Uneven skin tone is one of the most common skin-related sources of frustration, because, inevitably, it will affect almost everyone.
Hyperpigmentation, which is also often referred to ask dark spots, results from the overproduction of melanin in the skin by melanocytes. If you read my last blog post, about sun spots, melanin should sound familiar. Sun exposure can increase the level of melanin, which is why you may be noticing new areas of hyperpigmentation as you summer tan starts to fade.
But the sun isn’t the only thing that can send your melanin into overdrive. Hormones, both estrogen and progesterone, can increase melanin, too. That’s why pregnant women are prone to dark spots. Age is another instigator. Age can increase the size of melanocytes. And skin irritation, as a result of acne, waxing, and harsh scrubs, can also prompt dark spots.
The good news: There’s no shortage of treatments for hyperpigmentation. The bad news: It could take some sifting before you finally find one that’s right for you. I want to spare you from that trouble. So, over my next two posts, I’ll be outlining what board-certified dermatologists generally agree are the most effective treatments for dark spots. I’ll start below with the at-home treatments. In my next post, I’ll unpack the range of in-office procedures.
Hydroquinone has been the gold standard treatment for dark spots for the last 50 years. It’s available in over-the-counter products in concentrations of 2% or less and as a prescription, with concentrations of 4% or greater. It works by inhibiting an enzyme called tyrosinase, which helps facilitate the production of melanin. Basically, the less tyrosinase, the less melanin.
Before using hydroquinone, it’s a good idea to try a spot test first to make sure it doesn’t trigger an allergic reaction. (Dryness, redness, and burning are potential side effects.) Another potential side effect is something called “ghosting,” where the skin outside of the targeted area is inadvertently lightened. To prevent that from happening, use it sparingly and apply it to the center of your dark spot and gently rub it toward the edges.
If you’ve visited this blog before, this probably isn’t the first time you’re reading about vitamin C serum here. That’s because it carries a number of potent benefits, like stimulating collagen and blocking free radicals from causing oxidative damage to the skin, which can lead to a dull complexion and wrinkles, among other things.
Where hyperpigmentation is concerned, vitamin C inhibits enzymatic processes that produce melanin, meaning it’ll help reduce dark spots. Even better, vitamin C will lighten only the areas on your skin it’s applied to.
You’ll find soy extract, which is derived from the soybean plant, in lots of skin-brightening products. As a dark spot treatment, it works by preventing melanin from entering the top layer of the skin.