Dark spots and pigmentation are one of our top skin concerns, especially as we grow older.
People with darker skin can run a higher risk of developing dark spots and uneven skin tone because they’re more sensitive to factors that can cause or further develop hyperpigmentation, such as sun exposure. Considering that many of us in Singapore are not as fair as our Caucasian counterparts and are often exposed to the sun, we are at fairly high risk of getting dark spots and pigmentation even earlier than we expect.
While most hyperpigmentation can be covered up with makeup, nothing beats solving the problem so that you can confidently go out with bare skin. Hence, we have compiled a comprehensive guide on how to resolve this common skin issue, as well as the best ways to treat it.
What is skin pigmentation, and what causes it?
Although most of us view it as a skin problem, hyperpigmentation is actually a very common condition that affects people of all skin types.
Hyperpigmentation occurs when the skin produces more melanin (the pigment that gives skin its colour). This makes spots or patches of your skin appear darker than surrounding areas.
Some forms of hyperpigmentation, including melasma and sunspots, are more likely to affect areas of skin that face sun exposure, including the face, arms, and legs. Other types of hyperpigmentation form after an injury or skin inflammation, such as cuts, burns, acne, or lupus – these can occur anywhere on the body.
On that note, you may be wondering what are some common causes of dark spots and pigmentation that you should take note of. While some may be avoidable, others are caused by changes in the body that we do not have much control over:
- Sun damage: People can develop dark spots on their skin after being exposed to the sun or tanning beds.
- Hormonal changes: Melasma is a skin condition that leads to small patches of skin discolouration. The condition is more common in women, especially during pregnancy. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, hormones may trigger melasma.
- Inflammation: Dark spots can develop after a bout of inflammation on the skin. Inflammation may be caused by other underlying skin problems, including eczema, psoriasis, injury to the skin, and acne.
- Wound healing: Dark spots may remain after an insect bite, burn, or cut heals, and these tend to fade faster in time.
- Irritation: Especially common in those with sensitive skin, cosmetic or hair products can irritate the skin, causing dark patches to form.
How to treat skin pigmentation and dark spots?
Prevention and basic skincare
One of the most common causes of hyperpigmentation in the skin is sun exposure, and we can limit the amount of UV exposure we get despite having sunny weather all-year-round.
Dermatologists highly recommend that you craft a skincare routine that avoids or lessens the damaging impact of UV light through timely prevention and cure:
- Apply sun protection daily: Never skip out on your sunscreen – not even at home! This helps you to avoid activating your melanin production system.
- Use anti-inflammatory skincare actives regularly: Chronic inflammation from acne or eczema can become unhealthy and cause hyperpigmentation.
- Use brightening actives after skin damage: Most of us are so occupied with trying to get rid of acne that we forget that a breakout is the exact moment we should implement a brightening active in our routine. Use it before hyperpigmentation develops, and you may avoid darkening of your skin altogether!
For those of us who want to find a fast and effective solution to get rid of existing skin pigmentation, many aesthetic clinics in Singapore offer cosmetic procedures that can help you lighten areas of skin to reduce the appearance of hyperpigmentation.
Some examples of procedures to treat hyperpigmentation include:
- Laser therapy: This is the most common procedure done to treat dark spots and pigmentation. Lasers deliver an intense beam of light that is absorbed and converted into heat, which either disperses the group of melanin cells or destroys the skin cells carrying the pigment molecule.
- Intense pulsed light: A safer, broad-spectrum light that heats and destroys brown spots, melasma, broken capillaries, and sunspots.
- Chemical peel: This removes the top layers of skin, allowing it to regenerate.
- Microdermabrasion: You can think of this as physical exfoliation (in contrast to chemical peels) that uses tiny particles to sand away dead skin.
If you are not keen on doing aesthetic procedures, you also have the option of buying over-the-counter or dermatologist-prescribed products to try and lighten dark spots and pigmentation.
Lightening creams and gels are common products that work with select ingredients to help decrease pigmentation. These are usually sold over-the-counter in your typical drugstores and beauty retailers but are also available in stronger prescription forms. Lightening creams or gels work best for flat spots, such as melasma or age spots, and are effective for patches of discolouration on most skin types.
Face acids, or skin acids, are like chemical peels that you can do at home – some examples include glycolic acid, lactic acid, and mandelic acid. Face acids work well for mild hyperpigmentation on fairer skin tones.
Derived from vitamin A, retinoids are among some of the oldest OTC skincare ingredients used. They can come in either a prescription or over-the-counter formula, but take note that the latter tends to be weaker. If you don’t see any results after a couple of months, you may have to get a prescription from your derm for retinoid tretinoin (Retin-A).
Best over-the-counter products to treat dark spots or skin pigmentation
The Effect Series Alpha Arbutin 2%
Alpha arbutin is an active ingredient that can whiten disturbing discolourations caused by acne, ageing, or sun exposure, as well as inhibit melanin production. In fact, this ingredient is considered by dermatologists to be one of the most advanced natural ingredients in skincare and has also been shown to work well on all skin types and skin tones.
This serum from clean beauty brand The Effect Series uses alpha arbutin at a high 2% concentration versus a standard concentration of 1% used in similar skincare products – this creates a much stronger brightening effect that is still safe to use on skin.
You are recommended to use this highly-concentrated serum consistently in order to see a drastic improvement in the appearance of liver spots, age spots, uneven skin tone, acne scars or any other pigmentation spots you may have.
Tip: This is best used at night while your skin is repairing to get the best result. Simply apply after (The Effect Series ) Niacinamide 10% and then continue the rest of your skincare routine.
Alpha Arbutin 2% retails at SGD29.95 on The Effect Series website.
K-Bright Flawless Radiance Set
K-Bright’s two best-sellers, Miracle Booster Pearls (Dream Tone) and Crystal Bright Illuminating Serum, also known as the “Flawless Radiance Set”, are formulated with the brand’s proprietary Icy-lock™ technology to lock in the potency of active ingredients.
These include a whopping 35% Vitamin C in the Booster Pearls, which is much higher than what most other Vitamin C products offer (10 to 20%). As the potency of Vitamin C is multiplied, you get three times more brightening power from one booster pearl as compared to a drop of other Vitamin C serums!
Other key ingredients that work together to give you radiant skin include a blend of Korean minerals (hydrates skin for a healthy glow), 4% Resveratrol (antioxidant that promotes cell renewal for an even tone), as well as Bifida Ferment Lysate (probiotic yeast that strengthens skin’s defense against environmental aggressors).
The booster pearls are best used together with the serum to create luminous skin in as little as three days. Continue using this regularly over fourteen days, and you’ll be able to see much brighter skin, diminished dark patches, even skin colouration, as well as reduced wrinkles & fine lines.
This brightening duo has been clinically proven to show visible results on real consumers, which is why K-Bright is so well-loved by beauty insiders – even local celebrities such as Tabitha Nauser and Iman Fandi count themselves as huge fans!
Try out this cult-favourite for yourself by signing up for a free sample here.
The Flawless Radiance Set retails at SGD151 on K-Bright’s website.
Sunday Riley Good Genes All-in-One Lactic Acid Treatment
Beauty junkies worth their salt would surely have heard about this acid treatment that is said to work wonders on pigmented skin.
Using high potency, purified grade lactic acid that immediately exfoliates dull, pore-clogging dead skin cells, your skin cycle is sped up so that smooth, spotless skin is revealed. It is also enhanced with liquorice and Lemongrass to boost radiance, as well as Aloe to soothe the skin.
Sunday Riley Good Genes All-in-One Lactic Acid Treatment retails at SGD150 for 30ml and SGD227 for 50ml on Sephora.
Drunk Elephant TLC Framboos Glycolic Night Serum
This is a cult-favourite high-tech gel from Drunk Elephant that resurfaces dull skin and lifts dead skin cells away by gently dissolving the glue that holds them to the surface.
Formulated with a unique AHA/BHA blend including glycolic, lactic, tartaric, citric and salicylic acids, and blended with raspberry extract, it sinks in easily and delivers the results of a chemical exfoliation without harsh side effects like dryness or sensitisation.
Using too many acids on your face can sound terrifying, but not to fear – this product also includes ingredients such as Horse chestnut, bearberry, and white tea help to calm and soothe your skin.
Drunk Elephant TLC Framboos Glycolic Night Serum retails at SGD128 for 30ml and SGD190 for 50ml on Sephora.
Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid
If you have skin pigmentation caused by previous bouts of acne, Paula’s Choice best-selling exfoliator is your best shot at getting a clear and even skin tone.
This is a gentle, leave-on product (optimal pH range of 3.2 to 3.8) with salicylic acid that mimics the natural exfoliation process of younger skin by helping it shed extra layers while unclogging and clearing pores. It also helps to hydrate your skin so that it doesn’t get too dry from all that shedding of dead skin.
Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid retails at SGD45 on Paula’s Choice website.
Glamglow Flashmud Brightening Treatment
True to its name, Glamglow’s Flashmud is a brightening treatment that instantly reveals glowing, luminous skin. It offers multiple levels of physical and chemical exfoliation, thanks to a formula that includes lactic acid, salicylic acid, white clay, and diamonds.
P.S. For best results, you are encouraged to use this mask three days in a row!
Glamglow Flashmud Brightening Treatment retails at SGD39 for 15g, SGD89 for 50g, and SGD123 for 100g on Sephora.
Dr. Dennis Gross Alpha Beta Universal Daily Peel
Don’t want to deal with the downtime after chemical peels? This over-the-counter renewing peel is an easy and safe at-home alternative that guarantees you the same refreshed and glowing skin you get in cosmetic procedures!
The formula contains a combination of five acids, ideal for first-time peel users and those of all skin types. The first step is to use the powerful yet gentle exfoliating acids to clear dead skin cells, followed by delivering anti-ageing actives into the skin to rebalance it.
Neogen Bio-Peel Gauze Peeling Wine
Combining the best of both worlds, Neogen’s peeling pads are a holy grail for people struggling with sensitive, pigmented skin.
A swipe of this on the skin effectively removes dead skin cells and impurities using the unique 3 layer pad technology, where lactic acid also penetrates deep into your pores to clean out pore-clogging debris.
Its star ingredient, Resveratrol, also helps to prevent free radicals from pigmenting or forming wrinkles on your skin so that you don’t have to worry about the formation of new dark spots even after you have treated the current ones – sweet!
Neogen Bio-Peel Gauze Peeling Wine retails at SGD26.20 on Shopee.