The REAL Reasons You Have Skin Discoloration

Skin discoloration is more than just a slight annoyance. It’s a downright nuisance that can age your skin faster than a week on a tanning bed (don’t try this at home, btw).

After age 30, discoloration of any kind becomes the biggest indicator of your age before crow’s feet, sagging jowls and even gray hair.

All discoloration occurs when the skin produces higher than normal levels of melanin. With time, the skin becomes less even and more blotchy as melanocytes – melanin-synthesizing cells – are exposed to the sun, free radicals and hormonal fluctuations. Melanocytes begin to overproduce melanin, making it unevenly distributed in the epidermis and causing an irregular darkening of the skin, also known as hyperpigmentation.

As soul-destroying as discoloration is, however, understanding why it’s occurring and learning how to treat it is paramount to dealing with it once and for all.

Discoloration can be split into three types: melasma, PIH (post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation) and solar lentigines. All of these have different reasons to be there and all require different treatments – either at home or at the doctor’s office.

Ready to soak in the facts? Then let’s begin…

1. The Hormonal One: MELASMA

Melasma usually occurs on the cheeks, forehead, nose or above the lips and is generally light brown and patchy. It’s caused by hormone imbalances and is why expectant mothers, and women on birth control pills or hormone replacement therapy typically have brown or tan patches on their faces. Couple this surge in hormones with sun exposure and it’s hello melasma, bye-bye to that perfectly even skin tone.

What’s The Solution? Ask your doctor about including regular chemical peels in your treatment plan. Peels that contain salicylic, trichloroacetic or glycolic acid are particularly effective for melasma.

Not into the whole ‘face peeling off’ thing? Then an at-home retinol treatment is also a great option. Retinol is highly effective at lightening the skin and brightening the complexion due to its ability to stimulate cell replication and collagen production, which helps to improve and even reverse sun damage. Our product pick for tackling such issues? Neocutis Nouvelle + Retinol Correction Cream which includes 0.6 percent retinol as well as the brand’s patent-pending, hydroquinone-free Melaplex ® to help diminish the appearance of dark spots and uneven skin tone.

2. The Sunshine One: SOLAR LENTIGINES

More commonly known as age, liver or sun spots, solar lentigines are caused by repeated exposure to the sun (obvs). They’re medium-to-dark brown in color and often appear on the chest, shoulders and hands, as well as on the face. Why? Because these are the areas most exposed to the sun. That simple? Yes.

What’s The Solution? Before anything else, ensure you’re slathering your skin in broad-spectrum, medical-grade sunscreen. Every. Day. Of. The. Year. The main cause of uneven, pigmented skin is excess exposure to the sun, so avoiding it and always wearing sunscreen is the easiest way to stop existing discoloration from worsening and future issues occurring. Yes, we all know that a glowing, post-Cabo tan feels ah-mazing, but is it worth it? Not really. Try adding SkinMedica Essential Defense Tinted Mineral Shield SPF 32 to your daily skincare routine and you won’t regret it.

Effective treatments at the doctor’s office include microdermabrasion, chemical peels and fractional laser resurfacing treatments. With their targeted wavelengths, lasers penetrate the skin to heat up the targeted spots and destroy them, causing them to flake and fall off. Ask your skin expert about the various options to best suit your concerns.


PIH can appear anywhere on the face and is caused by trauma to the skin such as inflammatory acne. It looks like a flat spot and is usually brown, red or pink in color. Although inflammation is all part and parcel of the acne cycle, the worse it is and the more inflamed a follicle becomes, the more likely it is to scar, discolor and leave you with post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. Even more disturbing is that PIH can sometimes occur following the improper use of an at-home laser device, which is why we recommend you always seek out a professional physician, instead.

What’s The Solution? Again, a daily sunscreen is the mainstay of PIH therapy, and if you’re looking for further at-home skincare treatments, you might want to consider topical hydroquinone and/or retinoids – both of which are very effective depigmenting agents.

Laser and light-based treatments like IPL, Clear + Brilliant or VBeam are also awesome for reducing red patches. IPL works by sending a beam of light to seek out melanin, then absorb and break up the pigment so it’s less visible on the skin. A series of treatments is always needed to make a significant difference to your skin, so again, speak to your aesthetician about the right choice for your needs.