Patchy Skin/Discolored Skin

Patchy skin and discolored skin are umbrella terms for any skin condition that results in patches of red or darkened skin. While some of these skin conditions are medical conditions, most are simply cosmetic — meaning, they won’t lead to serious heal...

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Causes of Patchy Skin and Skin Discoloration

Patchy skin is a term that refers to any type of skin discoloration that forms in patches. This can include discoloration resulting from genetic issues, lifestyle choices, or skin diseases. The most common types of patchy and discolored skin include:

  • Hyperpigmentation

  • Melasma

  • Rosacea

  • Eczema

  • Psoriasis

  • Sunburns

  • Vitiligo

Most patchy and discolored skin is caused by other medical problems but doesn’t lead to medical emergencies or life-threatening conditions. 


Hyperpigmentation is a condition that is caused by increased production of melanin (pigment) in the skin. This condition is characterized by dark, patchy areas on the face, chest, and limbs. 

When the body’s melanin production increases, this condition is the result. The most common causes of increased melanin production include lifestyle choices, hormonal fluctuations, genetics, inflammation, infection, and aging. 

The most common causes of hyperpigmentation include:

  • Hormonal fluctuations (pregnancy, menopause, etc.)

  • Lifestyle choices (nicotine and alcohol use, sun exposure)

  • Skin problems/scarring (including acne scarring)

  • Medication side effects 

  • Skin damage (skin lesions and skin infection)

Hyperpigmentation may fade on its own; yet, it can take months — even years — for this condition to self-correct.


Melasma is another common cause of patchy skin and discolored skin. It’s similar to hyperpigmentation. In fact, melasma is a type of hyperpigmentation. (Though, not all hyperpigmentation is caused by melasma.

This condition is caused by pockets of pigmentation in the skin. It’s usually the result of overexposure to the sun, hormone changes, medication side effects, stress, and genetics. The most common cause of melasma is pregnancy. In fact, it’s nicknamed the mask of pregnancy.

Like other types of hyperpigmentation, melasma may go away on its own (it usually goes away on its own after the end of a pregnancy, for example). Yet, it may take weeks or months for it to return to normal in other cases. 


Rosacea is categorized by large, red patches of skin. These patches may look like a rash, flushed skin, or burn marks. These red spots may be flush against the skin or they may be raised and/or filled with pus. It’s also characterized by the appearance of thin, reddish blood vessels underneath the skin.

Like other patchy skin conditions, rosacea is often caused by lifestyle choices, such as alcohol, sun exposure, and nicotine use. It can also be caused by certain skincare products, some makeup, hairspray, and other chemical-based products. 

Spicy foods can also cause rosacea in some people. Anyone that is especially sensitive to spice is more susceptible to this condition.


Both eczema and psoriasis are conditions that aren’t simply cosmetic; they can lead to symptoms that are mild to severely uncomfortable.

Eczema (also called atopic dermatitis) is a skin condition caused by genetics and is exacerbated by allergens. If someone in your family has a medical history of eczema, you’re more likely to develop it.

Psoriasis is an autoimmune condition, and it’s the result of the over-regeneration of skin cells. Unfortunately, researchers don’t know the exact cause of this condition, but genetics is often believed to play a role in psoriasis. It can be exacerbated by lifestyle choices, environmental conditions, and other medical issues, such as stress. 

Both conditions are characterized by dry, scaly skin. 


Let’s face it: we all probably know where sunburns come from — overexposure to the sun. Staying out in the sun for too long can lead to patchy, red skin. In fact, pretty much any burn falls into the patchy skin/discolored skin category. 

The good news is that most sunburns are relatively easy to treat. Simply apply a cooling lotion, stay out of the sun, and push fluids. While most sunburns are harmless, some can be more serious. It’s also important to prevent overexposure to the sun in the future as chronic sunburns can lead to more serious skin conditions, such as melanoma, a form of skin cancer. 


Vitiligo is a condition that affects people with darker skin. It’s categorized by discolored patches called hypopigmentation. The opposite of hyperpigmentation, hypopigmentation is patches of the skin that are lighter in color than the skin tone. 

Vitiligo can’t be cured, but it can be treated with topical lotions and creams. Most people with this condition develop it in their mid-twenties. 

Another autoimmune disorder, Vitiligo is caused when the skin’s pigment is attacked by the immune system. Many people with this condition also suffer from at least one other autoimmune disorder. 

Preventing Patchy Skin and Discolored Skin

Most people that suffer from patchy skin will need to prevent further breakouts as well as treat current issues. When it comes to prevention, people suffering from patchy skin often need to make certain lifestyle changes including:

  • Avoiding exposure to the sun

  • Smoking cessation

  • Limiting alcohol to two drinks per day (max)

  • Reducing stress and anxiety

Avoid the Sun

Overexposure to the sun is one of the leading factors in most skin conditions. People that live in sunny climates (especially those that don’t use preventative measures) are more likely to develop skin discolorations as well as skin cancers like melanoma.

Even if you don’t live in an overly-sunny area of the world, you’ll want to wear a good sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30, wear long sleeves and pants, and hydrate your skin with a good moisturizer each night.

Stop Smoking

Nicotine use can lead to discolored skin patches, dry skin, and clogged pores. It can even break down collagen and prevent your skin from regenerating! 

If you use nicotine, there are plenty of providers to help you stop smoking. Even if you’ve smoked for most of your life, your skin’s collagen may still be able to bounce back after you quit. 

Limit Alcohol

Partaking in more than two alcoholic beverages per day can lead to skin dehydration and prevent cell regeneration. Alcohol is also a known cause of rosacea. Simply cutting down on alcohol consumption can prevent further skin discoloration and prevent rosacea outbreaks.  

Reduce Stress and Anxiety

Stress and anxiety can lead to several skin conditions, including eczema, psoriasis, and rosacea. We recommend using a health app, such as a meditation app to help reduce stress and anxiety and prevent future breakouts. 

Treating Patchy Skin and Discolored Skin

In addition to preventative measures, you’ll want to treat your current skin discoloration. There are plenty of over-the-counter and prescription topical skincare products that lighten skin, break up pigmentation, and prevent further damage.

If your discoloration is serious, you may want to opt for prescription skincare to treat your patchy skin. 

Discolored Skin Treatment Ingredients

Most prescription skin treatments will contain one or more of the following ingredients:

  • Tretinoin

  • Niacinamide

  • Hyaluronic acid

  • Hydroquinone

  • Azelaic acid

  • Hydrocortisone


Tretinoin can speed up the production of skin cells and promote cell turnover. It also boosts collagen, a protein that helps cell regeneration. This ingredient is found in many prescription-strength treatments for skin discoloration and patchy skin, but you won’t find it in over-the-counter retinoid products. 


Niacinamide is used to smooth fine lines and wrinkles. It’s used to treat hyperpigmentation, dark spots, scarring, and dry skin. It can also shrink pores, preventing acne and future possible acne scars.

Hyaluronic Acid

Hyaluronic Acid both hydrates and plumps the skin. It can also help increase skin cell production.


Hydroquinone breaks down melanosomes in pigmented skin cells and can eliminate dark spots.

Azelaic Acid

Azelaic Acid is an ingredient that you’ll see more and more in beauty products. It pulls triple-duty by offering antibacterial, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory benefits to prevent further skin discoloration. 


Hydrocortisone is an ingredient you may have heard of before, as it’s used in anti-allergy medications. It treats irritation, redness, dryness, and itching. 

Products to Treat Patchy and Discolored Skin

Luckily, there are plenty of products on the market to treat patchy skin. The best part? You don’t even need to leave your home to get prescription skincare these days.

Whether you’re worried about exposure to COVID or have pre-existing conditions that make you more susceptible to the coronavirus, you don’t even need to head to a dermatologist office to get a topical skincare prescription anymore. 

Most dermatologists will recommend getting checked for some skin cancers like melanoma if you have brown spots caused by excess pigment production. Since it’s hard to self-diagnose these conditions, a quick cancer screening (in-person or online) performed by a healthcare professional will help rule out any bigger medical issues. 

Though you can always wait for your normal skin color to return on its own, it may take weeks, months, or even years. 

The most common types of topical treatment for skincare issues include:

  • Spot treatments

  • Neck and chest cream

  • Night cream

  • Skincare sets

Spot Treatment

Spot treatments provide a concentrated dose of active ingredients directly to the patchy skin. Simply apply spot treatment as directed to see more dramatic results. They break up pockets of melanin in skin pigment while lightening and hydrating the dermis.

These treatments are also ideal because they won’t over-lighten areas of your skin that don’t need treatment. 

Most spot treatments also protect the skin from further damage as they contain SPF. 

Best Spot Treatment: Musely Dark Spot Treatment

Neck and Chest Cream

Neck and chest creams target patchy skin on (you guessed it again!) the neck and chest. Many people that suffer from skin discoloration find that this condition afflicts the face most often, yet the chest comes in at a close second.

Most neck creams are formulated to treat fine lines and wrinkles as these conditions commonly occur on the delicate skin of the neck. Yet many creams also contain anti-wrinkle ingredients containing lightening agents that break up pockets of pigment. 

These creams may also treat acne, rosacea, bumps, psoriasis and eczema scarring, and other issues commonly related to the neck and chest. 

Best Neck and Chest Cream: Musely Neck and Chest Cream

Night Cream

Nighttime is when your skin cells are more likely to regenerate (while other systems in your body are shut off). Night cream aids in cell turnover and boosts collagen production. These creams aren’t too oily or thick, so they won’t clog pores in the night while you sleep.

Night creams are also ideal for people that don’t want to worry about wearing prescription skincare under their makeup or sunscreen. Since creams aren’t waterproof, they can also become diluted with sweat during the day.

Most night creams can be personalized to fit your skincare needs. They are available with alternative active ingredients in case you suffer from sensitive skin. 

Best Night Cream: Rory Nightly Defense

Skincare Sets

If you need a little extra help treating skin pigmentation, skincare regeneration sets can provide an all-in-one solution.

Most skincare sets (like Musely’s Skincare Regeneration Set) include several products. Each product is specially formulated for your skin type and contains just the right amount of active ingredients to treat your patchy skin (without over-lightening it). 

Skincare sets include:

  • Cleanser

  • Day cream

  • Night cream (see above)

  • Spot treatment (see above)


Using a specially-formulated cleanser keeps your skin free of dirt, debris, and excess sebum. It can prevent acne outbreaks (and further acne scarring). Such cleansers can also keep your skin from getting infected or inflamed.

Day Cream

Day creams protect your skin from the sun’s harmful UV rays. These creams also keep your skin hydrated.

Best Skincare Set: Musely Skin Regeneration Set

If you suffer from patchy skin or discolored skin, we recommend signing up for a consultation with a dermatologist at Musely or Rory. You’ll get a prescription for customized skincare products that contain just the right amount of active ingredients to treat your skin condition. 

We also recommend avoiding overexposure to the sun, avoiding nicotine, and limiting alcoholic beverages to ensure your skin issues don’t return.