Remember poor Jan Brady, the middle Brady Bunch sister, who was so at war with her freckles that she tried to disappear them with a vigorous lemon-juice rubbing to no avail? She didn’t understand two things: First, her freckles were adorable and just part of who she was; and second, when it comes to skin, absolute perfection pretty much only exists on babies and in heavily retouched magazine photos. While it’s unlikely that we can completely outrun the ravages of time and environment, we can always aim for becoming the best, healthiest version of ourselves—no lemon juice required
And with summer’s “barely there” makeup vibe, it’s better to treat imperfections rather than slather on a heavy foundation to cover them up. But what do you do when it appears that dark spots and patches have taken up permanent residence on your face, arms, hands, neck and elsewhere?
First, understand what you’re looking at.
Most dark spots, such as freckles or “age spots,” are caused when the sun triggers melanin production to protect the skin. According to the (AAD), some things that exacerbate the spots include the healing or clearing of wounds, psoriasis, pimples, burns, and bites; certain medications; an allergic reaction to the skin or hair-care product; and hormonal issues, as during pregnancy.
Melasma refers to brown or grey-brown patches on the face that can span the forehead, cover the cheeks and appear on the nose, chin and upper lip, says the AAD. Often this is triggered by pregnancy hormones or birth control pills and appears more frequently in women.
How to Treat Dark Patches and Spots
The first rule for treating any kind of discoloration is to avoid it in the first place by liberally applying sunscreen and wearing protective clothing and a wide-brimmed hat while outside, says Allison Monroe, the OrangeTwist center director for the Newport Beach and San Juan Capistrano locations. Then, “you must treat melasma aggressively as early as it appears.”
The AAD warns to avoid products that promise overall skin lightening, especially if they’re from other countries that don’t stringently regulate ingredients, as they may contain unlabeled mercury, steroids and other compounds that can permanently damage and discolor the skin.
Whatever you do, don’t pull a Jan Brady by applying lemon juice. You’ll just make it worse when you go out into the sun. “Citrus causes photosensitivity, which can hyper-pigment the skin,” Monroe says. Instead, look for products that contain extracted, high concentrations of vitamin C, which supports UV protection, stimulating collagen production and helping antioxidants do their job.
The most effective topical products for treating discoloration come from ZO Skin Health medical-grade creams and serums; try the 10% Vitamin C Self-Activating formula as well as one of the Pigment Control Crèmes, available by prescription.
You can also take the offensive with a double-whammy approach and use the Premera option on the Clear + Brilliant gentle fractional laser, which is a 20-minute treatment that treats the millions of tiny spots on the skin’s outer layers, which triggers replacing old tissue with new. And that comes with a bonus—you’ll also get more radiant, smoother skin and diminished appearance of fine lines. It’s a win all around.