Skin SOS: Your Guide to Spots

When it comes to getting an even complexion, not all skincare plans are created equal. Find out what treatment will work best for you.

Skin SOS: Your Guide to Spots

Seeing spots in the mirror can feel less than thrilling, especially since their appearance is one of the leading signs of aging.

The good news is that you can improve and sometimes even eliminate the stubborn visitors, though you can’t use the same solution for all. Effective treatments differ by the type of pigmentation at hand.

Use the handy guide below to find out what kind of spots you have, and how to steer your game plan for bright, glowing skin in the right direction—at any age.

QUIZ: Is Your Body Skin Healthy?

Brown Sun Spots

The Cause: “Hyperpigmentation is the darkening of the skin caused by overactive skin cells called melanocytes,” explains Dr. David Bank, president of the New York State Society for Dermatology and Dermatologic Surgery. The process can be triggered by sun rays, changing hormone levels, illness and medications.

Prevention: Daily use (rain or shine!) of SPF 30 or greater is your strongest ally against brown spots. Bank prefers sunscreens containing zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, referring to physical sunscreen ingredients that some experts feel are more reliable than their chemical counterparts. 

At-Home Treatment: A dizzying array of products that purport to lighten and brighten skin flood the shelves today; according to Bank, the most effective ingredients to look for on ingredient labels are retinol, licorice root extract and ascorbic acid (another name for vitamin C).

In-Office Treatment: Depending on the depth of and darkness of your damage, Fraxel laser ($500-$1500), Diode laser ($500-$1000), or lighter chemical peels that employ glycolic, kojic or ascorbic acids ($150-$300) may be used.

MORE: Skin Types, Decoded

Post-Inflammation Pigmentation

The Cause: Following acne or skin trauma like a wound, this type of discoloration is caused by the skin’s natural response to inflammation when melanin-producing cells over-produce, says L’Oréal Paris Consulting Dermatologist, Dr. Gervaise Gerstner.

Prevention: “If there’s an underlying cause like acne, it must first be eliminated for effective results,” says Bank. And don’t forget to slather on the sunscreen and mind your wide-brimmed straw hat—damaging sun rays can significantly kick up and worsen post-inflammation pigmentation.

At-Home Treatment: Consistent, daily (not just when you remember!) use of treatment products is key to scoring visible improvement. The combination of daily sunscreen with topical creams that contain hydroquinone, tretinoin, corticosteroids, glycolic acid or azelaic acid can reap substantial results, says Bank.

In-Office Treatment: Procedures vary by the depth and amount of pigmentation area targeted, and can include lasers like Vbeam ($500-$1500), Fraxel ($500-$1500), Alex TriVantage ($350-$500), Clear & Brilliant ($500), microdermabrasion ($100-$250) and medical-strength bleaching pads, say the experts.

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