A guide to the different types of pigmentation

Get the low-down on your dark spots

Beauty Crew Beauty Editor / May 25 2017

After a few days in the sun, you may notice a sprinkle of freckles appearing across the bridge of your nose or on the sides of your face. Or, it may just be a case of looking in the mirror one day and seeing a change in your skin’s tone. Pigmentation comes in many shapes and sizes, and there are several different causes, too.

“Different types of pigmentation can occur on the face and body,” says Dr. Ritu Gupta, dermatologist at Platinum Dermatology. “There are liver spots (lentigines), sun spots (actinic keratoses), post inflammatory hyperpigmentation after acne or an injury, and lots of rarer conditions such as acanthosis nigricans, amyloidosis and endocrine (hormonal) conditions.”

While some pigmentation types can be part of the natural process of ageing, they can also be caused by excessive sun exposure. And if you’re one to negate wearing SPF daily, then you may want to rethink your skin care routine. SPF is key to protecting your face and body from the harmful UVA, UVB and even infrared rays of the sun, even if you think you’re not getting enough vitamin D every day. “Most Anglo-Saxon people don't need to worry about making enough vitamin D,” says Dr. Gupta. “10-15 minutes of sun on the forearms is enough for most people to produce more than enough vitamin D. The current blood tests read a lot of falsely low results so people think they are deficient but aren't.”

Read on for a guide to the most common types of pigmentation on your face, and ways to treat each one.

Sun spots

What it is: Their other name is actinic keratoses, and they often look like brown specks. While they can be harmless, they are a result of cells that have been damaged by the sun, which produce melanin as a result.  
How to treat it: “Topical retinoids and salicylic acid can thin them down but won't remove them,” explains Dr. Gupta. “They are precursors to squamous cell cancer, which can spread and even kill, so they must be treated properly.”

Liver spots

What it is: Also known as solar lentigines, they look like a large freckle and are the result of UV exposure (especially UVA).  
How to treat it: Dr. Gupta suggests using a particular skin care ingredient to treat liver spots, and lucky for some, it may already exist in your routine. “Some superficial fading can be achieved with retinoids (vitamin A) based products but really they respond wonderfully well to pigment laser or broadband light.”

Wisdom warts

What it is: Wisdom warts are part of the ageing process and are completely natural. Their appearance can be flat, raised, flesh-coloured, brown or black. They’re also known as seborrhoeic keratosis.
How to treat it: Sadly, there are no known topical treatments for wisdom warts; however, they can be successfully removed with a single treatment of a spot resurfacing laser. As wisdom warts sit close to the skin’s surface, the treatment works by removing the top layer where the pigmentation is present to reveal an even skin tone underneath.


What it is: Melasma looks like a darkened patch of skin, and can appear anywhere on your face. It is also usually caused by an imbalance of hormones.
How to treat it: Similar to liver spots, you can fade melasma with this solution: “Topical retinoids can be used but it is best diagnosed and treated by a dermatologist with compounding prescription creams and strict sun protection, like a good UVA blocking sunscreen,” says Dr. Gupta.

Want more on skin care? Read up on ways your phone is damaging your skin, and the dos and don'ts of cleansing

Main image credit: Getty

Iantha is BEAUTYcrew's Beauty Editor, and has been part of the team since the site launched in 2016. Besides pinky-nude nail polish and wispy false lashes, she has a healthy obsession with face masks and skin care ingredients. Her previous work can be found in Virgin Australia Voyeur, Women's Health, and SHOP Til You Drop.