What are dark spots and what causes them?

treat dark spots

Dark spots are flat brown spots that on the skin that may vary in size. They can be hard to notice at first, but when they begin to grow in number, they can have an evident effect on the appearance of the person suffering from them.

Are Dark Spots harmful?

No, dark spots are not harmful to your health, they are just another defense mechanism of the skin. There are cells under the Epidermis of our skin called Melanocytes. When the function of these cells is activated (Melanocyte activity), they produce excessive amounts of melanin to defend the skin against harmful UV rays.

Here’s a little more about the causes of dark spots and other skin conditions with which they could overlap.

What causes dark spots?

Dark spots happen due to the production of excessive melanin in the skin. This a result of the skin being damaged by the sun due to its overexposure to UV rays.

Dark spots occur when there is Melanocyte activity, these are areas under the skin that contain cells responsible for the production of melanin, as well as absorption and protection from UV rays. Overexposure to UV rays causes the Melanocytes to produce more melanin to shield the skin from these harmful rays, thereby resulting in dark spots.

Also read: How to get rid of Dark spots?

What is important to know is that there are different types of dark spots, and hence different causes for it. We can differentiate between these dark spots based on the causation factors behind them.

    • By Sun Damage – The most common form of dark spots. These happen due to a natural defense mechanism of the skin indicating that there is excess exposure to sunlight. UV rays are harmful to the skin, and melanin helps in the absorption of these rays, which ends up resulting in dark spots on the skin.
    • Due to Pregnancy – These dark spots are more like patches and are collectively referred to as the “pregnancy mask” while the medical term for it is Melasma. These are also caused due to exposure to the sun and are found in nearly 90% of women who are in their reproductive age. Hormonal changes during this time could also cause Melasma, as these hormones (mainly HCG, Estrogen, and Progesterone) trigger melanocyte activity.

  • Due to inflammation – Usually, when you have inflammation on your skin due to conditions such as acne, marks are left behind. It is an entirely natural process of healing that the skin does post an inflammation. Picking the inflammation increases the chances of it leaving a dark spot and should be avoided.
  • Hyperpigmentation – Hyperpigmentation is also caused due to the skin’s exposure to UV rays. It is also symptomatic of various other diseases and conditions. The difference between common dark spots and Hyperpigmentation is that the latter happens in the form of big brown patches.

Most of the causes mentioned above point towards an excess production of Melanin. Although the reason for such excessive Melanin production may vary by preconditions.

Occasionally, pregnancy control pills can also cause dark spots as they increase the level of hormonal melanin production in the body. Tan patches are also a kind of pigmentation although this does not fall under the criteria of dark spots themselves.

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Picture of Dr Jisha Gomez

Dr Jisha Gomez

She is a highly skilled dermatology physician with strong expertise in improving skin & hair health through the development of corrective treatment combinations. She completed her Post-graduate Diploma in Dermatology from Cardiff, UK & Fellowship in Aesthetic Medicine (FAM) from the Institute of Laser and Aesthetic Medicine, Delhi with over 5+ years experience treating skin patients. She has worked in Government hospitals in Trivandrum and Bangalore. She is actively involved in creating awareness for healthy skin, breaking the social stigma based on skin colour & stopping steroid abuse in our country.