Ask Curology: How to get rid of dark spots

Treating melasma, hyperpigmentation, and sun spots

Allison Buckley Avatar

Allison Buckley
Mar 06, 2020 · 4 min read

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.

This week on Ask Curology, we’re on the quest for enlightenment when it comes to dark spots on the face, so we checked in with one of our licensed medical providers to get the facts straight.

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Dear Curology,

The good news is my acne cleared up — yay! The bad news is that I now have a ton of dark spots where my pimples used to be — boo! I’d really like to enjoy my clear skin, so what can I do to get rid of the dark spots on my skin?


In The Dark

Dear In The Dark,

Congratulations on breaking up with your breakouts! I feel you on this one — it would be so awesome if treating our zits was the be-all, end-all of having perfect skin. That said, you’re not alone when it comes to dealing with hyperpigmentation. As dermatology providers, we see it all the time — and while your dark spots may never truly vanish, there are a few solid ways to treat them.

What causes hyperpigmentation?

Hyperpigmentation (a more technical term of “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. Hyperpigmented areas are typically places where 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. 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, for simplicity’s sake! These are found most often on the face and hands and may fade somewhat in the winter.

2. Melasma

Melasma is a common chronic skin problem in which symmetrical, brown facial pigmentation is seen, almost always in women. The cause of melasma is complex, and genetics may play a role. Some known triggers include:

  • Sun exposure. This is the most important avoidable risk factor

  • Pregnancy hormones. Pigment often fades a few months after delivery

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

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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. 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.

  4. Don’t pick! Squeezing, pinching, or picking 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!

In my opinion, the customized creams we prescribe at Curology are one of the easier ways to get the spot-fading ingredients your skin needs. As always, you can sign up for a free month if you want to try it out (just pay $4.95 to cover shipping/handling + tax).

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

All my best,

Allison Buckley, NP-C

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.

Allison Buckley Avatar

Allison Buckley

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