If your skin, which was once smooth and even-toned, has gradually (or suddenly) become spotted with discoloration, you're not alone. Hormonal changes, sun exposure or basic genetics can cause discolored spots in all skin types and tones. While recent spots may respond to topical treatments and sun-shielding habits, deeper, long-term discoloration might need a doctor's touch. No matter what treatment you use, sun protection is your first defense for keeping skin discoloration at bay.
Wear a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15 every day, rain or shine. No treatment for discoloration, whether it's in a doctor's office or at home, will be effective if you don't protect your skin from the sun. For best results, reapply every two hours or any time after you sweat or wipe your face.
Exfoliate skin with a cleanser containing lactic or glycolic acid, both of which are mild chemical exfoliants. You can use these cleansers every day, but limit your use to one to three times a week if you notice irritation -- irritated skin can be more susceptible to sun damage, causing even more discoloration. You can also use a mechanical exfoliator with smoothing beads. Check for results after six to eight weeks of use.
Apply a brightening cream with vitamin C, arbutin or kojic acid onto affected areas. Use only as often as directed on the product's instructions, and avoid sun exposure while using brightening products.
Dab an over-the-counter hydroquinone lotion, which is generally available in a 2-percent concentration, onto affected areas. Avoid the sun and use sunscreen while wearing hydroquinone, or apply in the evening to prevent sun exposure altogether. It may take months to notice any change to your discoloration.
Ask a physician if a higher concentration of hydroquinone lotion is appropriate for your skin. Your dermatologist can prescribe a higher concentration, which can provide results within three to six weeks, but it may cause more irritation than the less-concentrated cream.
Consult your dermatologist if your discoloration doesn't fade with exfoliating products or creams to ask about in-office chemical peeling, intense pulse light therapy or laser treatment. These treatments are available only in a physician's office and may require more than one visit, but they will clear stubborn discoloration faster than topical treatments.
Things You'll Need
SPF 15 sunscreen
Exfoliating cleansers work best if you've only recently noticed discoloration.
Mechanical exfoliators and certain office treatments aren't recommended for darker-skinned patients, as they can make discoloration in darker skin worse. Use a chemical exfoliatant, and talk to your doctor if more intensive treatment is appropriate for you.
Some people are sensitive to hydroquinone, even in small concentrations. If any product causes irritation, burning or redness, rinse immediately with cool water and discontinue use.
Talk with your doctor before using hydroquinone if you are pregnant or breastfeeding or if you take daily medication.