Skin Health
Darkening on Elbows, Knees, Body Skin: Why Does This Happen and What Can I Do?
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What causes elbows, knees and certain areas of body skin to darken? One of the most common causes of darkened skin in these areas is contact or photocontact dermatitis. Contact dermatitis occurs when the skin is irritated by its contact with irritants or allergens. Photocontact dermatitis occurs when those irritants are stimulated by light (many allergens, such as fragrances, dyes and preservatives, are also photo-allergens, which can react with light to cause darkening). Darkening after a skin trauma (such as a pimple, insect bite, or rash) is called post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH), which could also be a cause.

How Can I Lighten Darkened Elbows & Knees?

Lightening is best achieved by learning and then avoiding the cause of the contact dermatitis, practicing prevention by using hypoallergenic products, and using an active lightening treatment.

1) Learn the cause:

  • Ask your dermatologist for a patch test or a photo-patch test.
  • These painless procedures are the most accurate ways to discover what could be causing the problem. For example, many people with clothing contact dermatitis see their dermatologist for darkening of areas of the skin. When examined by a doctor trained in contact dermatitis, s/he may notice a pattern such as the darkening being most concentrated where clothing elastics are most in contact with skin (like the edges of underwear or at the knees of pants).
  • In these cases, a photo-patch or patch test can show a sensitivity to dyes and elastics. When avoided in clothing, cosmetics and even foods and medicines, lightening can be successful.
2) Practice Prevention

Using your patch or photo-patch test results as a guide, avoid the substances you reacted to in everything from cosmetics, hygiene/personal care products, foods, medications and even things you don’t normally associate with skin such as clothing, gym equipment handles, electronic equipment, etc.

If you have not had a patch or photo-patch test, use validated hypoallergenic products so as to minimize the risk of contact and photocontact dermatitis. We can recommend:

  1. Daily moisturizing: Grandma Minnie’s Mommycoddling All-Over Lotion
  2. When skin is feeling extra dry: Know-It-Oil clinically-validated, 100% pure USDA-certified organic virgin coconut oil
  3. When skin is extremely dry and/or showing fissures, cracks or infection: Oil’s Well Nurturing Do-It-Oil (both from our Grandma Minnie Mom and Baby Care line for extremely dry or sensitive skin).
  • Sunscreen: A sunscreen, especially when you expect sun exposure (even indoor light exposure, as indoor lights are proven to cause or exacerbate skin darkening). Armada Indoor-Outdoor Sun + Light Screens provide protection for the full spectrum of skin-harming light.
3) More Active Therapy

Because the most common causes are allergic, photo-allergic, irritant or photo-irritant reactions, prevention should be the priority. Even good active lightening therapies may be too irritating for the skin at this time. The primary goals should be the avoidance of the triggers and returning the skin to a non-irritated state. But if your doctor feels that your skin can now tolerate more active therapy, we can recommend:

Click here for more on photopatch testing.

Click here for tips on selecting a dermatologist.

Click here to read about how hypoallergenicity can help with darkening.