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Dark Elbows: Common Causes and Remedies

woman applying cream to her elbows


Your face? Glowing. Your hands? Manicured. Your legs? Silky. Your feet? People will pay for pictures of them on the internet. Your elbows? Well, not usually among the first things you think about when it comes to your skincare and beauty routine!

Although areas that experience a lot of friction and motion like your knees (and elbows!) end up encountering a lot more irritants and stressors than other areas, we frequently forget to include them when it comes to things like exfoliating, moisturizing and especially when it comes to more involved parts of our beauty routine like applying serums and other products.

But because our elbows encounter so much friction in the day-to-day, they’re prone to being a bit darker, rougher or redder than other parts of our body. Sometimes, these conditions can be a little bit painful—and they certainly get in the way of getting your glow from head to toe. So if dark elbows are getting in the way, don’t worry; we’re here to save the day.

What Causes Dark Elbows and How Do I Fix It?

The darkening of your elbows can be caused by many different factors. Some of these are simple and easy to treat, and some of them will require a little bit more dedication. But as with any skin complaint, the best place to start is by figuring out what’s causing the problem in the first place, so you can be sure you’re getting to the root of the issue, rather than just covering it up.

It’s also worth noting that people with darker skin tones are more prone to dark elbows. So if you’re adding something to your skincare routine to help remedy hyperpigmentation around your elbows, it’s worth looking for products that come from companies who you can trust to focus on solutions for your melanin-rich skin like Urban Skin Rx®.

Let’s talk about some common causes of dark elbows and some easy ways to fix them.

Dead Skin Cells

If too many old, dead skin cells accumulate in one area, it can cause the skin to darken. It can also make the texture of your skin a bit rougher than you’d like. Luckily, this is one of the easier issues to look after because it comes down to something that’s probably already in your skincare repertoire in other areas: exfoliation.

We recommend starting your new routine with a chemical exfoliant, such as our BrighterDays Dark Spot 8% AHA Polish. It contains a powerful blend of Alpha Hydroxy Acids, which are known for helping to renew and refresh your skin cells, brightening and livening up the appearance of your skin. It is both a physical and chemical exfoliant.

Working our Clear and Even Tone Body Cleansing Bar & Exfoliating Pouch and Clear and Even Tone Body Cleansing Bar into your shower routine can do wonders for dark elbows caused by a buildup of dead skin cells. Not only does this cleansing bar contain a powerful blend of ingredients that helps even out your skin tone in general, but the presence of charcoal in combination with the convenient exfoliating pouch also gives your skin the scrub it needs to remove dead skin cells.

Sun-Induced Hyperpigmentation

Although hyperpigmentation is just an umbrella term describing darker patches of skin—therefore, all dark elbows are technically hyperpigmentation—one of the things that can cause it is skin damage or irritation. A really common source of skin damage or irritation is, of course, exposure to the sun! And because our elbows count as hard-to-reach places, you might not always be giving them the coverage they need when you apply your SPF.

In addition to the exfoliation methods we suggested above, we’d recommend following those great, easy steps with our Advanced Even Tone Day and Night Treatment. This formula is a next-level solution for hyperpigmentation and is loaded with top-notch ingredients to brighten your skin and improve the appearance of hyperpigmentation. It includes 3 percent Tranexamic Acid, which, if you don’t know her, you’re going to love her.

It hasn’t been proven that this impacts humans, but it’s understandably created some caution around using it. Tranexamic Acid boasts very similar benefits to Hydroquinone but is thought to be gentler on the skin and doesn’t raise the same concerns that Hydroquinone does. Tranexamic can be used year round and by pregnant or nursing women.

After giving your elbows the Advanced Even Tone Day & Night Treatment, protect this sensitive area from the sun by using a moisturizing sun-blocker, like our SheerGlow™ Even Tone Daily Defense Mineral Moisturizer SPF 30 to prevent the sun from undoing all your hard work.

Certain Skin Conditions

Certain skin conditions can cause your elbows to darken. Such conditions include melasma caused by a recent pregnancy, psoriasis or eczema. If you’ve noticed your elbows getting a bit dark and struggle with any of these conditions, it’s important to speak to your doctor.

The regimen we’ve recommended—exfoliating, serums and moisturizing—may help your dark elbows even with these conditions. But depending on your skin’s condition, it could make your hyperpigmentation worse or irritate your skin further.

So make sure you have your doctor or dermatologist’s blessing before you jump into the deep end of a new skincare routine. Even with their blessing, if you know your skin to be sensitive, it’s worth doing a patch test of any new product on the inside of your wrist before going all the way.

Friction and Dryness

Sometimes, dark elbows can be caused by nothing more than the day-to-day reality of friction and dryness. You may keep a hand cream in your purse and moisturize your body every time you shower, but it’s easy to miss areas you can’t see and don’t often think about, like your elbows. Especially if you live somewhere with a cold, dry winter, it’s worth giving your elbows a little extra love as the air gets drier.

If you’re keeping your elbows perfectly moisturized and they’re still dark or irritated, your issue might just be friction! This can cause irritation, which might cause your elbows to redden, or could instigate pesky hyperpigmentation.

In addition to the skincare routine we’ve suggested, it might be worth wearing sleeves that cover your elbows for a little while to try to lessen any contact your elbows may have with rough surfaces.

You’ve Treated Your Dark Elbows—How Do You Stop Them From Coming Back?

Congratulations! You’ve won the battle with your dark elbows. Unfortunately, as we all know, skincare is more of a long-term war than a one-off victory—so you have to keep up your preventative care. Fortunately, this is pretty easy when it comes to dark elbows!

The main thing you can do to keep the skin around your elbows even and smooth is to make sure you’re applying moisturizer and SPF daily. Especially if you have an early day and do your showering and body skincare in the morning, it can be tempting to cut corners, and to that, we can only say one thing: don’t!

You can even roll these two steps into one and get a super effective moisturizer that includes SPF, like SheerGlow™ Even Tone Daily Defense Mineral Moisturizer SPF 30 . That way, it’s a nice, simple one and done that will help keep your elbows from interfering with your head-to-toe glow.

Boost Vitamin A and E Intake

Another simple way to keep hyperpigmentation at bay is to make sure you get enough Vitamin A and Vitamin E in your diet. Both of these vitamins are great for supporting skin health and may also help when it comes to lessening the damage caused by spending too much time in the sun. Even if you’re an avid SPF applier, a little extra boost can’t hurt!

Vitamin E is found in green veggies as well as many seeds and nuts. You can also get Vitamin E from oils made from certain nuts and seeds, like sunflower oil. Vitamin A is found in animal products, like salmon, eggs and dairy. But don’t worry if you follow a vegan or vegetarian diet.

You can get your share of Vitamin A from non-animal products such as carrots, tomatoes and other leafy greens. If you’re not sure you’re getting enough of these skin-saving vitamins in your diet, you can get them at almost any drugstore or health foods store.

It is, however, important to check with your doctor before starting any supplement, especially if you regularly take another medication.

On the flip side, there are also a few things worth avoiding if you want to keep hyperpigmentation at bay. Products that include hydrogen peroxide, mercury or steroids can inflame and irritate the skin, leading to more hyperpigmentation.

In Conclusion

If dark elbows are the only things standing in the way of your full body glowing goddess goals, it can be frustrating not to know how to handle it. But with a few easy additions to your skincare routine and a good handle on how to prevent flare-ups in the future, glowing skin is within your grasp.