number of melanocytes is reduced. The ingredient is generally available in lower concentrations, and higher concentrations require a prescription. You should use it on a short-term basis.
If you have sensitive skin, you will likely suffer from redness or dryness due to hydroquinone.  

2. Retinoids 

Although popular in its acne-fighting specialization field, it is effectively being used to reduce the appearance of dark spots along with wrinkles and scars. They work towards an increase in cellular turnover, exfoliation, and promotion of new and healthier skin. They regulate collagen in your body and thicken skin.

When retinoids dry up, you may need to stack up on a moisturizing agent to help your skin. Moreover, retinoids also make your skin more susceptible to sun damage, so do not avoid amping up your sun protection.  

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Granactive Retinoid 2% (Emulsion)

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3. Azelaic acid

The powerful ingredient is effective in erasing your dark spots. This acid can inhibit melanocytes as well as tyrosinase activity. It can go to the root of the problem and prevents the occurrence of dark spots. Azelaic acid soothes inflammation and treats sunspots and melasma by blocking pigmentation.

Azelaic acid takes time to show effects. OTC application may require 3-4 months, and hence don't give up on it. Although it does not make your skin more prone to sun damage, you should not avoid sun protection as UV exposure can undo everything azelaic is doing for you.  

4. Vitamin C

Vitamin C derivatives effectively decrease melanin synthesis, which reduces the appearance of dark spots. The antioxidant performs many roles in maintaining the skin's health. Moreover, one of the functions is that it also blocks tyrosinase, the vital enzyme for melanin formation. The anti-pigmenting ingredient is useful in the prevention of photoaging signs. 

Vitamin C (Ethyl Ascorbic Acid) 10% + Acetyl Glucosamine 1%
Vitamin C (Ethyl Ascorbic Acid) 10% + Acetyl Glucosamine 1%

Vitamin C (Ethyl Ascorbic Acid) 10% + Acetyl Glucosamine 1%

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For brighter & illuminating skin

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5. Kojic acid 

This acid is popularly used as a skin lightening ingredient. From creams to lotions, many products have incorporated the acid to treat dark spots or melasma.

Kojic acid reduces melanin formation by blocking tyrosinase activity.

The recommended concentration is no more than 4%. The acid also makes your skin vulnerable to sun damage, and hence proper sun protection is a must.

Kojic acid2% and alpha-arbutin 1% by being minimalist is the ultra duo that might be the one for you. The combo reduces dark spots and gives a bright, even skin.  

6. Salicylic acid 

The acid has been used in the form of peels to shed off the skin's outermost layer. The BHA has anti-inflammatory effects that decrease hyperpigmentation caused by acne. Salicylic acid is also said to have a whitening effect on the skin.

Salicylic Acid 2%
Salicylic Acid 2%

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A daily gentle exfoliant with 2% salicylic acid that wards off blackheads and keeps your oils in check for that flawless matt look everyone dreams.
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7. Niacinamide

Vitamin B3, niacinamide, has been praised for entering the big league and for all the right reasons. The ingredient inhibits the melanosome transfer and is an optimal option if your skin is too sensitive to consider other options like antioxidants, AHAs, and BHAs.  

8. AHAs 

The popular ingredients classified as Alpha hydroxy acids have been quite popular for some time and have been incorporated in many products. Glycolic acid and lactic acid are some common acids that have been making headlines for their unique benefits and efficacies. The antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of AHAs allow them to ramp up the skin's natural healing process. AHAs bring to life new, evenly pigmented skin.  

9. Alpha Arbutin

This ingredient is extracted from bearberry plants. It helps in the prevention of melanin formation. It functions as a tyrosinase inhibitor and lightens and brightens skin. Arbutin blocks tyrosinase and keeps your skin away from dark spots. The ingredient, alpha arbutin, is also a viable option for sensitive skin types as it releases slowly into the skin.

It is safer than hydroquinone and has almost no side effects, and is safe for every skin type.  

10. Licorice extract  

The extract will help you bid goodbye to dark spots. The botanical ingredient improves the appearance of dark spots by inhibiting melanin production and dispersing melanin. The two components, namely glabridin and liquidity, restrain tyrosinase and remove the skin's melanin and pigmentation, respectively.  

In-office treatments for the most stubborn dark spots

Apart from topical treatments, you can opt for other in-office treatments if you have persistent hyperpigmentation. But you need proper consultation for this first. 

1. Laser therapy

The therapy involves getting rid of the darkened layers of your skin by burning them off your body. Although quick, there are many risks involved in invasive treatment, namely, redness, scarring, infection, etc. 

2. Chemical peels 

Lactic acids and salicylic acids are some of the different acids used in the chemical peel process to remove top skin layers and reveal an even skin. The solution exfoliates the skin and leads to revealing new skin, gradually fading dark spots.  

3. Microdermabrasion

An abrasive substance targets skin's surface and attacks dead skin cells. Since the abrasive concentration rids the skin of top surface layers, dark spots lighten. The process also fastens cell renewal, increases collagen production, and reveals a healthier, even-toned skin. 

Preventing Dark Spots

Hyperpigmentation is not something that happens overnight. The pent-up sun damage and irritants stocked up over time that you wouldn't bother to care about.  

1. Sun protection

Avoid direct sunlight from 10 in the morning to 4 in the evening. The sun's rays are very strong during this period. Apply sunscreen even when you feel that it is too cold for the sun to affect you possibly.

Wear SPF 30 or more every day. The UV rays won't just stop with the clouds or glass. They are going to reach you, and you have to be ready with your gear.

Wear a good hat, sunglasses to protect your face from hyperpigmentation.  

2. Avoid habits that inflame your skin  

Do not prod or pick on your pimples or any behavior that inflames your skin leading to excessive melanin production.  

Minimalist's word of advice 

One cannot possibly stress more on the importance of sun protection. It is something that should be as important as your cellphone to you.

The dark spots may not entirely fade on your face, but they can be lightened effectively with treatment options.

See a doctor when the dark spot on your skin bleeds, tingles, itches, or changes its color or size.   

Wrapping it up  

Dark spots or hyperpigmentation sure is something that you may have long wanted to get rid of.

Find what is causing it, it may be your unhealthy habit of walking in the sun at odd hours like mid-day, or maybe your medications are making the melanin levels go haywire.

Accordingly, decide with the help of an expert what will suit you the best. Retinoid could come to your rescue or the milder and versatile niacinamide.