How To Treat Pigmentation & Dark Spots


What’s pigmentation?

Pigmentation and dark spots are characterized by the presence of brown spots or patchy brown or reddish brown areas on the face, most typically in the areas of the face that receive the most sun exposure.

Regardless of your ethnic background or skin color, eventually most of us will struggle with these problems. Skin will either appear lighter or darker than normal in concentrated areas, either in blotchy, uneven patches of brown or gray discoloration or freckling. 

What’s the cause?

Pigmentation and dark spots appear because the body produces either too much or too little of the pigment melanin. When the melanin-producing cells are damaged, they increase in size. This appearance is triggered by several factors: sun exposure, response to inflammation as the acne, or a hormonal factor.

Off-the-counter skincare treatments

Pigmentation is one of the few skin conditions that responds extremely well to simple off-the-counter (OTC) skincare treatment. Most of the products available are called skin whiteners, lighteners, or bleachers.

All they can do is gently retard or block the production of melanin you already have from coming to the surface of the skin, preventing spots from forming. 


The most commonly used ingredient in whiteners and bleachers is hydroquinone, sold OTC in up to a 2 percent concentration. Other approved ingredients include arbutin, kojic acid and licorice extract. You can also try using OTC creams that contain vitamin C, vitamin A, and/or soy, as these all have a mild spot-lightening effect.


Ideally, you should begin seeing visible results in days from any bleaching/lightening product. Bear in mind that ‘visible’ doesn’t mean a dramatic shift from black to white or from brown to white. Instead, you should see a general improvement to your overall skin tone as well as a gradual fading of freckles and spots.

Home Treatments

You can also speed the lightening process along by using home peels and home microdermabrasion, or a complete lightening regimen. Their exfoliating properties will allow the acive ingredients in the lighteners to penetrate more effectively.

Most consumers may think it will bleach out spots on skin the way chorine bleach rids clothing of spots and stains. OTC brighteners/lighteners are not spot treatments. They must be used over the entire face. And if the hyperpigmentation spots are very dark, they may not respond to any OTC treatments at all. And, of course, no brightening will happen unless you use your sunscreen. Hence, the best method to prevent hyperpigmentation, it is essential to wear sunscreen in the day whether indoor or outdoor.

All bleaching product can be harsh even when used as directed. They also cause hypersensitivity to the sun. Both irritation and photosensitivity actually can make dark spots darker and increase our chances of getting new ones. 

Non-invasive treatments

As effective as some bleaching agents can be, especially stubborn sunspots may require a few sessions of laser therapy to eliminate them. Try either IPL, GentleWaves, Titan or Chemical Peels. A light peel will be ideal and a deep peel is not recommended. A series may have to be repeated.

Lasers can work wonders on hyperpigmentation, as the pigment lasers are specifically designed to target brown spots. Fraxel is good. Thermage are not intended to treat hyperpigmentation.

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5 Comments on "How To Treat Pigmentation & Dark Spots"

  1. Vivi says:

    Hi Shirleen,

    Thanks for your articles. I enjoy reading them. Based on your experience, can you recommend any OTC products that can treat and prevent pigmentation effectively?

  2. Shirleen says:

    Hi Vivi,

    There’s one wonderful whitening product I have discovered recently – Paula’s Choice Resist Remarkable Skin Lightening Lotion.

    Here’s my review :

  3. joanna says:

    Would you recommend hydroquinone for treating pigmentation? I’ve heard bad reports about side effects but wonder if the benefits are worth the risk x

  4. Shirleen says:

    Hi Joanna,

    Yes of course. I’m presently using Paula’s Choice Resist Remarkable Skin Lightening Lotion which contains hydroquinone. It’s an amazing product, my pigmentation has reduced significantly.

    Yes it is true that there is a possibility of getting side effects with this ingredient. Try not to use it near the eye areas if possible. It’s quite strong though.

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