Fight Dark Spots on Your Skin

Dr. Sumit Aggarwal    11-01-2017 Consult

No one likes marks on their complexion. You've probably heard words like melasma and liver spots. Both refer to the same condition: Hyperpigmentation.

Damage due to inflammation, UV exposure, and other environmental insults causes the cells to produce more pigment to protect themselves. Changes in estrogen levels (due to birth control pills or pregnancy) can also play a role. This results in uneven pigmentation, a common condition that can affect any skin tone, but in different ways. Lighter skin tones tend to develop freckles and sun spots, while darker skin looks shadowed or patchy.

Since the causes of uneven pigmentation are so common and the demand to correct the condition is so high, many options exist for treating brown spots and patches. But you can't treat all spots equally. Before you pick a course of action, see a dermatologist. Ingredients can be harsh and irritating, so get advice about which to use and how to safely use them the right way.

One option is hydroquinone, a prescription topical cream that slows down the pigment-making processes in the skin. Hydroquinone is one of the strongest and most effective brightening agents we have. But at high concentrations it can be toxic to the skin. Doctors usually prescribe a 4% hydroquinone cream, and a 2% version is available over the counter. Hydroquinone can be irritating and can actually increase pigmentation if used for too long. Even though the availability is OTC, I strongly recommend that you consult a Dermatologist before deciding on any cream.

Vitamin C is another popular treatment. Vitamin C can help brighten skin and fade hyperpigmentation much like hydroquinone, but without as much irritation.

Most people forget that uneven pigmentation doesn't have a quick fix. The damage occurs deep in the skin and takes time to come to the surface, which means reversing the damage can also take time. That's why the most effective treatment for uneven skin tone might be patience.

Hyperpigmentation doesn't happen overnight - it's the result of sun damage over time. Here's what she suggests doing to avoid it.

  1. Seek shade. I always talk to my patients about avoiding the sun. Whenever possible, stand in a spot out of direct sunlight - even little things, like crossing to a shadier side of the street, matter.
  2. Never skip SPF. You have to wear an SPF 30 sunscreen every day. Every UV ray that hits your skin causes damage. And the damaging rays can pierce through clouds and glass, so you always need SPF protection.
  3. Wear a hat. A wide-brimmed hat will shield your face, the area most prone to hyperpigmentation. You need that physical protection from the sun. And a hat is a key accessory if you're undergoing treatment for hyperpigmentation.