Sun spots and dark patches of pigment on the skin are all examples of hyperpigmentation, a condition characterized by too much melanin, the pigment that gives skin and hair its color. Hyperpigmentation is most commonly caused by overexposure to the sun, but it can also come from other types of skin injury. An example is dark spots left in areas where acne bumps once were. The trauma of picking at or popping those bumps can trigger melanin production. Hormonal fluctuations during pregnancy and from using the birth control pill can also lead to areas of dark pigmentation. Unfortunately, darkly pigmented spots aren’t easy to hide even with the right cosmetics. The good news? You don’t have to live with these discolorations. There are a variety of treatments available that can safely lighten them.
One of the most widely used treatments for increased pigmentation and sun spots is hydroquinone. This compound works by blocking an enzyme necessary for the synthesis of melanin. It works best when combined with glycolic acid, a weak acid that sloughs off dead skin cells, including cells containing excess pigment. Hydroquinone is available at concentrations of up to 2% in skin treatment products without a prescription, often in combination with glycolic acid.
For people who experience irritation with hydroquinone, there are other alternatives. Kojic acid, a compound produced by a fungus lightens pigmented areas by blocking an enzyme needed for melanin synthesis. It is found in some skin lightening products, sometimes in combination with glycolic acid. Another alternative available without a prescription is azelaic acid, a skin lightening compound found in wheat, rye and barley that’s also used to treat acne. Ascorbic acid, which is essentially vitamin C, also has skin-lightening benefits when used over time.