Ask Curology: How to get rid of dark spots

Treating melasma, hyperpigmentation, and sun spots.

Allison Buckley Avatar

Allison Buckley, NP-C
Mar 06, 2020 · 5 min read

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We’re here to share what we know — but don’t take it as medical advice. Talk to your medical provider if you have questions.
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Dark spots, sunspots, melasma... There are a lot of different words used to describe the common skin concern of hyperpigmentation—that is, areas of darker-than-usual skin. (There’s a difference between these terms though, and we’ll break them down in a sec!) 

Such skin discoloration can happen for a number of reasons—acne, sun exposure, and hormonal changes, to name a few—and can be frustratingly stubborn to treat. The good news? There are things you can do to tackle your dark spots, some of which your Curology provider can help you with! We’ll cover the basics of hyperpigmentation here and give some suggestions for treatment at the end.

What causes hyperpigmentation?

Hyperpigmentation (the more technical term for dark spots) occurs when patches of skin become darker in color than the normal skin surrounding it. Your skin naturally produces a pigment called melanin, which gives it its color. In hyperpigmented areas, your skin makes too much pigment.

That said, there are actually a few different kinds of dark spots — here are the three of the more common ones:

1. Sun spots

Sun spots are the result of prolonged sun exposure. Two of the most common types of brown spots on the skin are freckles and age spots (known as liver spots, or solar or actinic lentigines). There are minor differences between freckles and age spots, so they are often collectively referred to as sunspots to make things simpler. They are found most often on the face and hands—since the skin there is often exposed to the sun—and may fade somewhat in the winter.

2. Melasma

Melasma is a common skin condition in which patchy brown or gray spots appear symmetrically on the face. It occurs primarily in women. The cause of melasma is complex, but some known triggers include:

  • Sun exposure. This is one of the biggest, but preventable, risk factors.

  • Pregnancy hormones. Melasma typically fades a few months after delivery—but not always!

  • Hormone treatments. Like birth control pills, patches, or rings, or hormone replacement therapy.

3. Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation

Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH) results from the deposition of melanin (pigment) into the epidermis following acne or other inflammatory skin conditions such as acne or eczema. Since your acne seems to have left behind dark spots, it sounds like this is what you’re working with. PIH will fade over time — yay! — and you can also use a few different treatments to speed that process along.

Treatments for dark spots on the face

  1. Over-the-counter products. Not every OTC product will work, but alpha hydroxy acids, niacinamide, or vitamin C can help, so seek out treatments with these ingredients.

  2. Prescription skincare. Where OTC products fail, prescriptions can succeed! At Curology, we’re big fans of tretinoin, a vitamin A derivative that increases cell turnover rate. This has several skin benefits — expediting the fading of dark spots is one of them.

  3. Don’t pick! Squeezing, pinching, or picking blemishes may result in dark spots or make existing ones worse. Try to avoid picking as best you can — often easier said than done, I know!

  4. Sun protection. Proper sun protection is important, especially when it comes to treating dark spots. Consistent sunscreen use can help prevent hyperpigmentation from worsening. Use a sunscreen with at least SPF 30 and reapply it throughout the day. You can also do your best vampire impression — seek out shade and wear sun-blocking clothing like wide-brimmed hats and sunglasses.

How to apply Curology Sunscreen SPF 30 Mineral Formula 1

If you’re looking to treat your hyperpigmentation, Curology’s personalized, prescription formulas are arguably one of the easier ways to get effective ingredients to help fade dark spots. Plus, we also have a no-clog, no-white cast, grease-free mineral sunscreen formula that's specially designed for acne-prone skin. As always, you can sign up for a free month if you want to try it out!*

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I hope this helps, and good luck on your #SkincareJourney!

All my best,

Allison Buckley, NP-C

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• • •
Our medical review process:We’re here to tell you what we know. That’s why our information is evidence-based and fact-checked by medical experts. Still, everyone’s skin is unique—the best way to get advice is to talk to your healthcare provider.
Our policy on product links:Empowering you with knowledge is our top priority. Our reviews of other brands’ products in this post are not paid endorsements—but they do meet our medically fact-checked standards for ingredients (at the time of publication).
Allison Buckley Avatar

Allison Buckley, NP-C

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