How To Make The Sun Set On Sun Spots
Here’s a cruel beauty fact: No matter how many applications of triple-digit sunblock you slather on, you can still end up with “sun spots,” or brown patches of discolored skin speckled around your eyes, nose, and cheeks—even with the seemingly permanent gray skies that have settled over Manhattan of late. Genetics, hormonal changes, and a host of other factors can trigger the release of pigment-producing cells that create that tea-stained effect on your face. But complacency is not your only option. It is possible, albeit difficult, to deal with this incredibly stubborn affliction that affects women of all ethnicities. To help you figure out where to start, we talked to New York City-based dermatologist Doris Day, who has developed a unique regimen that could put a more even-toned complexion well within your grasp.
Why is skin discoloration so common, even if you avoid the sun?
Because any kind of change to your skin’s balance—from trauma, hormonal fluxes, or inflammation—can lead to pigment alteration. Even a simple thing like scratching a pimple can do this. The sun makes everything worse; just a little time outside can deepen a few faint spots. That’s why you need to be diligent about your SPF. It should be at least 30, and broad-spectrum to protect against UVA/UVB rays.
Is there a specific sun product you’d recommend? There seem to be so many options flooding the market around this time of year.
I really like Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry-Touch Sun Block 100+. The level isn’t a gimmick. It works; I’ve seen the studies!
Prevention of future spots, check. What about treating the ones you already have, though?
My advice is to start with an over-the-counter product. If the discoloration is superficial and not too deep, you can treat it with topical solutions that slough off the top layers of skin. Philosophy just came out with a good product called Miracle Worker—it comes with a retinoid mixture that you pour over pads and then swipe over your face to lighten dark patches. It’s really gentle but effective, as far as an over-the-counter option goes.
Are there bigger guns to pull out—like specific prescription products you would recommend?
If you don’t see any improvement after a month or so with an over-the-counter product, the next step is a prescription hydroquinone cream in a concentration that’s right for your skin type. It’s best to use hydroquinone under supervision of a dermatologist, because if you overuse it or get too strong of a concentration, it can actually darken the skin.
What about peels—are those worthwhile?
Yes. If you’re willing to spend more money, a melasma peel at your doctor’s office can offer significant benefits. It’s designed to improve the texture and tone of uneven skin with a solution of hydroquinone and retinol. To prolong the effects, I developed a Light and Bright program for my patients—it involves applying a vitamin C gel, followed by pads soaked in hydroquinone and a retinol cream to be used at night, which encourages new cell turnover and keeps discoloration from coming back.
Wait—discoloration can come back, once it disappears?
Sorry, but yes! If you go out in the sun without sunblock, the spots you previously faded can turn dark again and can develop into new ones. So again, don’t skimp on SPF.
Is there anything else, aside from sunscreen diligence, that can prevent repeat appearances?
Another word of caution is to be careful of spa facials, especially while you’re trying to treat discoloration. I’ve seen facialists put ingredients on patients that cause a reaction and lead to uneven skin. And then the spa sends you home with a soap that’s supposed to fix things. That’s not going to work. So before booking, talk to your doctor about any treatments you’re considering. Better to be safe than sorry.—Kari Molvar
Photo: CCourtesy of Neutrogena; Philosophy