When Lady Macbeth cries, “Out, damn’d spot!” the mark she berates isn’t marring her complexion, but the blotches on her conscience. Good fi she. A lifetime of sun exposure, and picking pimples (aka bump bussing) means that the spots on your face are probably as plain as day.
Even if skin is wrinkle free, the resulting spots can add years to your look, making others view you as unhealthy and older. Still, spots needn’t drive you mad. Whether you want to treat them yourself or visit a pro, a range of remedies—from bleaching agents to high-tech lasers—will help you see speckled skin isn’t a tragedy after all.
OTC options may take months to show improvement, but they’re budget friendly and the least irritating.
Step 1 Apply a product with 2% hydroquinone directly onto spots. The most potent skin lightener, HQ suppresses the enzyme needed for melanin production. Diligent nightly application can result in complete clearing of mild to moderate spots within 4 weeks. One caveat: Even low doses of HQ can cause irritation; to lower the risk, start by applying every other evening and build up to nightly use.
Step 2 Once spots subside, switch to a cream with glucosamine or niacinamide (a B vitamin) to maintain results.
Consider Sepiwhite. This nonirritating bleacher for mild mottling does double duty: It suppresses the production of melanin and its migration into skin cells. Studies show that Sepiwhite significantly increases luminosity and lightened spots in 2 months. For even faster clearing, use an exfoliator with retinol or glycolic acid to drive any bleacher deeper into skin.
Though more costly, Rx remedies are faster, sometimes immediate solutions.
Step 1 Use an Rx retinoid nightly to speed cell turnover and even skin tone.
Step 2 Pair your retinoid with an Rx 4% HQ cream. The combo can eliminate the most severe spots in as little as 4 to 6 weeks. Both ingredients are irritating, so use as advised. To avoid worsening discoloration, apply for no longer than 60 days in a row three times a year.
Consider microdermabrasion or chemical peels. They even out mottling by polishing skin’s surface or dissolving dead cells. Many spas offer discounted microdermabrasion treatments, so be on the lookout for specials.
Consider light therapy. Intense pulsed light therapy (IPL) offers the fastest fix, zapping away both brown and red pigment, making it ideal for those who also have broken capillaries or ruddiness. The light superficially burns the spots and makes them a bit darker for a couple of days, they then peel off in less than a week, revealing fresh skin. Depending on the severity of your discoloration, you’ll need three to six monthly treatments. Expect slight stinging and redness that disappears within a few days.
Mystery Spots, Explained
If you’re seeing dark patches above the lip, on the forehead, or along the temples, you may have melasma. A boost in estrogen from pregnancy, hormone therapy, or birth control pills is the most likely culprit. Melasma may clear once hormones stabilize, but treatment is usually needed.
The OTC potions that fade sun spots deliver modest improvement. A more potent Rx bleacher such as Tri-Luma (with 4% HQ, a retinoid, and a skin-calming cortisone) often delivers complete clearing after 3 months.
For stubborn cases, a fractionated laser like Fraxel can erase discoloration after four to six sessions. UV exposure exacerbates melasma, so protect skin daily with sunscreen.