While cute freckles were a badge of beauty in your teens, when you hit 30 and years of sun damage have started doing their worst, they can make you look older than anything gray hair, crow’s feet or a sagging jawline can throw at you. Those little brown skin kisses stop being referred to as freckles and instead become ‘sun damage,’ ‘brown spots’ or ‘age spots.’ What’s that all about, huh?
Well, it’s mainly because those phrases are 100 percent true:(
Time, genetics, hormones and that evil combination of damaging UV radiation and pesky free radicals all cause melanocytes (melanin-synthesizing cells) to overproduce melanin. This melanin then likes to unevenly distribute itself in the epidermis, resulting in a blotchy, speckled complexion that can age you up instantly.
When it comes to dealing with pigmentation issues, we firmly believe combining aesthetic treatments with medical-grade skincare is the best and only plan. And the earlier you start with this plan, the better. Leave dark spots alone and they will keep growing bigger. No word of a lie.
Obviously, like most skin-aging complaints, prevention of sun spots is far better than cure, so wearing an antioxidant serum, as well as a daily, broad-spectrum sunscreen is vital. But if that time has passed and your skin tone is a little more uneven than you’ll like, don’t worry, because these super-effective treatments and products are here to offer all the help you need…
1. Fractional Laser Resurfacing
Fractional lasers are up there as some of the most intense and effective options for eradicating pigmentation, but be warned: they are not for the faint-hearted. Similar to IPL (see below), fractional lasers work by creating controlled micro injuries in the skin which stimulate its natural healing process. Many of our physicians offer the best resurfacing lasers on the market, including Fraxel, Clear + Brilliant and Halo as part of their aesthetic subscription offerings. You’d be wise to get in on one of these if long-term or stubborn pigmentation concerns are getting you down.
2. Chemical Exfoliants
Chemical exfoliants are the cat’s whiskers at correcting dark spots, and most fall into one of two camps: alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) or beta hydroxy acids (BHAs). AHAs are naturally-occurring, water-soluble substances, while BHAs are oil-soluble. This means that while AHAs are great for exfoliating the top layer of your skin and dealing with mild to moderate sun damage, BHAs are much better at exfoliating on a deeper level because they can penetrate right down into your pores. Try an AHA such as glycolic acid to treat surface discoloration concerns, or go for a BHA like salicylic acid for deeper dark spots. Or c) enjoy the best of both worlds with something like SkinMedica AHA/BHA Cream.
Intense Pulsed Light (IPL) is a great recommendation for patients with age spots, unwanted freckles or other discolorations caused by sun damage. IPL works by sending a beam of light to seek out melanin. It then absorbs and breaks up the pigment, making it less visible to the naked eye. A series of sessions is always needed to make a significant difference to your skin, so speak to your aesthetic expert about the right option and frequency for your treatment plan. It’s also worth remembering that you should never use IPL or lasers on melanoma, so make sure your discoloration is properly checked and diagnosed before jumping in head first with the wrong treatment.
4. Chemical Peels
Speaking of melanoma, medical-grade peels that contain salicylic, trichloroacetic or glycolic acid are particularly effective for battling this bad boy. They work by injuring the skin on a superficial level to provoke a wound-healing response that sheds and expels unwanted dark patches. It really is as simple as that. Chemical peels can eliminate new discoloration issues in one session, but if you have older, deeper concerns, a series of three or four appointments is usually recommended, followed by maintenance treatments on a less regular basis. We’re big fans of The Perfect Derma Peel and VI Peel, btw.
5. Hydroquinone Cream
Hydroquinone is the most common topical solution for treating stubborn skin discolorations. And perhaps the most controversial. Often referred to as HQ, hydroquinone is a very effective skin lightener due to its ability to inhibit melanin production. Prescription-strength hydroquinone is seen as the gold standard for doctor treatment, but it can cause sensitivity and leave the skin susceptible to the sun, which is why alternative treatments are often preferred.
The FDA currently recognizes HQ to be a safe ingredient, but due to perceived dangers associated with the substance such as allergic reactions, ochronosis (a skin condition) and potential carcinogenic properties, it’s been banned in parts of Europe, Australia and Asia. Concerned about HQ? Always consult with your aesthetic physician to find out whether it’s the right choice for you. If not, they can recommend suitable alternatives.