Even when wearing high amounts of SPF, after sitting in the sun for prolonged periods of time, we often find a few new spots on our faces. And while these little brown spots (results of sun damage) may not bother us now, we know that they only get worse with age. We did some research on how to get rid of dark spots on your face before they get worse. And, lo and behold, we found a bevy of treatments that claim to lighten hyperpigmentation, some of which are completely natural.
Like peels and laser treatments that lighten dark spots, certain foods have been proven to lighten the appearance of sun damage. However, unlike fancy in-office treatments, DIY food treatments aren't nearly as costly and tend to have fewer side effects. So before you go the expensive in-office route, why not try fading your dark spots with one of these natural remedies first? We talked to experts to see what to try at home and what to leave to the pros. For the five food-to-face treatments that might just get rid of your dark spots, keep on reading.
Know What Causes Hyperpigmentation
We spoke with Heather Wilson, Director of Brand Development and Licensed Esthetician at InstaNatural, to get the low-down on what causes dark spots and hyperpigmentation. "Simply stated—hyperpigmentation occurs when there is an excess production of melanin in the skin," she says. But, it's normally caused by some sort of internal trigger like excess sun exposure, an injury, or acne.
"When the skin encounters one the aggressors that causes pigmentation, a reaction occurs in the skin that activates an enzyme called tyrosinase which then starts the production of excess melanin," she says. Once this enzyme is activated, a chain reaction starts. If it isn't stopped, the reaction results in dark spots and discoloration.
Eat a Balanced Diet
While consuming certain foods can't guarantee your dark spots will fade, it will help keep your skin healthy. "A proper diet is instrumental in gut health and especially for those dealing with conditions such as acne, eczema, or sensitivities—an imbalance in our gut can cause or worsen skin conditions," Wilson says.
For the best results when it comes to fading dark spots, she recommends sticking to products that have been specifically formulated for hyperpigmentation. But, she does say that making a DIY face mask doesn't hurt either. "I am no stranger to a quick DIY mask, but I recommend sticking to nourishing, gentle ingredients. My personal favorite is a mix of avocado, coconut, ground oats, Manuka honey, and yogurt. It doesn’t help with dark spots, but it does soothe and nourish the skin while providing light exfoliation," she says.
Use Apple Cider Vinegar
What can't apple cider vinegar do? The inexpensive pantry staple softens hair, helps control oil production and acne, and (drumroll, please) has been proven to lighten dark spots. It works because it accelerates the process of skin shedding and regrowth, which of course means fresh skin that's not discolored is brought to the surface quicker. Soak a cotton ball in the vinegar, and apply it to dark spots a few times a week for several minutes before rinsing with water.
Spot Treat with Lemons
Lemons are natural bleaching agents, which is exactly why they worked to give you highlights as makeshift Sun-In during middle-school summers. And while lemon does work to brighten and lighten skin, John Diaz, MD, told Byrdie that "lemon juice contains citric acid and a chemical known as psoralen. Both of these are known to be irritating to skin. They can make the skin extra sensitive to light, causing superficial burns and blisters when the skin becomes exposed to the sun." To prevent irritation, create a lemon-and-water mixture, and apply it to your face just before bed. For this DIY treatment, combine equal parts lemon and water. Dip a cotton ball into the lemon water and apply only to the area of pigmentation. Let the liquid dry, and leave it on for 10 minutes before rinsing your face with lukewarm water.
Dab on Some Horeseradish
This one might seem random, but horseradish contains vitamin C, which slows the production of melanin that contributes to hyperpigmentation (aka dark spots). To reap its benefits, mix freshly grated horseradish root with some apple cider vinegar, and you've got yourself one potent spot lightener.
Make a Papaya Face Mask
Papaya isn't just delicious—it has high amounts of naturally occurring alpha hydroxy acids, the kind of acids commonly found in chemical peels that gently exfoliate and lighten skin. Combine papaya juice with yogurt for a face mask that will leave your skin looking smoother and brighter, and of course, lighten your dark spots.
Try Onion Juice on Stubborn Spots
It won't smell pretty, but the juice of an onion can help combat the appearance of dark spots thanks to the sulfenic acid found in onions that has been proven to lighten skin. Saturate a cotton pad or ball in some onion juice, and apply to dark spots for about 10 minutes.
Look for Specially Formulated Products
If you'd rather not go the DIY route, that's okay, too. Luckily, Wilson shared some of her favorite products that she recommends for reducing the appearance of dark spots. Look for superhero ingredients like vitamin C, retinol, alpha arbutin, licorice extract, fruit enzymes (like bromelain and papain), and glycolic acid. But, don't go for harsh ingredients just for faster results. "While it may be tempting due to the results, I always recommend people to avoid the use of hydroquinone—as the potential side effects are simply not worth the benefits," she says.
Although you're probably itching to see results, Wilson reminds us that dark spots can't go away overnight. "Hyperpigmentation is potentially the most difficult skin concern to treat, because the damage occurs long before we see any visible signs of it," she says. "While consulting with an esthetician or dermatologist is always an ideal part of a skin care routine, it’s not the most important. The routine and habits you follow daily are far more impactful to achieving your skin care goals."
No matter whether you decide to go the DIY route or not, Wilson stresses that a daily SPF is crucial. Use at least SPF 30 everyday, no matter the season or weather. She also advises exfoliating regularly with a glycolic peel. "While you’re treating your discoloration, it’s important to support cell turnover to reveal healthy, brighter skin to reduce the look of dark spots. And lastly, don’t expect overnight results. Dark spots are often a result of years of gradual damage, and treating them will take time, patience and consistency," she reminds us.