Have you ever wondered why your skin darkens in the winter? If you have, here are all the reasons that are causing your skin to darken during this season and 11 tips on how to prevent it.
According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), darker skin tones are more susceptible to skin darkening and hyperpigmentation, however, all skin types can be affected.
Skin Darkening VS. Hyperpigmentation
It’s important to understand the difference between skin darkening and hyperpigmentation.
Skin darkening is when your overall skin tone becomes darker. While, hyperpigmentation is the darkening of an area of skin caused by an overproduction of melanin - pigment that gives color to your hair, skin, and eyes.
While skin darkening and hyperpigmentation are not serious medical conditions, they can be a cosmetic concern for many.
5 Reasons Why Skin Darkens In Winter
Here are all the reasons why skin darkens in winter:
1. The weather.
During the winter, our skin becomes dry and it tends to shed dead skin cells at a faster rate than usual which leads to dead skin cells accumulating on the surface of our skin; making our skin look darker.
In addition, when it's cold outside, our blood vessels constrict to minimize heat loss and keep us warm, which can make our skin look dull and lifeless.
The humidity in the air also plays a role in making our skin look darker in the winter.
When the air is dry, it strips away the natural moisture from our skin which makes our skin look dull and darker.
During winter, air pressure drops which causes tissues to expand and leads to joint pain; also known as inflammation.
When our skin is inflamed, it produces more melanin - the pigment that gives color to our hair, skin, and eyes - in an attempt to protect itself from further damage which results in post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation.
Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation is a skin condition causes our skin to darken in color, appearing as tan, brown, dark brown, or even in blue-gray patches and spots.
4. Sunlight exposure.
There's this misconception that because there's less sunlight in the winter, you don't have to worry about wearing sunscreen. But even though the sun's rays are weaker during this season, they can still damage our skin.
Melanin is a pigment that gives our skin its color and it's produced by melanocytes, which are cells in the skin that contain the pigment.
When we are exposed to the sun, UV rays penetrate deep into the lower layers of our skin triggering melanocytes to produce more melanin - a process called Melanogenesis - in order to protect our skin which results in hyperpigmentation.
Winter can be a stressful time for a lot of people, even for those who have lived in cold climates all their lives.
The lack of sunlight, shorter days, and colder weather can all contribute to feelings of sadness and loneliness, which can manifest itself in the form of stress.
When we are stressed, our body produces the hormone Adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), which can cause an increase in the production of melanin resulting in hyperpigmentation.
Read more about the relationship between stress and hyperpigmentation here.
Now that you know all the reasons why our skin looks darker in the winter, let's move on to how we can prevent it.
11 Best Tips to Prevent Skin Darkening and Hyperpigmentation
Here are 11 best tips to prevent skin darkening and hyperpigmentation in the winter:
1. Use a humidifier.
Dry winter air can cause your skin to become dry, irritated, and inflamed all of which can make our skin appear darker.
Use a humidifier in your home or office to add moisture back into the air to keep your skin hydrated.
2. Avoid hot showers.
Hot showers might feel good during the winter, but they strip away the natural oils from your skin leaving it dry and vulnerable to inflammation.
Instead, take lukewarm showers to help maintain your skin’s natural moisture balance and prevent dryness and boost blood flow to soothe stiff joints and tired muscles.
3. Use a mild cleanser.
When your skin is dry, it's more likely to appear dull and darker so use a mild cleanser that won't strip your skin of its natural oils.
Find a cleanser that contains ingredients like hyaluronic acid or glycerin to help hydrate and protect your skin.
And, avoid using harsh soaps or cleansers as they can further dry out your skin.
4. Exfoliate weekly.
Dead skin cell build-up can make your skin appear darker so it's important to exfoliate every week to remove the dead skin cells that can accumulate on the surface of your skin.
Exfoliating also helps stimulate cell turnover which can brighten your skin and give it a healthy glow.
Use a gentle exfoliator that contains ingredients like alpha hydroxy acids or beta hydroxy acids to slough away dead skin cells without irritating your skin; exfoliate no more than 1-2 times per week for best results.
5. Moisturize regularly.
Your skin needs extra hydration in winter, so it's important to moisturize your skin regularly - to prevent it from appearing darker and from other skin concerns - especially in the winter when the air is dry and can strip away moisture from your skin.
Keep your skin hydrated by using a moisturizer that contains hydrating ingredients like hyaluronic acid or glycerin to attract and retain moisture in the skin and protect your skin from the drying effects of the winter; apply your moisturizer morning and night for best results.
6. Use sunscreen daily.
Sun exposure is one of the main causes of hyperpigmentation and melanin alone is not enough to protect your skin from DNA damage; you need to use sunscreen.
To protect your skin from the sun's harmful UV rays, make sure to wear sunscreen every day; even when it's cloudy outside and it seems like there's no sun.
Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher, apply your sunscreen 15-20 minutes before going outdoors and reapply every 2 hours - or more often if you're sweating or swimming.
7. Seek shade.
Whenever possible, avoid direct sunlight by seeking out shade when you're outdoors to protect your skin from the sun's harmful UV rays.
Plan your outdoor activities around the time when the sun is not as strong - like early morning or late afternoon - and take breaks in the shade to give your skin a break from the sun.
8. Limit your time in the sun.
Spending too much time in the sun can cause hyperpigmentation, if you can, avoid spending extended periods of time in the sun; especially between the hours of 10 am and 4 pm when the sun's rays are strongest.
9. Wear protective clothing.
If you can't avoid being in the sun, wear clothing that covers your skin like long-sleeved shirts, pants, hats, and sunglasses to protect it from the sun.
Make sure your clothing is made of tightly woven fabrics that you can't see through when held up to the light - like denim or canvas - as these fabrics provide the best protection from the sun. Read more about UPF is and its importance in clothing here.
10. Manage your stress.
To help manage your stress levels and keep your skin looking its best, take some time out for yourself every day to relax; whether that means getting enough sleep, exercising regularly, and practicing relaxation techniques such as yoga, meditation, or deep breathing exercises.
11. See a dermatologist.
If you're concerned about your skin darkening, make an appointment to see a dermatologist to help you determine the cause of your hyperpigmentation and recommend treatment options.
Treatment options for hyperpigmentation include topical creams or serums that contain ingredients like hydroquinone, retinoids, azelaic acid, or kojic acid, chemical peels, and laser treatments.