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  • Lisa Kotas, MD

Sun Damage: The 4 Types of Skin Discoloration and How to Treat Them




One of the most common questions we get from our patients is, “What can I do about my sun damage and skin discoloration?” Premature aging and skin discoloration are a few of the common and unfortunate ways that years of sun damage can show up on our faces.


Fortunately, there are a variety of treatments we can use to minimize or remove some of these effects. The treatment path we choose, however, depends entirely on which kind of skin discoloration you have.


The 4 Types of Skin Discoloration


There are four primary causes of facial skin discoloration:

  1. Freckling. Freckles are genetic, but can be made worse through sun exposure.

  2. Sun spots. Also known as age spots, these are patchy brown spots that occur after repeated sun exposure.

  3. Melasma. These dark spots can show up on the face in a variety of places, including the forehead, upper lip, cheeks, chin, and bridge of the nose. Contrary to what you may have heard, melasma is not actually caused by the sun. It’s a direct result of your hormones, and it can flare up in response to heat - not the actual UV rays themselves. When it shows up in pregnancy, it’s called chloasma, which you may have heard referred to as the “mask of pregnancy.” Women taking certain forms of hormonal birth control may also be more likely to experience melasma.

  4. Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, or PIH. This is discoloration caused by traumatic injury or acne. Think of a scar that stays brown for a long time, and you’ll understand the difference between PIH and other kinds of discoloration.



How to Treat Your Discoloration


The important thing to understand about sun damage and discoloration is that, with exception of PIH, you won’t be able to get rid of it fully.


This is because the dark cells causing the discoloration are at the very bottom layer of your skin. No skin discoloration treatment can remove the skin cells at the very bottom.

However, that doesn’t mean you should give up hope! There are a variety of powerful treatments and products you can use to dramatically improve the appearance of your skin and reduce the effects of sun damage.

  1. Chemical peels. Peels can be incredibly effective at reducing the appearance of sun damage and acne scarring. They are often the first treatment patients choose as they can be less expensive while still being very effective. A usual approach is to combine multiple treatment types to maximize progress, so your doctor may recommend a peel in addition to other treatments. Youth Secret uses VIPeel, which helps lift melasma and hyperpigmentation in addition to evening out skin tone.

  2. Arbutin. Arbutin is an active ingredient that helps break up the appearance of hyperpigmentation and brightens skin. Our favorite products containing Arbutin include Obagi Nu Derm and SkinBetter’s Even Tone Correcting Serum™. Arbutin is effective at treating all types of skin discoloration. Most start with Arbutin as it is available over-the-counter, without a prescription.

  3. Hydroquinone. This prescription medicated cream works by inhibiting tyrosinase activity, which is the enzyme your body uses to make melanin (pigment). It is very powerful, and can’t be used for extended periods. A recommended treatment plan typically involves 3 months of use followed by a 3-month break. Hydroquinone, as with Arbutin, is effective at treating all types of sun damage.

  4. Microneedling. This unique skin discoloration treatment triggers the skin’s remodeling process by creating thousands of tiny micro-injuries, which generates new collagen. Youth Secret uses SkinPen®, which is the only FDA-cleared microneedling device in the world. Microneedling is effective for all types of skin discoloration, and SkinPen is clinically proven to improve the appearance of facial acne scars in people 22 and up.

  5. Allumera®. Allumera® is a light-activated cream that revitalizes skin by sloughing off the very top layer, resulting in overall improvement in skin texture and firmness. Allumera is a new form of skin rejuvenation called a photodynamic cosmetic treatment. Allumera is applied onto the skin for one hour and gets soaked up by the sun-damaged cells. The patient washes off the product, and then sits under a light for 15 to 20 minutes. Activation by the light causes the sun-damaged skin cells to be broken down and eliminated. It works for discoloration, fine lines and wrinkles, and as a nice bonus, it also helps reduce the appearance of pore size.

  6. Sunscreen. This may seem obvious, but the last thing you want to do after reducing your sun damage is risk even more! Plus, many of the treatments for skin discoloration can temporarily make your skin even more sensitive to the sun. Make it a personal rule to apply sunscreen every single day. Yes, that means even on overcast days, and even if you plan to be indoors all day! Our favorite sunscreen is Elta MD.


No matter which type of skin discoloration you have, everyone’s skin is unique - so it’s important to see a professional.


Youth Secret offers a free consultation to identify the best skin discoloration treatment for you - and best of all, we come to you!


Schedule Your Free In-Home Consultation


Take the first step towards better, brighter, more even skin. Contact us via the form below or click here to get started. We look forward to helping you achieve your skincare goals!

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