Dark spots, age spots, sun spots; they’re all types of pigmentation. Pigmentation occurs when there is an excess production of melanin – the natural pigments produced in our cells responsible for skin and hair colour – creating darker spots compared to the overall skin tone, resulting in an uneven complexion. The main type of pigmentation is pigment spots, but there are many different types of pigmentation, known by various different names including post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, age spots, liver spots, brown spots, freckles, solar lentigines and melasma.
The key causes
The biggest cause of pigmentation is sun damage, but the other factors that can also play a part include hormones, genetics, medication, the ageing process, illnesses and skin conditions like acne.
Sunlight generates the production of melanin in the skin, by protecting it from the sun’s harmful UVA and UVB rays, acting as a natural sunscreen. That’s why skin tends to tan when you’re on holiday, but too much exposure can disrupt that process and cause pigmentation. Some skin types are more prone to pigment than others due to the amount of melanin within the skin.
Hormones can also have a heavy influence on pigmentation, especially when it comes to melasma. There’s no exact cause known, but it’s most common among women as it’s thought to occur when female sex hormones oestrogen and progesterone encourage the overproduction of melanin when skin is exposed to the sun.
Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation happens when there’s trauma or inflammation to the skin, which in turn causes the melanocytes to produce more pigment.