There are a wide variety of potential causes of skin discoloration, which frequently reflect the body’s state of internal health. With numerous blood vessels located just below the surface of the skin, changes in color can often be attributed to causes associated with the vascular or hormonal system.
Heredity, diet, and other external factors can all affect pigmentation and damage to the skin can also play a role.
Causes of Skin Discoloration – Brown Spots
Sun Exposure – The most common cause, by far, of brown or gray patches or spots, referred to as age spots or liver spots, freckling, or skin darkening, regardless of overall skin color, is unprotected sun exposure over time. These blemishes typically appear on parts of the body that received the most direct sunlight such as the face, chest, hands, and forearms.
Medication – Skin discoloration may result as a side effect of certain medications that enter the bloodstream or are applied topically. For example, treatment for rheumatoid arthritis with minocycline is known to cause hyperpigmentation where excess melanin pigment produces darkened spots on the skin.
Hormones - Also, hyperpigmentation can be associated with undergoing estrogen replacement therapy, taking antibiotics or birth control pills. Added to this list is pregnancy, smoking, and many illnesses and health conditions such as acne, Addison’s disease, melanoma, fungal infections, malaria and celiac disease, to name only a few.
Colored Skin Patches
Uneven patches of discoloration can form that are lighter than the natural skin tone or colored any of a broad range of shades to include red, white, blue, orange, or purple spots.
Red discoloration may appear when an increased amount of blood is drawn to the skin’s surface, as when there is a burn, wound, or other trauma that leaves a scar, including a birthmark.
The formation of white skin spots sometimes involves the opposite effect – a restriction in blood flow to the area. This may occur with scarring from pressure ulcers, skin conditions such as eczema, frostbite, shock, burns, and cuts, as well as result from allergies, anemia, and certain genetic conditions that can cause patches of the skin to lighten due to loss of pigmentation.
Blue or purplish skin discoloration generally results from the oxygen supply being cut off, referred to as cyanosis, with patches or spots most commonly forming as bruises due to focal trauma such as pinches or other injuries where blood vessels become damaged or destroyed.
Skin discolorations that are orange frequently appear as freckles with the coloring dependent upon genetics, but also have been correlated with carotenoid-containing foods, some types of skin fungi, and liver or kidney dysfunction.
Overall, there are many different types, sizes, and shades of skin discolorations that exist, most of which are benign, harmless, and can be treated, and just as many possible underlying causes, which can make it difficult to determine if they are hereditary, from the sun, as a result of aging, from diet, injury, or disease, or a combination of the above.
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