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A Dermatologist’s Guide to Getting Rid of Dark Spots on Your Face

Vogue Arabia, May 2017. Photo: Ben Hassett

When dealing with persistent skin concerns, such as dark spots on the face, it can be easy to fall into the rabbit hole of miracle cures and DIY fixes. However, if you are looking for a blemish-free visage, it helps to pay attention to what the experts have to say on the matter. From the most prominent trigger for this skin condition—spoiler: you’ll never skip SPF again—to the skincare ingredients that are secretly making your spots worse, here’s everything you need to know:

For starters, why does this discoloration occur on the face?

Dr Madhuri Agarwal, founder of Yavana Aesthetics Clinic, explains, “Dark spots occur when there is excessive accumulation of melanin on the face. The skin produces excess melanin in response to inflammation, especially for deeper skin tones. Sometimes, this melanin can get deposited in uneven patches over different areas of the face, appearing like an island of dark spots that carry from light to dark brown in appearance.” Among other causes, you’ll find that sun exposure, aging, acne, vitamin deficiency, hormonal changes and certain medications serve as the catalyst for these spots.

Using chemical exfoliators for better penetration of brightening agents

Melanin serves as your skin’s natural sunscreen, which means that prolonged exposure to the sun’s toasty rays can send the production of melanin into overdrive, leading to increased appearance of spots. It will come as little surprise then that the solution lies in a broad spectrum sunscreen applied everyday, even when indoors. She adds, “Vitamins C and E are good antioxidants for curbing sun damage, while chemical exfoliants such as glycolic acid, lactic acid and mandelic acid reduce dead skin buildup for better penetration of skin brightening agents such as azelaic acid, tranexamic acid, kojic acid, arbutin, niacinamide, soy and licorice extracts that have shown results in recent studies.”

Saying no to fairness creams and hydroquinone

While hydroquinone is effective against dark spots, the potential of side effects means that the Mumbai-based dermatologist doesn’t advise it without a prescription. “Avoid physical exfoliation as it can worsen inflammation, and thereby the dark spots. You will also want to stay away from fairness creams containing steroids and mercury as they deliver instant results, but lead to extreme skin damage later,” she elaborates. Also on her list of no-nos are DIY home remedies, as common ingredients like lemon and baking soda can often worsen dark spots.

When considering a treatment plan for dark spots, Dr Agarwal recommends consulting a certified dermatologist to get the correct diagnosis as certain dark spots may require oral medications, while others may necessitate in-clinic treatments such as peels and lasers. “Please bear in mind that dark spots take time and patience to resolve and may require multi-pronged care as there are no instant solutions. Instead, work on preventing dark spots with a good skincare routine and adopting sun protection even when indoors,” she signs off.

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