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While our Western counterparts are more prone to fine lines and wrinkles as they age, Asians are susceptible to signs of ageing like dark spots and skin pigmentation. Yes, it can be easily concealed with makeup, but many women still find spots and pigmentation a huge pain because they don’t feel as confident about heading out with their bare faces. It may not be the easiest skin concern to treat – but, cheer up! – there are several ways to improve the appearance of dark spots and skin pigmentation.

For the most updated tips and tricks approved by industry experts to get a glowing, blemish-free complexion, check out our updated guide to treating dark spots and pigmentation in 2020.

What is skin pigmentation and what causes it?

Dark Spots Skin Pigmentation 1

Before we start introducing the solutions to reduce dark spots and skin pigmentation, let’s first try to understand what they are and what cause them. Our skin naturally has natural pigment-producing cells known as “melanocytes”, which produce “melanin”. Melanin is what makes your skin turn darker when you’re exposed to UV rays for a long time, and it is also what gives us our natural skin colour. However, melanin isn’t actually a bad thing – it protects our skin from UV exposure.

The problem lies in that melanocytes may not always produce melanin evenly throughout our skin. What this means is that excess melanin can appear on certain areas, making them look relatively darker compared to the rest of your skin. This is when we see “dark spots” or what we call “pigmentation” or “hyperpigmentation”.

Permanent pigmentation is formed in four steps:

  1. When your skin is exposed to UV rays, a trigger sends a signal to hormones that stimulate melanin production. Inflammation of skin can cause melanin production to be overactive.
  2. Your melanocytes produce melanin.
  3. Melanin pigment is dispersed by your cells through the dermis, and when your body is unable to spread out the pigment properly, it clumps together and show up as a dark spot.
  4. The ability of your body to spread out melanin evenly slows down due to ageing. As your melanocytes produce excess melanin that clumps together, hyperpigmentation is formed, and will continue to stay on your skin unless treated.

How do you treat dark spots and skin pigmentation?

There are several methods that can be used to improve the appearance of dark spots or pigments on skin.

1. Topical products from clinics: AHA and retinoids

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If you’re bothered by dark spots and skin pigmentation, consider visiting a dermatologist to speak about your skin concern. The doctor will be able to prescribe topical products that can be applied on your skin to improve the condition.

These products typically contain alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) and retinoids, both of which are known for their ability to exfoliate skin and stimulate renewal of skin cells. While it can feel a little prickly on skin and you’ll need to make sure to wear sunscreen when you’re on an acid or retinoid treatment, these topical products typically don’t have any down-time nor side effects and are suitable for most people.

2. Topical products to get off the shelves: Brightening serum

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Brightening serums are gaining popularity among people who suffer from dark spots and skin pigmentation because of the comfort of use compared to acids and retinoids, as well as the added benefits they come with. These serums typically contain ingredients that are rich in antioxidants and have skin brightening properties that improve skin radiance, while preventing further oxidative damage to your skin.

These topical serums can usually be used daily and can help users achieve overall brighter complexion. In addition, a dermatologist’s prescription is not required to get hold of a bottle.

If you’re looking for great topical products to help you improve your pigmentation condition, scroll right to the end for expert’s recommendations.

For a start, you can also check out our recommendations for the best vitamin C serums in the market.

3. Salon treatments

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There are facial treatments that are designed to help improve the problem of hyperpigmentation and dark spots. They usually involve a microdermabrasion treatment to exfoliate your skin.

Note that you should be looking for a reputable aesthetician who will ensure that the treatment isn’t too harsh for your skin and to schedule your appointments such that your skin has sufficient time to recover in between treatments.

4. Clinical treatments

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If your pigmentation condition is more serious, you may find that topical products don’t work quickly enough for you. In these cases, you can speak to your dermatologist about clinical procedures that can address hyperpigmentation.

Usually, your dermatologist will recommend either chemical peels or Intense Pulsed Light (IPL) treatment to help you. While most clinics claim that IPL treatments have no down-time, you’ll usually still leave the clinic with a very red face that will take some time to recover.

While you can definitely go about your routines after the treatments, you may want to make sure that you have not scheduled any important gatherings right after it. Note also that IPL treatments can be a little painful, even though a numbing cream is usually applied on your skin before the therapy begins.

5. Prevention and basic skincare

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Finally, remember to start caring for your skin early such that you can prevent dark spots and skin pigmentation from occurring. Don’t forget your sunscreen (see recommendation below), even if you’re not heading outdoors, or when the skies appear cloudy as UV rays are able to permeate through clouds and windows. It is the number one cause of hyperpigmentation, so you won’t want to take any chances.

Another good skincare habit to keep is regular exfoliation. Exfoliation sloughs away the top layer of dead skin cells and reveals fresh, radiant skin underneath. It also stimulates skin renewal.

SkinCeuticals recommends

Here are three steps to achieve a spot-free, radiant complexion:

Step 1: Phloretin CF

Skinceuticals Phloretin Cf

Containing three potent antioxidants, the SkinCeuticals Phloretin CF is able to provide powerful photo-protection while accelerating cell renewal. A powerful first-step solution to fight age spots and other forms of hyperpigmentation, Phloretin CF is also known to improve firmness and overall texture of skin.

Step 2: Discoloration Defense

Skinceuticals Discoloration Defense Image

This is a high-potency treatment that taps into the power of Tranexamic Acid, a molecule that has been known by doctors to address hyperpigmentation. While Tranexamic Acid helps decrease melanocyte activity, other ingredients in the formula such as Kojic Acid, Niacinamide, and Hepes, work with it to disrupt the other factors that cause hyperpigmentation. Studies by SkinCeuticals show that users can see visible results as quickly as after two weeks of application.

Try this innovative brightening serum by signing up for a free sample.

Step 3: Physical Fusion UV Defense SPF50

Skinceuticals Physical Fusion

Finally, protect your skin with a sunscreen that provides broad-spectrum protection. The Physical Fusion UV Defense SPF 50 contains the only two FDA-approved physical sun filters to give you protection against both UVA and UVB rays. This sunscreen is also lightly tinted to offer a sheer coverage so that your skin looks brighter.