Ask DAA: What Causes My Skin Color to Change?
We all know that skin tone is genetic, but the color of our skin also has some variations throughout our lives—we have periods when our skin is tan from sun exposure, and most people also develop areas of skin that are darker, lighter, or more red than the rest of their skin. There are a number of reasons why this happens, and some of them are highly preventable. At Dermatology Associates of Atlanta (DAA), we’re dedicated to helping patients protect and improve their skin both inside and outside our office, so today we’re taking a closer look at what affects the color of your skin and what you can do about it.
The skin includes many different types of cells, and one type is melanocytes, which produce a pigment called melanin. While everyone has generally the same number of melanocytes, the amount of melanin that they produce is based on genetics. However, there are other factors that can affect the amount of melanin in your skin and cause conditions like hyperpigmentation, hypopigmentation, and facial redness.
Hyperpigmentation simply means that the skin has excess pigment, and it appears as age spots, darkened acne scars, or other patches of skin that are darker than the surrounding skin. One type of hyperpigmentation is melasma, which is caused by hormonal changes and is most common in women who are pregnant or taking oral contraceptives. However, patches of dark skin are more often caused by sun exposure over time. When your skin is becoming damaged from the sun’s rays, it produces extra melanin to try to protect itself from further damage. Over time, even short periods of sun exposure here and there can cause hyperpigmentation to appear. The spots themselves aren’t dangerous, but the sun damage that causes them is, so if you notice age spots or other areas of hyperpigmentation, be especially cautious about sun exposure and make sure you visit us for a skin cancer screening every year.
While HYPERpigmentation means “too much pigment,” HYPOpigmentation means “too little pigment,” and it occurs when melanocytes in the skin die. Hypopigmentation is typically the caused by either trauma to the skin (like burns, blisters, infections, or certain methods of skin cancer removal) or by a specific skin disorder. A common cause of hypopigmentation is inflammation – either after a preceding rash or along with a subtle ongoing rash. However, areas that are “depigmented” (absence of all pigment) are concerning for an autoimmune condition called vitiligo. In vitiligo, the immune system is attacking the melanocytes. Vitiligo can be treated with topical medicines or laser and light treatments like the PHAROS EX-308 Excimer Laser.
This type of skin discoloration is very different from the others because it isn’t caused by melanin. If you can’t identify the cause of facial redness (like a sunburn or a cosmetic treatment) and it occurs often, it may be a sign of rosacea. Appearing most often in adults over the age of 30, rosacea causes the facial skin to become inflamed and causes the blood vessels beneath the skin to enlarge, causing a redness on the cheeks, chin, nose, and forehead. Rosacea is a chronic condition that can worsen over time, but fortunately, there are a number of treatment options that may ease the symptoms, such as laser therapy and oral or topical antibiotics. However, it’s important to get a diagnosis before you jump to conclusions. Facial veins and redness are not always caused by rosacea but instead can simply occur on their own, and they can often be improved with cosmetic treatments.
Changes in your skin will occur over time, and while they may be harmless, don’t try to self-diagnose. If you’re concerned about your skin irregularities, scheduled an appointment at DAA so that you can either put your mind at ease or address any conditions you may have. Plus, for more helpful information and to stay up-to-date on the latest news and special offers, join us on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.