Day after day, your face gets exposed to sunlight and a slew of skin-damaging pollutants. It's no surprise that your facial skin often shows the first signs of skin problems. Dark spots, usually black or brown in color, can pop up on people of any skin type or complexion. Several things can trigger these spots -- hormonal changes, excessive sun exposure and genetics, to name a few. Dark spots sometimes fade on their own, but others need a bit of prodding to disappear. Over-the-counter solutions may help, but if they aren't effective, you might benefit from a prescription-strength treatment.
Wash your face in the morning and before bed to clear your skin of makeup, dirt and oil. These elements can clog pores, making dark patches look worse. For dry skin, use a cream-based cleanser. If you have oily or combination skin, opt for foam- or gel-based cleanser. Use a cleanser that contains salicylic, lactic or glycolic acid if you have oily skin. If your skin is normal, choose a cleanser designed for that skin type. To wash, wet your face with lukewarm water, then gently massage the cleanser into skin using small, circular motions. Rinse well and pat dry with a soft, clean towel.
Treat skin once daily with an over-the-counter skin-lightening serum that contains retinol, glycolic acid, vitamin C or kojic acid. Vitamin C, kojic acid and retinol work by inhibiting the melanin-creating enzyme named tyrosinase. Glycolic acid and similar ingredients fade dark spots by chemically exfoliating off excess melanin on the top layer of skin cells.
Other ingredients to look for are niacinamide, licorice extract, azelaic acid and arbutus, which also inhibit the enzyme tyrosinase. Follow the application directions on a serum's packaging for best results. Purchase a serum at a drugstore or the beauty department of a grocery or department store.
Apply a prescription-strength hydroquinone cream if over-the-counter treatments do not work. Hydroquinone bleaches dark spots by breaking down melanin pigment granules and inhibiting tyrosinase. Twice daily, smooth a thin layer of hydroquinone cream over clean skin. Only apply the cream to dark spots; it will lighten any skin it touches. For very small spots, apply cream with a cotton swab or clean, thin makeup brush. Rinse well with lukewarm water. You should see a lightening effect in a few days, but it can take about four weeks for real change. If you don't see an effect within three months, stop using the product.
Ask a doctor or dermatologist about a peel or laser treatment if hydroquinone doesn't work. These treatments work best if discoloration is close to the skin's surface. The treatments aren't permanent, however. Results may last for several weeks or a few years.
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After an abrasion, burn or pimple heals, it can leave behind a dark spot. This is called post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, and the spots usually fade on their own in three to six months.
To protect skin from UV damage, wear a sunscreen that contains an SPF of 15 to 30 when you go outdoors. The sun's rays can cause skin discoloration or make dark spots worse.
Citrus, tomato and pineapple juice may lighten dark spots when applied to the skin over time. This remedy may not be very effective, though, and it can take a long time to see results.
Hydroquinone may irritate skin. It can cause mild stinging, itching or reddening. If you notice severe itching, swelling, burning or crusting, stop using the treatment immediately and seek medical help.
When spots start showing up, don't wait -- get a skin exam as soon as possible. Some spots can be early indicators of cancer.