How to use it: Apply it all over your face once or twice a day; you can use it alone or with your favorite face moisturizer. When using it during the day, be sure to follow it with sunscreen.
Testing out a product containing azelaic acid can mean tackling several skin concerns at once: In addition to dark marks, azelaic acid can help address redness, as well as blemishes and breakouts (especially in the case of Paula’s Choice’s cream gel, featured below, which also contains salicylic acid).
Lasers are the most expensive yet most impactful treatment to reduce dark spots. “These use a focused beam of light that has a specific target or chromophore [pigment] to break up and eliminate the pigment particles in the skin,” Dr. Cook-Bolden says. “IPL [intense pulsed light] can treat unwanted pigmentation. However, it delivers less focused light and may have an unwanted effect on the surrounding skin, especially in darker or tanned skin.”
The ideal skin laser treatment for hyperpigmentation will provide a cooling blast (or at least limit the amount of heat generated). Ask your dermatologist or laser technician whether the laser they’re using treats at a rapid rate with a focused beam, like The Lightpod Neolaser by Aerolase. This type of laser will help avoid an inflammatory response, burns, or collateral damage, Dr. Cook-Bolden says.
Derm tip: Anticipate as many as six treatments (possibly even more) with three to four weeks in between, in-office only.
7. Chemical peels
Exfoliating treatments like chemical peels remove the upper layers of dead skin, helping to reduce the dull appearance of the skin so that it reflects light better and appears to glow, Dr. Jamal says. “Over time these treatments can stimulate collagen production, enhance cellular turnover, and reduce the appearance of dark spots,” he says, but beware a chemical peel that is too powerful, which can burn the skin. Common active ingredients in pro-grade peels include glycolic, mandelic, salicylic, and lactic acids, along with trichloroacetic acid. While at-home peels are available, they are more likely to slough off dead skin rather than get deep enough to lighten dark spots, Dr. Jamal adds.
Of course, keep in mind that chemical peels can be harsh, particularly on sensitive skin, so be sure to talk to your dermatologist about how you may react before booking one.
Derm tip: Typically three to six treatments (possibly more) spaced out by three to four weeks is needed to see results. Note: Deeper peels have greater risks but may only require one or two treatments.
If you’re nevertheless curious about the effects of at-home chemical peels, try one of these dermatologist-recommended products.
Microdermabrasion is another well-known exfoliating treatment for hyperpigmentation that uses tiny particles to sand away dead skin. Cook-Bolden describes microdermabrasion as a “nonchemical procedure that’s nonablative, which means it does not destroy skin tissue, and therefore does not require significant recovery time.” Microdermabrasion is best for milder hyperpigmentation conditions since the results are modest in terms of improving the appearance of skin discoloration.