Skin discoloration is a common condition that occurs mostly from sun exposure, and leads the skin to become darkened in certain areas or patches. These areas, usually tan to brown, are a collection of pigment called melanin. Melanin is produced by skin cells, and it absorbs ultraviolet rays to protect the body from the sun. Increased melanin leads to increased discoloration. Anyone can be affected by skin discoloration, but generally lighter-skinned individuals are at greater risk for discoloration and cancer. Some common forms of skin discoloration include freckles, melasma, and age spots:
Freckles, medically known as ephelides, are small brown spots found on the skin, most commonly on the arms and face. Freckles are extremely common, especially among light-skinned people, and those with red or light hair. Freckles are caused by genetics and sun exposure, and tend to darken in the summer or when exposed more often to the sun. People with a lot of freckles should avoid the sun and always wear sunscreen, as they are more susceptible to skin cancer. Because freckles are harmless, they do not need to be treated. However, if you are unhappy with the appearance of your freckles, there are several steps you can take to prevent further development, and to fade existing freckles. Talk to Dr. Poulos about available treatment plans for freckle-fading, and remember to always wear sunscreen. Protecting yourself in the sun will prevent freckles from darkening, and new freckles from developing.
- Melasma (“Pregnancy Mask”):
Melasma presents with patches of skin discoloration on sun-exposed areas of the face. It is generally characterized by a brown color over the cheeks, forehead, nose and/or upper lip. It is often symmetrical, matching on both sides of the face. Melasma is sometimes referred to as “pregnancy mask,” because it has been linked to the female hormones estrogen and possibly progesterone. Therefore, pregnant women, or those taking some forms of birth control pills are most likely to develop melasma. For these women, melasma generally disappears after delivery, or after stopping the birth control pill. If melasma does not go away on its own, it can be treated with chemical peels, and prescription creams. Wearing sunscreen and protecting the face during sun-exposure can help prevent melasma. Melasma should not be treated during pregnancy.
- Age Spots:
Age spots are flat gray, tan or brown spots found on the skin, and caused by sun exposure. Please refer to the Age Spots tab under the Medical Conditions section of our website for more information.