Understanding Skin Discolorations

Photoshop, airbrushing, and camera filters have taught us to falsely expect our skin to be as even and flaw-free as a magazine ad or a celebrity selfie. These days, you can even make your own selfie look flawless with lighting and filter options on your phone camera. Then you look in the mirror. 

If you’re unhappy with the uneven coloring or discolorations you see on your skin, or if you worry that they may be the first sign of skin cancer, our expert dermatologists and skin specialists at Specialists in Dermatology can help. At our offices in Houston, Texas, and The Woodlands, Texas, we diagnose and treat your skin discolorations so that you have a more even-toned, healthier look. We also screen for skin cancer. 

What kinds of skin discolorations are there, and which are the ones you should worry about? Check out our online guide to skin spots and patches, right here: 

Freckles

Whether you love them or hate them, freckles are small, flat patches on your skin that contain extra melanin (i.e., pigment). Most freckles appear when you’re a kid, though you can develop more if you get sunburned or suntanned. 

You’re more likely to get freckles if you have a fair skin tone. Freckles are genetic and are usually a normal skin variation. However, if your freckles are raised, have ragged borders, have dark patches or have started to grow, they may have evolved to skin cancer.

Always wear sunscreen and sun protection to minimize the chance of more freckles and to protect yourself from skin cancer. If you don’t like the look of your freckles, your dermatologist prescribes medication to help fade them.

Random dark spots

Maybe you don’t have a cute sprinkling of freckles across your nose. Instead, you have random dark spots on different areas of your face. Unlike most freckles and some moles, you didn’t always have them. Some of them appeared overnight.

Many different factors can trigger your skin to make extra melanin, leading to disfiguring spots and patches on your skin that look darker than the rest of your skin. Some conditions, events, and substances that can leave dark patches on your skin include:

Your dermatologist takes a complete medical history, including what medications you’ve taken recently, to determine what caused or is causing your dark spots. They then prescribe professional-strength hydroquinone or another medication to fade the spots over time. Because the sun affects melanin — and also damages your skin — your dermatologist will recommend sunscreen, too.

Melasma

One of the most frustrating skin discolorations to treat is a hormonally related dark patch known as melasma. Melasma often appears in pregnancy and usually affects the face, but could appear anywhere on your body that’s exposed to the sun. Melasma can be tan to brown or even gray.

Even though women are more likely to get melasma from hormonal changes (especially pregnancy), men develop it, too. If you have melasma, try not to irritate your skin. Inflammation makes the melasma worse. 

Use gentle skin care products, and never rub or traumatize your skin with harsh cleansing tools. Don’t wax areas that have melasma either. Use a non-irritating hair removal system instead. 

The most important part of keeping melasma at bay and protecting your skin is to always wear sun protection, including sunscreen, when outdoors. Your dermatologist may prescribe hydroquinone or another treatment. You may also choose to even out your skin tone with makeup.

Moles

The raised dark spots known as moles are so common that almost every adult has at least a few, and most have 10-40 moles. Some have many more. Moles, also called nevi, are clumps of melanin and so stand out both dimensionally and color-wise from your normal skin.

You may have been born with some of your moles, or they may have developed over time. If you have a lot of moles, you’re more at risk for skin cancer, so be sure to monitor them for changes.

Normal moles are slow growing. Fast-growing or large moles could be melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer. If your mole is large, evolves, or if you notice a new mole, see your dermatologist for a skin cancer screening.  

Age spots

One of the downsides of aging is the way sun-related skin changes take place over time. You can develop flat brown or tan spots known as age spots, which are patches of increased melanin.

Your dermatologist helps you fade normal age spots with hydroquinone and other treatments, but watch your age spots carefully: If they grow or become dimensional, they could be developing into a cancerous or precancerous lesion.

If you have moles, melasma, age spots, or freckles that you’d like to erase, or if you’d like to book a skin cancer screening at Specialists in Dermatology, call the office nearest you today, or fill out our convenient online scheduling form.

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