It's troubling that the quest for clear, even skin is such an obstacle course. It seems like every little aspect of life somehow tarnishes our complexion: Pollution, sun exposure, and even irritating products can stimulate hyperpigmentation, and we're not just talking about freckles (which we love and embrace, by the way). We mean the type of unwanted discoloration that makes us feel like a blemished canvas.
The good news is that skin discoloration can be reversed; it just takes some time, patience, and occasionally a trip to the dermatologist. To uncover exactly what we need to do, we spoke with NYC-based dermatologist Dennis Gross and Episciences Inc. founder Dr. Carl Thornfeldt for their expertise. Keep scrolling for their answers!
First things first, what is hyperpigmentation? "Hyperpigmentation, melasma, and sun spots are the 'warning flags' created by your body to inform you that it is injured or under attack," says Gross. "They're a deposit of melanin (which is a protein manufactured by the skin) that goes into the skin like globules and gives way to dark spots, stains and unsightly discoloration."
In terms of treatment, Thornfeldt says patience is key. "It's a very complex skin problem that takes a lot of time to develop in the skin, so it's something you have to be patient with and understand that it can't be immediately fixed. For long-term results, you want a treatment that will be addressing inflammation in the skin and repairing your skin barrier. One of the drivers of hyperpigmentation is that a damaged skin barrier creates more inflammation in the skin. I recommend an in-office treatment like a chemical peel and barrier repair products."
Gross agrees: "There are two avenues, depending on the severity to address these concerns: with in-office treatment such as laser or with at-home ingredients and products."
So which products work best? Take a look at the most effective dark spot–erasers below!
Ferulic acid is a plant-based antioxidant that enhances properties of other vitamins for healthy skin. Use it to protect against sun damage, says Gross.
This ingredient helps fade dark spots and brightens skin. Try applying some of this soothing lotion daily to make hyperpigmentation a thing of the past.
A Glycolic Peel
"I always recommend my Alpha Beta peel for those with dark spots or hyperpigmentation because exfoliation is key to resurfacing new skin in a gentle but powerful way," says Gross.
This lightening mask has both licorice root and bearberry extract, which not only work to reverse hyperpigmentation but also ease redness and irritation.
Vitamin C is an antioxidant with powerful skin-lightening properties that protect against UVA damage and free radicals.
In addition to these reactive measures, there are plenty of preventative things you can do too. One of the biggest, of course, is sun protection.
"When the skin is assaulted by repeated exposure to UV rays, it can cause brown spots and hyperpigmentation from overproduction of melanin," explains Gross. "Your body produces melanin to protect you from the sun—an over-production shows up as brown spots, which results in hyperpigmentation. Since brown spots are created by the sun—think of it as your skin talking to you and telling you that it has had too much exposure—this means that your sunscreen is inadequate, and you must either reapply more often or increase your level of SPF."
Gross explains that certain medications can also make you more sensitive to the sun, like birth control and antibiotics, so always remember to lather up, especially if you're taking these meds.
There are other unexpected culprits as well: "Hyperpigmentation can also be a result of an injury to the skin such as abrasions, cuts, rashes, acne or insect bites. Your body's response to injury is inflammation, which triggers melanin production and can result in a brown patch. Acne scars are an example of post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation—so no picking those pimples!" says Gross. While you're at it, remember to apply plenty of bug spray.
Next up, check out 10-second skincare tips every lazy girl should know.