What Causes Dark Spots and Patches on the Face?
Many adults suffer from melasma, a form of hyperpigmentation in which areas of skin become darker than their surroundings. These stubborn dark patches, which can be found anywhere on the face (forehead, cheeks, nose, etc.), are caused by an overproduction of melanin from pigment cells called melanocytes. While melasma won’t affect your overall health, its characteristic dark spots can often look unsightly, causing distress in those who have it.
Read on to discover some effective ways to eliminate and fade these blemishes and make them less noticeable. Learn about the best and most current treatments and choose from a variety of methods for correcting an uneven skin tone. This article will also teach you about the causes of melasma so that you can prevent it from developing in the first place.
What Is Melasma?
There are a number of possible causes of skin hyperpigmentation, some of which can be quite serious. As a precaution, it’s best to consult with a dermatologist if you notice any skin discoloration early on in order to rule out pre-cancerous changes and skin cancer.
One of the more common forms of hyperpigmentation, however, is melasma, which is characterized by unsightly dark spots on the face, forehead, cheeks, and area above the upper lip. These spots typically appear on both sides of the face in a similar shape and pattern and can range in color from tan to dark brown to black.
The color of the spots varies based on the ethnicity of the person. For dark-skinned people, the color will be more towards brown and black patches. In pale individuals, they may appear tan or light brown. Skin spots can occur on both males and females, people of all ages, and all skin tones depending on the underlying cause. Similarly “liver spots,” another common term for hyperpigmentation, generally develop on individuals 50 and older from a lifetime of sun exposure and are considered part of the natural aging process.
The good news is that these frustrating blemishes can be easily remedied and reduced—choose from medical procedures to all-natural DIY remedies that can be used from the comfort of your home. As always, developing a proper skin-care regimen and using methods to prevent sun damage is the best way to combat unsightly sunspots.
Common Types of Hyperpigmentation
|Melasma||Pale brown, brown, or dark spots and patches on the face||Hormones, pregnancy, and sun exposure|
|Liver Spots (“Solar Lentigo”) and Age Spots||Small brown or dark patches on the face, arms, shoulders, and hands||Age (50+), sun exposure, and pale skin|
|Birthmarks||Red or brown spots of irregular shape that appear at birth or shortly after||Extra pigment-producing cells or blood vessels|
|Moles||First appear in adolescents or in adulthood; pink, light brown, black, raised; regular or irregularly shaped||Skin lesion development during adulthood; often benign but sometimes cancerous|
|Freckles||Small, brown spots varying in color and often patterned||UV radiation/exposure and genetics|
10 Home Remedies for Dark Spots on the Face
Even the most aggressive treatment options can take some time to work. In the meantime, there are a lot of things you can do to minimize the appearance of dark patches and make them less noticeable. Whether you have sensitive skin and want to avoid irritation or are working with an acne-prone skin type, you can choose from serums, moisturizers, and creams or more aggressive treatments such as spot correctors, bleaching products, and medical treatments.
As an added bonus, many of these natural remedies not only reduce melanin production but encourage skin cell turnover—reducing wrinkles, moisturizing dry skin, reducing fine lines, and improving total skin condition. You may want to try some of these home remedies first, especially if you notice the discoloration in its beginning stages.
Before trying any of the methods recommended below, check with a qualified professional as each individual’s health-care needs will vary; this is especially true of women who are pregnant or nursing, those who are currently on medication, and people with sensitive skin.
If the dark patches are new, they may only cover the first few layers of skin. In that case, manually exfoliating the area could be a solution. Here’s how:
- Find an exfoliating cleanser of your choice and apply it to the area in a circular motion. Depending on your product, you may want to wet your face before you start.
- Massage the product into the skin and rinse.
Exfoliate once a day or every other day until you can analyze how your skin handles the treatment. Thereafter, repeat once or twice a day for best results.
2. Citrus Rub
Citrus fruits contain a significant amount of ascorbic acid, which can remove the top layer of skin without damage. (Note: Consider testing lemon juice on a small patch of skin before beginning.) Here’s how to make a citrus rub:
- Squeeze the lemon juice onto a cotton ball.
- Dab it on your skin and leave it on for 20 minutes.
- Repeat once or twice a day for best results.
DIY Honey and Lemon Face Mask
Another alternative would be to make a honey and lemon face mask:
- Mix the juice of half a lemon with two teaspoons of honey.
- Apply to the affected area for 30 minutes and then wash well.
DIY Lemon-Tumeric Lightening Paste
Another option would be to make a paste of lemon juice with turmeric, which is also a skin-lightening agent:
- Add one tablespoon of lemon juice to one tablespoon of turmeric.
- Apply the paste to the face for 15 minutes.
- Wash with warm water.
3. Vitamin E
Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant and can help your body repair damaged cells. You can apply vitamin E oil directly to the skin and/or eat foods high in vitamin E such as nuts, avocado, leafy greens, tofu, and squash. Vitamin E capsules and serums are sold in most major markets and are fairly affordable.
Papaya contains papain, an enzyme that helps exfoliate the skin. Papaya also contains large amounts of vitamins C and E, which makes this fruit ideal for reducing discoloration. Here are two ways to use this super-food:
- Try applying a small piece of the fruit to the affected area twice a day for 20–30 minutes.
- Blend the papaya into a paste for a face mask and apply it for 30 minutes.
5. Folic Acid
A number of studies link melasma to a deficiency of folic acid, a type of B vitamin, and folic acid is frequently prescribed by obstetricians to pregnant women with melasma. So, it’s highly recommended to take supplements and eat foods that contain a lot of of this key nutrient per your doctor’s recommendation. Such foods that are high in folic acid include green, leafy vegetables, citrus fruits, beans, and whole grains.
6. Licorice Root
Licorice root has been widely used for hundreds of years in traditional medicine. It contains glabridin and licochalcone A—two powerful antioxidants:
- Glabridin can help reduce sun damage and inhibits the synthesis of melanin, which contributes to the development of sunspots after exposure to UV radiation.
- Licochalcone A also helps to combat free-radicals and inflammation, so it is especially beneficial for people with eczema and rosacea.
Consider taking licorice root as a tea or incorporating it into your diet as it’s especially good for hyperpigmentation and acne scars.
Aloe vera is proven to help reduce dark spots and hyperpigmentation thanks to aloin, a compound that naturally depigments skin. According to dermatologist and laser surgeon Dr. Deepali Bhardwaj, aloe is also rich in vitamin C, E, and beta carotene. An extremely gentle remedy, it can be used in gel form or harvested directly from the plant and applied to the skin. If purchasing a product, be sure to avoid anything that contains chemical additives.https://9d9a93ecad661bee260bad6d8f3a8aa5.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html
Honey naturally contains alpha-hydroxy acids which help to exfoliate the skin and hydrogen peroxide, a natural anti-microbial. According to Peter Molan of the Honey Research Unit at University of Waikato, New Zealand, honey reduces blemishes on acne-prone skin and thereby helps to improve uneven complexions. Honey also helps to draw moisture from the environment to keep skin hydrated. Raw honey is the best form to buy—as processed honey often contains corn syrup and is adulterated with additives.
Arbutin is found in natural substances like cranberries, blueberries, and bearberry leaves. Once it enters the body, it breaks down into glucose and hydroquinone—one of the most commonly used skin-brightening components that prevents cells from producing melanin.
Alpha arbutin, which is the preferred form of arbutin, is found in bearberry leaves. It’s water-soluble, works on all skin types, and is especially effective when combined with vitamin C. Since synthetic hydroquinone is only available by prescription, consider incorporating arbutin-containing foods in your diet.
10. Hyaluronic Acid
Hyaluronic acid (HA) is naturally produced in the skin and is found in all tissues of the body. It helps to support tissue structure—adding thickness to the dermis where collagen is found. A natural humectant (1 gram of HA can hold up to 6 liters of water), it draws moisture from its surroundings, which helps to boost hydration levels for all types of skin.
When used in conjunction with vitamin C, these powerful antioxidants help to diminish sunspots. HA can be taken orally as a supplement but it is best used topically unless prior approval is granted by a health-care professional. You may also acquire it in your diet in foods like soy, citrus, bone broth, starchy root vegetables, and leafy greens.
Medical Treatment Options That Can Get Rid of Melasma
Skin treatments have made enormous strides in recent years. There are many good procedures available to get rid of hyperpigmentation. As always, work with certified/licensed health-care professionals and communicate your needs to your doctor before proceeding. Below are some of the most popular procedures:
1. Discontinue Hormonal Contraception
Since melasma is usually caused by changing levels of estrogen and/or progesterone, discontinuing hormonal contraceptive pills and IUDs can often be a good first step. Never discontinue your contraceptive without first notifying your doctor and/or discussing alternatives.
2. Topical Bleaching Creams
The first line of treatment for melasma is usually a topical acid treatment (containing hydroxy acids) and is designed to remove the discolored layers of skin. You can find over-the-counter versions of these treatments and stronger prescription-strength ones as well. If you want an over-the-counter product, look for one that contains kojic acid, arbutin, and lactic acid.
Can Pregnant Women Use Skin-Bleaching Creams?
If you’re pregnant, you can take all the necessary steps to prevent and treat melasma. However, you should avoid skin-bleaching creams. Most pregnancy-related cases of melasma clear up after giving birth, so it might be best to use a concealer in the meantime.
3. Alpha-Hydroxy Acids
Alpha-hydroxy acids are naturally occurring acids found in foods like citrus (citric acid), apples (malic acids), and grapes (tartaric acid). They work by removing dead skin cells on the top layer of skin. According to WebMD, alpha hydroxy acids are good for combating epidermal-type and mixed-type melasma. Those who used 10% glycolic acid over two weeks followed by a facial peel saw an overall reduction in hyperpigmentation.
4. Salicylic Acid
Salicylic acid is a beta-hydroxy acid or BHA (versus alpha-hydroxy acid or AHA, in which molecules are separated by only one carbon atom) that comes in a prescription-strength form. It is generally derived from willow bark. AHAs (e.g., glycolic and lactic) are water-soluble, but BHAs are oil-soluble. BHAs can penetrate deeper into the skin than AHAs and dissolve the components of clogged pores. Through a keratolytic process, BHAs effectively get rid of the top layer of skin cells, thereby offering great exfoliating properties.
Hydroquinone is a very effective skin-lightening agent. There is some controversy over its safety, however. In 2006, the FDA withdrew its approval based on evidence that suggested it could potentially cause cancer. However, the American Academy of Dermatology disagrees with the FDA. The group insists that, used under proper supervision, hydroquinone poses no health risks. Hydroquinone creams at 2%-strength are available over the counter, while more concentrated versions require a doctor’s prescription.
Retinoids, derived from vitamin A, increase the rate of skin regeneration. Retinoid products are only available by prescription, however, because of the potential health risks to the fetus in pregnant women. Retinoids work by prompting dead skin cells to regenerate more quickly. Be aware that these products can also result in skin irritation.
7. Chemical Peels
Chemical peels improve and smooth skin texture and contain concentrated levels of acids. They work by removing dead cells on the surface of the skin and expedite regeneration, leading to a smoother and healthier complexion. Done under the supervision of a dermatologist, chemical peels can successfully get rid of dark patches.
Microdermabrasion is a procedure that uses tiny crystals to “sandblast” the upper layers of the skin off. It is performed by a dermatologist or surgeon, who will administer a local anesthetic. The procedure is usually repeated once a month over several months. Dermabrasion will smooth skin, resulting in the reduction of wrinkles, pigments, and scars.
9. Intense Pulsed Light (IPL)
IPL is a laser treatment that uses quick pulses of light to destroy pigment-causing melanin. The skin repairs the damage caused by the laser, leaving a lighter skin tone once it has healed. This procedure is more expensive than other methods and can, at times, be painful.
Steroid creams can be applied to affected areas to treat melasma by slowing down down the regeneration process of skin cells, leading to a reduction in the number and activity of pigment-producing cells.
How to Prevent Melasma
As the old saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Melasma, in particular, can be difficult to get rid of once you have it, so prevention is always your best bet. Here are some ways to avoid developing melasma in the first place:
- Stay out of the sun and tanning booths completely.
- Always apply sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30, even if you’re just leaving the house for five minutes to run errands.
- Reapply sunscreen every few hours.
- Wear a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses to further keep the sun out of your face.
What Causes Melasma and Brown Patches on the Skin?
No definitive cause of melasma has been pinpointed, though doctors have identified a number of possible triggers:
- Hormonal imbalances: Melasma occurs more frequently in women than men and is often associated with hormonal changes. Women who are pregnant, taking hormone replacement therapy or hormone-based birth control are especially susceptible. With pregnant women, these dark patches are often called the “mask of pregnancy” and typically last until the end of the pregnancy.
- Sun exposure: UV exposure is considered the leading cause of melasma. Certain medications such as anti-seizure drugs can make skin more sensitive to the sun, increasing the risk of developing melasma.
- Scented soaps and deodorant: Some products may irritate the skin, making it more sensitive to sun damage.
- Hypothyroidism: Melasma has been associated with low levels of thyroid hormone. Do check thyroid hormone levels regularly and work with your doctor to keep levels within acceptable limits.
Who Is Predisposed to Developing Melasma?
- Women: Men make up only one-quarter of people diagnosed with melasma.
- People with darker skin: People who tan easily or already have higher melanin production are more likely to develop melasma.
- Those with a family history of it: One-third of people diagnosed with melasma report that a family member has also suffered from the condition.
What Are the Different Kinds of Melasma?
Not all cases of melasma are the same and the prognosis for treatment can vary based on whether it appears on the top layer of skin or on one of the lower layers. The list below details the different melasma types to help you identify what kind you may have (of course, always work with a medical professional for an official diagnosis):
Location: on the outer layer of skin
- Well-defined border
- Patches dark brown in color
- Responds well to treatment
Location: on the lower skin layers
- The most common type
- Poorly defined borders
- Light brown or bluish in color
- Responds poorly to treatment
- Bluish, light and dark-brown patches
- Moderate improvement with treatment
Consider Working With a Health-Care Professional
Melasma can be triggered by many factors and affects people of all ages and backgrounds. Natural remedies may be the initial way to go, but do talk to your health-care provider or dermatologist for proper counsel. Always work with licensed professionals and consider methods for prevention if you are seeing early signs of skin discoloration. As always, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, so wear sun protection as often as possible.https://www.youtube-nocookie.com/embed/tuHZGKBodog?start=0
- Arbutin – to treat an uneven skin tone. SkinCity. Retrieved on November 9, 2019.
- Glycyrrhiza uralensis (Licorice) Root Extract. CosmeticsInfo. Retrieved on November 9, 2019.
- Jacques, R., & Dancer, R. (2019, June 7). Here’s Exactly What Salicylic Acid Does to Your Skin. Allure. Retrieved on November 9, 2019.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.