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Dark spots usually occur as a result of hyperpigmentation. Sometimes, the body tends to overproduce melanin in one area of the body. Melanin is what gives your skin, eyes and hair their color. The more the melanin, the darker the shade. 

Dark spots are not the result of long-term damage to your skin pores, follicles or tissues. 

Dark spots tend to fade away with time. Home remedies, over-the-counter products and dermatological solutions can help reduce dark spots faster. 

Highlights

  • What causes dark spots?
  • Symptoms of dark spots
  • How can we treat dark spots?
  • Home remedies to treat dark spots
  • How can we prevent dark spots?

What Causes Dark Spots?

The most common of the lot is direct exposure to UV light. Dark spots can also be the result of certain skin conditions. These include post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, melasma and hormonal changes. 

Certain medication may also cause sun sensitivity, leading to hyperpigmentation. 

Sun exposure

Direct exposure to UV light can cause dark spots in some parts of the body. 

Melasma 

This skin condition is more common in women. Melasma causes discoloration in small patches of the body. This usually happens during pregnancy.

Melasma usually occurs in women while they are pregnant.

Melasma usually occurs in women while they are pregnant.

Medication

Certain medication like non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and psychotropic drugs can lead to hyper-pigmentation. 

Inflammation/Wounds

Sometimes, a dark spot may be left behind after a pimple/acne outbreak. This usually fades away with time. People with lighter skin tones tend to have red/purple spots. Those with a darker complexion usually have brown spots.

A wound may also leave behind a dark spot that will fade away with time!

Skin products

One must always be careful about what they use on their skin. Some products may cause irritation and leave a dark patch behind.

Symptoms of dark spots

Your skin-tone usually determines the color of a dark spot. They range from light brown to dark brown. Dark spots have the same texture as your skin and are not painful. 

Dark spots usually occur in places of your body that are exposed to the sun on a regular basis. This includes your face, arms, neck and back.

Excess melanin production in one area can result in a dark spot.

Excess melanin production in one area can result in a dark spot.

How to treat dark spots on the face

Hydroquinone

Hydroquinone is a common ingredient in skin-lightening creams, cleansers and moisturizers. It has been used as a skin-lightening agent for years.

How does it work?

Hydroquinone regulates the melanin production in the affected area. (1) It reduces the number of melanocytes. It can take a few weeks or even up to months to see results.

 Hydroquinone is available at only a 2 percent concentration over the counter. For stronger concentrations of the product, a prescription is mandatory. 

Note

  • The most common side-effect of using Hydroquinone is ‘ghosting’. This happens when the product bleaches the area around the dark spot along with it.
  • If you have sensitive skin, you may experience redness and dryness. (2)

  • Hydroquinone, in rare cases, has lead to a condition called Ochronosis. The result of this condition is pigmentation and pustules. It can happen after more than 5 months of using the product.

Hydroquinone may not be the best product for everybody. Dermatologists recommend to conduct a patch test before using it. 

Apply a small amount of the product on the back of your hand. Cover the area with a bandage (to avoid touch to other parts of your body). Wait for about 24 hours. If you don’t feel your skin getting dry, irritated or red, go ahead and use the product. 

Retinoids 

Retinoids came into the market as a treatment for acne. Today, they are used to reduce the appearance of wrinkles, scars and dark spots.(3)

Benefits of retinoids

Retinoids prompt old skin cells to turn over. They make way for new skin cells to form. This helps reduce the appearance of dark spots. Retinoids hamper the breakdown of collagen in the body and thicken the skin. 

Note

Retinoids can cause dryness and redness. This usually happens during the first few weeks of application/consumption.

Alpha Hydroxy Acids

Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHA’s) are organic acids. They are derived from plants and animals and are available throughout nature. They are a popular ingredient in skincare products. AHAs come in the form of creams, serums and lotions.  

Commonly used AHAs

  • Glycolic acid - derived from sugarcane
  • Lactic acid - derived from sour milk
  • Citric and malic acid - derived from fruits
  • Hydroxycaprylic acid - derived from animals 

Studies suggest that the efficacy of AHAs depends on concentration levels and exposure time. (4) 

For example, rinse-off shampoos and conditioners provide almost no benefit of AHAs. This is because these products are washed off in a matter of minutes. They do not allow the body to absorb the acid thoroughly. 

Benefits of AHAs

AHAs are used by dermatologists in chemical peels. They help treat acne scars, wrinkles, sunspots, age-spots and reduce discoloration.

Reports show that AHAs can also prevent ultraviolet skin tumor development. (5)

AHAs are used to treat a wide range of skin issues. Glycolic acid and lactic acid are considered to be the most effective of the lot. (6)

How do AHAs help treat dark spots?

AHAs contain antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. This increases blood flow that speeds up the skin’s healing process. 

It helps the skin to create new cells that are evenly pigmented. This lightens dark spots and reduces discoloration. (7)

Glycolic acid

Glycolic acid is an alpha-hydroxy acid that stimulates collagen growth in the skin. 

How it helps prevent dark spots

It exfoliates the skin. This removes dead skin cells and lightens dark spots. Many over the counter products use 3-10 percent of this ingredient.

Note

Glycolic acid is not recommended if you’re on topical medication. It is advised to consult a professional before using it.

Kojic Acid

Kojic Acid is used in many skin lightening products. It comes in the form of creams, gels and lotions. This lightening agent is sold at 1 percent or less concentration levels in cosmetic products. (8) It is used to treat dark spots, hyperpigmentation and melasma.

How does it work?

An amino acid called tyrosine handles melanin production in the skin. Kojic acid blocks tyrosine from forming. This reduces the production of melanin. 

Kojic acid can be used to reduce the appearance of age spots, sunspots, melasma, dark spots and discoloration. 

Kojic acid also has antifungal and antibacterial benefits. It prevents fungal and bacterial skin infections. 

Note

Using Kojic acid in high concentrations or in its raw form is not recommended.

  • Sunburn

Melanin prevents the skin from sun damage. Kojic acid blocks melanin production in the body. This can make a person vulnerable to sunburns. 

  • Itching and redness

High concentrations of Kojic acid may lead to irritation, itching and redness of the skin. People with sensitive skin should conduct a patch test before using it. 

Salicylic acid

Salicylic acid is a peeling agent. It causes the outer layer of the skin to shed off. 

Studies show that products containing salicylic acid provide depigmentation benefits. They are also pleasant to use. (9)

Note

Salicylic acid may cause allergic reactions and skin irritation. A patch test is recommended for those with sensitive skin.

Chemical Peels

Chemical peels work as exfoliators. They peel off the top layer of your skin. This reduces spots, discoloration and the appearance of scars. 

How they help

Chemical peels can be used in combination with other skin-lightening agents. They help in reducing the appearance of dark spots. Various at-home chemical peels may be recommended by your dermatologist. 

Note

Chemical peels are suitable for any skin type. However, a chemical peel that is too powerful may cause redness and irritation to the skin. It is advised to consult a professional before using a peel. 

Laser Treatments

Your dermatologist may recommend laser therapy to increase the pace of improvement. Laser therapy is expensive as compared to other ways of treating dark spots. 

Laser therapy aims at speeding up the process. It removes the top layer of your skin to reduce dark spots and discoloration. However, laser therapy does not target melanin production in your body. There is a possibility of recurrence after treatment. 

Note 

Laser therapy does not work for all skin types. After studying your skin, your dermatologist may or may not recommend laser treatment for you. (10)

Microdermabrasion

Microdermabrasion is a non-surgical in-office procedure. It works by using microneedles to renew skin-tone and texture.

Microdermabrasion smooths the skin. It helps to reduce fine lines, wrinkles, age spots, dark spots, sunspots and acne scars. Microdermabrasion suits all skin types. 

You can see instant results after this one-hour long procedure.

Note

Microdermabrasion doesn’t have harsh side-effects. Mild tenderness, swelling and redness may occur after the procedure. This subsides after a few hours. Microdermabrasion may also result in mild bruising. It is advised to use a moisturizer to avoid dry skin.

Cryotherapy 

Cryotherapy is the process of exposing the body to extremely cold temperatures. This provides a number of health benefits to the body. 

A liquid nitrogen solution is used to freeze off sunspots and dark spots. This reduces their appearance. 

Note

Cryotherapy can cause temporary redness and itching to the skin. It should be done only for the recommended number of minutes.

Home remedies to treat dark spots

These at-home treatments are used to reduce dark spots by men and women all over the world.

Aloe Vera 

Aloin is an active compound of the aloe vera plant. Studies show that aloin and the leaf extract of the plant have skin-lightening properties. Aloe Vera is commonly used by people to lighten dark spots. (11)

Vitamin C

Citrus fruits like oranges, mandarins and lemons are rich in Vitamin C.   

Topical forms of Vitamin C protect our skin from ultraviolet rays. Vitamin C is also effective in lightening sunspots. It increases collagen production in the body. (12)

Lemon juice

Lemon juice is widely used as a home remedy to treat a variety of skin issues. It is a popular ingredient in many skin-lightening products. However, its acidic qualities may irritate the skin and cause dryness. Lemon juice is not recommended for people with sensitive skin. 

Yogurt

Yogurt contains lactic acid that helps reduce the appearance of dark spots. The combination of lemon and yogurt makes for a great face mask! 

Calamine lotion

Calamine lotion is used to treat mild skin ailments. These include sunburns, itchiness, redness. Calamine lotion is listed on the World Health Organization ‘List of Essential Medicines’.

Calamine lotion contains Kaolin that is used in dark spot removal creams. Consistent application of the lotion can lighten dark spots.

Orange peel

Orange peel contains hesperidin. Research shows that this ingredient helps lighten dark spots. (13)

An orange peel face mask can be made by mixing dry orange peel powder with water. Apply it to the affected area, not more than once a day. 

How to prevent dark spots?

The main cause of dark spots is direct exposure to the sun. Ultraviolet rays increase the production of melanin in the skin. Keep the following preventive measures in mind:

  • Sunscreen

Choose a sunscreen that suits your skin type. Sunscreen plays a vital role in protecting our skin from ultraviolet rays. It should be worn on a daily basis to avoid hyperpigmentation.

  • Cover with hat or cloth

If you’re adventurous and love staying out in the sun for long hours, carry a hat or a cloth. Protect your face from direct sun exposure with these accessories. 

In today’s technologically-advanced world, hyperpigmentation and dark spots can be treated easily. Consult a professional before undergoing treatment for effective results.