Treating Hyperpigmentation – Removing Dark Spots

Do you have dark spots on your body from chicken pox or scars? What about underarms, elbows, or knees that are just way darker than you would like for them to be and don’t blend well with the rest of your skin complexion?

Have you tried applying cocoa butter daily to those spots only to find minimal to no change in the appearance? If you can relate, read on to see how to effectively combat hyperpigmentation, otherwise known as - those pesky dark spots.

What is hyperpigmentation?

Hyperpigmentation is a medical term used to describe darker patches of skin. These patches result from excess melanin production, which can be caused by everything from acne scars and sun damage to hormone fluctuations. Age spots, also called liver spots, are a common type of hyperpigmentation.

What causes skin pigmentation?

Sun damage is the most common cause of skin pigmentation and usually affects the parts of the body that are most frequently exposed to the sun. Other causes include:

  • Certain medications, including chemotherapy drugs
  • Pregnancy hormones
  • Endocrine diseases, such as Addison’s disease
  • Melasma
  • Insulin resistance
  • Skin irritation or trauma

If you’re dealing with hyperpigmentation, know that you aren’t alone. Hyperpigmentation is a common skin condition, and there are a number of different treatment options available – both natural remedies and professional applications.

Natural Home Remedies

There are several ways that you can treat hyperpigmentation at home. While several of the remedies we share here are anecdotal, some research suggests their main ingredients work on skin pigmentation.

  1. Apple Cider Vinegar

Apple cider vinegar contains acetic acid, which research shows may lighten pigmentation.

To use:

Combine equal parts apple cider vinegar and water in a container.

Apply to your dark patches and leave on two to three minutes.

Rinse using lukewarm water.

Repeat twice daily you achieve the results you desire.

  1. Aloe Vera

Aloe vera contains aloin, a natural depigmenting compound that has been shown to lighten skin and work effectively as a nontoxic hyperpigmentation treatment, according to a 2012 study.

To use:

Apply pure aloe vera gel to pigmented areas before bedtime.

Rinse using warm water the next morning.

Repeat daily until your skin color improves.

  1. Red Onion

Did you give this remedy the side eye? Yea, I did too but research backs it – keep reading. Red onion (Allium cepa) extract is an ingredient in some commercially available skin- and scar-lightening creams. Research has found that the dried skin of red onions can effectively lighten skin. Look for creams for hyperpigmentation that contain Allium cepa and use as directed.

  1. Green Tea Extract

Source shows that green tea extract may have a depigmenting effect when applied to skin. You can purchase green tea extract and apply it as directed. Some websites suggest applying green tea bags to dark spots for a lightening effect, though there is no evidence to back this claim.

If you’d like to give it a try, follow these steps:

Steep a green tea bag in boiled water for three to five minutes.

Remove the tea bag from the water and let cool — you don’t want to burn your skin.

Rub the tea bag over your dark patches.

Repeat twice a day until you get results.

  1. Black Tea Water

An animal study published in 2011 found that black tea water lightened dark spots on guinea pigs. The black tea water was applied twice a day, six days a week for four weeks.

To try your own version of this hyperpigmentation treatment at home:

Add a tablespoon of fresh black tea leaves to a cup of boiling distilled water.

Steep for two hours and strain to remove the leaves.

Soak a cotton ball in the tea water and apply to areas of hyperpigmentation, twice a day.

Repeat every day for six days a week, over four weeks.

  1. Licorice Extract

Licorice extract contains active ingredients that have been shown to lighten hyperpigmentation caused by melasma and sun exposure. Topical creams containing licorice extract are available over the counter. Use as directed on the packaging.

  1. Milk

Is this where we draw the line? Who is dabbing milk on their bodies?! But just keep reading, you may be surprised. Milk, buttermilk, and even sour milk have all been shown to effectively lighten skin discoloration. Lactic acid is the ingredient responsible for this effect.

To use any of these to treat pigmentation:

Soak a cotton ball in the milk.

Rub it over darkened skin patches twice a day.

Repeat daily until you see results.

  1. Tomato Paste

A study published in The British Journal of Dermatology in 2011 found that tomato paste rich in lycopene protected the skin against short-term and long-term aspects of photo damage. Study participants consumed 55 grams of tomato paste in olive oil daily for 12 weeks.

  1. Orchid Extracts

Orchid extracts are just as effective as vitamin C hyperpigmentation remedies, according to research. Applying orchid-rich extracts to the skin for eight weeks improved the size and appearance of dark patches.

You can buy skin products containing orchid extract, including masks, creams, and scrubs. Use as directed for the best results.

10. Lemon Juice

According to some dermatologists, lemon juice can be used as as lightening agent. 

To use:  

"Take one tablespoon of lemon juice (which works as lightening agent), one tablespoon of aloe vera, and mix them together," says Sheel Desai Solomon, MD.  "Apply this mixture on the armpits and leave for 10 minutes, then wash off normally." Solomon notes that, while this recipe includes lemon juice, you should always be careful about using acidic ingredients in DIY skin recipes. You want to mix citrus with gentle ingredients to balance its potency; when used alone it can aggravate sensitive skin and make the area more sensitive to the sun.

 11. Turmeric

Turmeric contains curcumin, which has anti-microbial, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Turmeric adds glow to the skin and can be used to treat dark spots with regular use. 

To use: 

Lemon juice has natural skin bleaching properties and can be used to lighten dark spots. Mix juice on one freshly-squeezed lemon with a pinch of turmeric and apply the paste on the spots with a cotton ball. Let it sit for 20 minutes and rinse off with warm water. 

 

Professional Applications

  1. Lightening Creams

Lightening creams are over-the-counter (OTC) treatments that work with select ingredients to help decrease pigmentation. Many of these creams are available in stronger prescription forms. They’re usually applied once or twice a day to help lighten the skin over time. Topical treatments for lightening also come in gel form.

Common ingredients found in OTC lightening products include:

  • Hydroquinone
  • Licorice extract
  • N-acetyl glucosamine
  • vitamin B-3 (niacin amide)

Who should try this?

Lightening creams or gels work best for flat spots, such as melasma or age spots. They’re effective for patches of discoloration on most skin types.

OTC products are accessible (and sometimes more affordable) options for hyperpigmentation, but these can take longer than professional treatments.

The American Academy of Dermatology recommends using caution when purchasing OTC skin lighteners, as they may contain traces of mercury.

  1. Skin acids

Skin acids work by exfoliating, or shedding, the top layer of your skin. Whenever you exfoliate your skin, new skin cells emerge to take the place of the old ones. The process helps even out your skin tone and makes it smoother overall.

Many skin acids are available OTC at beauty stores and drugstores. Popular options include:

  • Alpha hydroxy acids, such as glycolic, lactic, citric, malic, or tartaric acid
  • Azelaic acid
  • Kojic acid
  • Salicylic acid
  • Vitamin C (in the form of l-ascorbic acid)

Who should try this?

Skin acids work well for mild hyperpigmentation on fairer skin tones.

What to look for?

Look for an acid content of 10 percent or less. Higher concentrations can increase your risk of side effects and are best left to professional peels performed in-office.

  1. Retinoids

Derived from vitamin A, retinoids are among some of the oldest OTC skincare ingredients used. Their small molecular structure allows them to penetrate deep into the skin and treat the layers below your epidermis.

Retinoids can come in either a prescription or OTC formula. However, OTC versions tend to be weaker. If you don’t see any results after a couple of months, talk to your dermatologist about a prescription.

Who should try this?

OTC retinoids may be safe for all skin tones, but you should double-check with your dermatologist if you have darker skin and plan on using these products long term.

It’s also important to note that retinoids are more often used to treat wrinkles than hyperpigmentation. This means that retinoids may not be the best first-line treatment.

  1. Chemical Peel

A chemical peel uses acids at stronger concentrations to treat the desired area of skin. They reduce the appearance of hyperpigmentation by removing the epidermis. Deeper versions may also penetrate the middle layer of your skin (dermis) to produce more dramatic results.

Although many chemical peels are available OTC, you might consider getting a professional-grade peel at your dermatologist’s office. These are more powerful, and they yield quicker results.

Due to their strength, in-office peels may also increase your risk for side effects. Talk to your dermatologist about your individual risks.

Possible risks with both at-home and in-office chemical peels include redness, irritation, and blistering. When used improperly, blisters or scars may also develop.

If you’re out in the sun on a regular basis, chemical peels may not be the best treatment option for you. Chemical peels cause your skin to be more sensitive to the sun’s rays. If you don’t adequately apply sunscreen and use other UV protection, the sun may worsen your hyperpigmentation. You’ll need to take extra precautions for at least one week after your last chemical peel.

Who should try this?

Chemical peels may work if you have:

  • Age spots
  • Sun damage
  • Melasma
  • Blotchy skin

They also work best for fairer skin tones, and they may provide faster results than face acid products.

  1. Laser peel (skin resurfacing)

A laser peel (resurfacing) treatment uses targeted beams of light to reduce hyperpigmentation.

There are two types of lasers: ablative and non-ablative. Ablative lasers are the most intense, and they involve removing layers of your skin. Non-ablative procedures, on the other hand, target the dermis to promote collagen growth and tightening effects.

Ablative lasers are stronger, but they may cause more side effects. Both destroy elements in your skin to ensure that new skin cells grow back tighter and more toned.

Who should try this?

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to skin resurfacing. Ablative lasers may work better for people with fair skin. For some people, non-ablative versions may cause the skin to darken instead of lighten. Your dermatologist will work with you to assess your discoloration and overall skin tone to select the best option for your skin.

  1. Intense pulse light therapy (IPL)

IPL therapy is a type of non-ablative (fractional) laser treatment. Also known as a photofacial, IPL therapy stimulates collagen growth within the dermis. It usually requires multiple sessions.

IPL is used for overall pigmentation issues, but flat spots especially respond to this treatment. It may also help reduce the appearance of wrinkles, spider veins, and enlarged pores.

Who should try this?

According to Emory Healthcare, IPL works best for people with fair skin.

  1. Microdermabrasion

Microdermabrasion is an in-office procedure used to treat hyperpigmentation that affects the epidermis only (superficial scarring).

During the procedure, your dermatologist will use a drill-like handheld tool with a wire brush or other abrasive attachment. The tool is then swiped across your skin to rapidly — but gently — to remove the epidermis. You may need multiple sessions to achieve your ideal result.

Who should try this?

Microdermabrasion works best on superficial scars. Your dermatologist can help you determine whether this treatment is right for you.

  1. Dermabrasion

Dermabrasion also involves the removal of your epidermis, but its effects continue down to part of your dermis.

While dermabrasion is sometimes used to smooth out wrinkles, the procedure has been historically used to address texture concerns. These include:

  • Acne scars
  • Age spots
  • Chickenpox scars
  • Injury scars
  • Sun damage

As with microdermabrasion, your dermatologist will use a drill-like handheld tool with a wire brush or other abrasive attachment. They’ll move the tool across your skin to rapidly — but gently — to remove your entire epidermis and the top part of your dermis.

Who should try this?

Dermabrasion may be a good option if you’re looking to decrease pigmentation at a faster rate than microdermabrasion.

It works best for fairer skin. People with medium skin tones may go on to develop further hyperpigmentation as a result of the procedure. The new patches of hyperpigmentation may lighten after about eight weeks.

What works best for each skin tone?

Skin tone can play a role in the intensity and length of hyperpigmentation treatments. As noted by Dr. Cynthia Cobb, DNP, APRN, WHNP-BC, MEP-C, people with fair, medium, and dark skin tones can use some of the same therapies, but people with darker skin need more time for the treatment to work.

Fair skin responds well to most hyperpigmentation procedures.

The following might be off limits if you tan easily or have darker skin:

  • High-beam lasers
  • IPL therapy

Medium skin tones may find the following options helpful:

  • Chemical peels
  • Microdermabrasion

Darker skin might benefit from:

  • Glycolic acid
  • Kojic acid
  • OTC lightening creams
  • Microdermabrasion
  • Lower-strength chemical peels
  • Laser treatments, but only when used at lower intensities over a larger number of sessions

Topical treatments generally take longer to produce visible results. Patience is key with any treatment option.

Your dermatologist can help you identify the cause of your hyperpigmentation and work with you to develop an appropriate treatment plan.

No matter what treatment you ultimately choose, it’s important to protect your skin from further sun damage and hyperpigmentation. Wearing sunscreen every day is a must. You should apply sunscreen every morning — even when it’s cloudy! Reapply as needed throughout the day. Be sure to use a sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher.

It’s also important to keep in mind that many treatments, regardless if they’re at home remedies or professional – use an agent to remove dead skin cells to promote the growth of new, less pigmented skin cells. That process can lead to dry skin and dry skin, of course, leads to skin irritation and aged skin. So, it’s important to moisturize the skin daily. Cashmere Moon’s Glow Oil carries natural, skin-nourishing ingredients like squalene oil and Vitamin E to aid hyperpigmentation removal efforts by boosting collagen production and promoting firmer, youthful new skin cells.

 

Source: Healthline & Refinery29