Melanin, in the simplest terms, is the pigmentation found within our skin that gives it a brown or dark color. And how much melanin you have in your skin determines how you treat it, especially as you age.
Very dark skin, for instance, is prone to sun damage and is more susceptible to developing brown spots from acne. "When you have more pigment in the skin, the melanocytes (cells that make pigment), have a tendency to release the pigment granules upon being injured. Therefore, it is easier to have dark pigment left behind after an injury (such as a burn, scratch or inflammation from acne), says Coral Gables, FL, dermatologist Janelle Vega, MD.
However, "melasma is the most common affliction for women with ethnic skin," she says. "Many don’t grow up with the idea that they should be wearing sunscreen on a daily basis for sun protection, especially since some have an easier ability to tan and not burn." But the sun doesn’t care what color skin you have, it still wreaks havoc and sun exposure is one of the main influencers of melasma.
While hyperpigmentation and dark spots are not limited to light skin, many treatments for it are. Some in-office lasers are a great way to help hyperpigmentation for lighter skin, but actually can make dark skin look worse. So if you have a deep skin tone, Dr. Vega says to avoid heavy resurfacing ablative lasers, as they will cause more problems than not.
To prevent melasma, first and foremost, she recommends using a physical sunblock of at least SPF 30 every day. To treat it, medium strength peels including glycolic acid or a very low percent tricyclic acid peel can help break up some of the pigment and allow topical creams at home help to penetrate the skin better.
If you have post-inflammatory dark spots, IPL (intense pulsed light) can be used with caution, she says. There are also resurfacing treatments that can help. "One of the newest technologies is sublative rejuvenation (eMatrix), which uses radiofrequency technology to tighten the skin and improve the texture and tone of the skin. It helps to lift the superficial pigment without the risk," she says.
If you are looking to go the cosmeceutical route, there are certain ingredients in over-the-counter skin care products that have been shown to reduce pigment. Look for emblica, kojic acid, licorice and niacinamide, to name a few.