Patchy skin and dark spots have various causes, including acne, sun damage, hormonal changes and aging. Some spots will fade over time without any help, but others stay put until you force them to leave. Many over-the-counter creams help treat uneven skin tone, although some spots can be more stubborn than others. If you have years' worth of discoloration that won't go away, a dermatologist or esthetician can help.
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Apply sunscreen to your face every day before heading outdoors. The sun's rays can cause spots, brown patches or freckles to show up on your face. UV rays may also make existing problems worse. Use a sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher. Products containing zinc oxide and titanium dioxide work well for the face.
Lighten dark patches with a skin-brightening spot corrector that contains vitamins A, C, E or niacin. Apply your spot corrector twice per day.
Wash your face as usual, then smooth a thin layer of 10-percent glycolic-acid gel over your skin. Let the gel set for 10 minutes, then splash your face with warm water. Pat dry with a washcloth. Repeat once or twice a week. Glycolic acid sloughs off dead skin cells, revealing fresher and brighter skin.
Treat diffused or all-over pigmentation with a cream containing hydroquinone. Smooth the cream on clean skin using small, circular motions. Apply the cream at night and don't wash it off. Hydroquinone works by breaking down melanosomes, or pigment granules, in the skin. You can buy 2-percent hydroquinone cream from cosmetic companies, but you'll need a prescription for stronger formulas.
Use a topical retinoid cream to fade skin discoloration. Dab a pea-size amount on clean, dry skin and smooth gently. Do not wash off. Apply retinoid cream at night, as it can increase sun sensitivity. Use the cream twice per week at first, then gradually increase usage until you're applying it daily. Over-the-counter retinoids, called retinol, can be purchased at drugstores or beauty-supply stores. Stronger versions require a prescription.
Talk to your dermatologist about laser or intense pulsed-light treatment for correcting sun spots or uneven skin tone. It takes just one treatment to achieve results. Healing is fast -- the process leaves behind a thin scab that falls off in a few days. Don't try this treatment if you have melasma or post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH) -- it might deepen or cause new pigmentation to develop.