Regardless of your ethnic background and skin color, eventually most of us will struggle with some kind of dark or ashen pigmentation problem. Skin will either appear lighter or darker than normal in concentrated areas, or you may notice blotchy, uneven patches of brown spots to gray discoloration or freckling. Skin pigmentation disorders occur because the body produces either too much or too little melanin. Melanin is the pigment produced by specific cells (melanocytes). It is triggered by an enzyme called tyrosinase, which creates the color of our skin, eyes, and hair. (Melanin actually has two major forms that combine to create varying skin tones. Eumelanin produces a range of brown skin and hair color, while pheomelanin imparts a yellow to reddish hue.)
As far as skin is concerned, depending on how much is present, melanin does provide some amount of sun protection by absorbing the sun’s ultraviolet light. This explains why darker skin colors are less susceptible to sunburn and the overall effects of sun damage. But less susceptible doesn’t mean immune from problems.
Increased melanin production —also known as hyperpigmentation —is often referred to as melasma, chloasma or solar lentigenes. Melasma is a general term describing darkening of the skin. Chloasma is generally used to describe skin discolorations caused by hormones. These hormonal changes are usually the result of pregnancy, birth control pills or estrogen replacement therapy. Solar lentigenes is the technical term for darkened spots on the skin caused by the sun. Solar refers to sunlight and lentigene describes a darkened area of skin. These spots are quite common in adu|ts with a long history of unprotected sun exposure.
Aside from sun exposure and hormones, hyperpigmentation can be caused by skin damage, such as remnants of blemishes, wounds or rashes (Source: Cutis, August 2005, pages 19-23). This is especially true for those with darker skin tones.
By far, for all skin colors, the most typical cause of darkened areas of skin, brown spots or areas of discoloration is unprotected sun exposure. Once incorrectly referred to as liver spots, these pigment problems have nothing whatsoever to do with the liver. In fact, these discolorations wouldn’t have appeared in the first place if skin was diligently protected from the sun over the years.
On lighter to medium skin tones, solar lentigenes emerge as small- to medium-sized brown patches of freckling that can grow and accumulate over time on areas of the body that receive the most unprotected sun exposure, such as the back of the hands, forearms, chest, and face. For those with darker skin colors, these discolorations can appear as patches or areas of ashen-gray skin. Regardless of how or why these benign discolorations occur, the thought is the same worldwide: this is something women want to get rid of and prevent from recurring (or ever taking place).