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Dermatologists Share 5 Steps to Getting Rid of Dark Spots on Your Face


Vogue Arabia, April 2019. Photo: Domen & Van De Velde

As we prepare for warmer temperatures and more socializing come summertime, you might be wondering how to get rid of dark spots on your face. “Dark spots occur when the skin produces excess melanin, the natural brown pigment that gives our skin color,” says board-certified dermatologist Dr. Michele Green. “The exact reason why dark spots appear ranges from acne scars to excessive sun exposure to aging to nutritional deficiencies. However, most dark spots are a result of sun exposure.”

“When your skin is exposed to the sun, its natural reaction is to produce melanin, which helps to block UV radiation from further damaging our DNA and skin. This is often why, when we go into the sun for prolonged periods, our skin gets tanned,” she says. “It is also the reason why individuals with fair skin easily burn in the sun while those with darker skin complexions are less likely to get sunburned. Sometimes, the sun causes an uneven increase in melanin production. This excess melanin gets clumped up and spills in between skin cells, giving the appearance of dark spots.”

In short, dark spots are a result of hyperpigmentation. Green notes that most dark spots, such as sun or age spots are preventable with proper SPF protection and sun avoidance. But, if you notice a new spot that changes in size or color, it’s best to consult a board-certified dermatologist to rule out skin cancer. “Anything out of the ordinary, especially if you have fair skin or a family history of skin cancer, should be checked out. I recommend getting regular skin exams so nothing suspicious goes unnoticed,” Green says. A trip to your trusted derm might result in a treatment with the Cyspera Intensive System, which Dr. Corey L. Hartman, founder of Skin Wellness Dermatology in Birmingham, Alabama, lauds as his “first choice for patients dealing with hyperpigmentation, especially patients of color,” or a combination of laser and chemical treatments.

Once you’ve determined that a new freckle is harmless, it’s time to prevent and treat it through your at-home skin-care regimen. Here, dermatologists walk us through how to get rid of dark spots—from everyday sun protection to UV-blocking clothing.

Always Apply SPF

“Your first line of defense is always going to be sunscreen. Everyone should wear at least SPF 30 on their face daily and reapply every two hours if outside in the sun, or sitting next to a window,” notes Hartman.

Green suggests the EltaMD UV Clear, dubbing it one of the best sunscreens out there. “This product is a lightweight oil-free face sunscreen that works well with all skin types, including acne-prone and sensitive skin,” she says. “It is recommended by the Skin Cancer Foundation for daily use and also contains sodium hyaluronate and lactic acid which helps keep the skin hydrated and your pores clear.” Or, take your pick between La Roche-Posay’s Toleriane, Supergoop!’s Unseen, or Shiseido’s Ultimate Sun Protector lotions which pair sheer nourishment with ample SPF protection.

Because our experts emphasize the need to apply sunscreen throughout the day, be sure to stock up on convenient formulas that make reapplication simple. Supergoop!’s (Re)Setting Spray or Habit’s mister are two lightweight spray formulas that deliver UV protection and won’t mess up your makeup.

Consider Antioxidant-Rich Products

“You also want to make sure you are using skin-care products with antioxidants, which are essential to helping reduce free radicals that can lead to hyperpigmentation,” says Hartman. Consider vitamins A, C, and E, as well as ferulic acid, resveratrol, and niacinamide. Board-certified dermatologist Dr. Alexis Stephens is a fan of Eadem’s Milk Marvel for fading post-acne dark marks. “The unique formula also helps to prevent future hyperpigmentation and gently resurface the skin. It is uniquely formulated with the key ingredients niacinamide, encapsulated vitamin C, amber algae and enzymes.” Stephens also likes the Isdin Sunisdin sun capsules to “help skin fight photoaging and the pro-pigmentation UV rays”—along with boosting overall radiance and elasticity.

Otherwise, experts recommend the SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic again and again for its environmental protection, or the cosmetic chemist-formulated BeautyStat Universal C to prevent signs of aging without oxidizing.

Reach for Retin-A or Retinol

“It’s also important to get into the habit of gently exfoliating the skin to remove dead skin cells that are often harboring excess pigment. This can be done by using a topical retinoid product that both treats and fades hyperpigmentation,” explains Stephens. While Green says that retin-a (tretinoin) or retinoids are best, retinol is the next best bet without a prescription.

“Retinol is a weaker over-the-counter formula of retinoids and can provide similar benefits in reducing the appearance of dark spots, although it will typically take much longer,” Green explains. Consider the Arcona Advanced A Serum or Osmosis +Beauty Renew—two overnight treatments formulated with a blend of vitamin A and peptides to minimize not only hyperpigmentation, but signs of aging. Otherwise, SkinCeuticals’s Retinol 0.3 or Dermalogica Overnight Retinol Repair make for excellent retinol-based treatments to even skin tone.

Incorporate Gentle Exfoliants

Hartman suggests “a product with an exfoliating active ingredient, like AHA, to help remove the top surface layer of the skin to treat dark spots.” This category of exfoliants includes glycolic, mandelic, and lactic acids which Stephens says “helps to remove dead skin cells while moisturizing the skin.” If you’d prefer a serum formula, Sunday Riley’s Good Genes is a solid option packed with lactic acid to exfoliate and brighten.

Similarly, at-home peels might be worth incorporating for those unable to get a professional treatment. The Doctor Babor peel pads, which can be used to exfoliate one to two times per week, are packed with a cocktail of AHAs. M-61 or Dr. Dennis Gross’s peels also work to improve skin’s texture and tone.

Wear Sun-Protective Clothing

“The sunlight and visible light spectrum is responsible for the great majority of hyperpigmentation, hence the number one way to both prevent and treat dark marks is properly using and applying a broad spectrum sunscreen SPF 40+ with HEVL/blue light protection and taking additional sun protective measures with sunglasses, UPF clothing and seeking the shade when possible,” says Stephens. She reaches for the Bluestone Sunshields for extra-protection. For the body, consider Lululemon’s crew neck which offers UPF 40+ protection. “If possible, try to avoid going out for prolonged periods when the sun is at its strongest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.,” says Green, who adds that a wide-brimmed hat or sunglasses are a good choice to protect your eyes and scalp from the sun.

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