Birthmarks: The dark marks come in various shapes and sizes, appearing at birth or soon after in shades of red and brown. The exact causes are not known, but some are related to blood vessel deformities occurring as early as the embryo’s first month.
Treatment: Some types disappear during childhood — for other, lasers (including those called the Flash Pump Dye and the Q-Switch Ruby) can often reduce or obliterate the blobs).
Moles: Medically known as pigmented naevi, the brown-to-blackish blemishes can be flat or raised and can grow or disappear with age. Moles are formed when the skin’s natural pigment (melanin) coagulates.
Treatments: The Ruby laser can remove moles (proven benign in biopsies).
Age Spots: These spots, which often appear on the face, chest and hands as we age, are technically known as solar lentigo. Don’t mistake them for freckles — age spots tend to be larger and more irregular in shape. Age spots appear when sun damage throws off the patterns of pigment-producing melanocytes.
Treatment: Lightening creams, chemical peels and laser procedures can help make age spots a problem of the past.
Melasma: These brown stains on the face or chest are most common in women during the second half of pregnancy and those taking the birth control pill. Hormones from pregnancy or the pill can increase the body’s production of melanin, which can land unevenly in different areas. Sunbathing can enhance the staining effect — staying out of the sun is best, and using an SPF 15+ sunscreen is the next-best thing.
Treatment: Options range from topical creams, to light glycolic acid peels, to the Ruby laser for resistant remnants.
Vitiligo: This total loss of skin pigment and affects 1 percent of the population. People may be at higher risk for this skin bleaching if they have thyroid disorders, pernicious anemia, decreased adrenal gland function or a condition called alopecia areata that causes hair loss. Possible causes include abnormal nerve cells that hinder the body’s production of pigment or an autoimmune or autotoxic reaction in which the pigment cells are attacked.
Treatment: When a high percentage of pigment has been lost, an oral medication can rid the body of the remaining pigmentation to achieve a uniform lighter look. For those with less pigment loss, a type of so-called ultraviolet therapy sometimes restores a significant amount of pigment to the white patches.