B A N I S H B R OW N S P O T S N OW Ready to kiss the spots on your face, chest, and hands goodbye? Emily Dudding uncovers the best treatments.
Ididn’t mind the freckles that dappled my cheeks as a kid. Even as the decades passed, I never gave them much thought. Until one day, my well-meaning dermatologist cupped my face in his hands and diplomatically asked, “Do you want to do something about your age spots?” The change in nomenclature changed, well, everything. “Yes!” I answered. “Get rid of them. Now!” I’m not alone. There’s a growing awareness that a mottled complexion can be more ageing than wrinkles. Many of us who baked in the sun when we were younger are paying the price. And, adds Josanna Gaither, director of education and aesthetics at Natura Bissé, “The trend toward more natural make-up and a flawless look means that everyone wants to even out their pigmentation problems.” Luckily, new breakthrough products and office procedures can not only fade spots but actually help prevent them from forming.
Brown spots, which are caused by excess melanin, can be the result of sun exposure, ageing, genetics, and even pollution. “The sun stimulates melanocyte cells to produce more pigment, which then gets transferred to skin cells,” says Robert Anolik, a New York dermatologist. Until recently, hydroquinone, a strong bleaching agent, was among the most frequently recommended treatments. “It’s effective because it can physically break apart the melanin,” says cosmetic chemist Ni’Kita Wilson. Overuse of hydroquinone, though, can kill melanocytes and cause permanently discoloured skin. While it’s available in the US and greater parts of the world, it has been banned in Europe. “It’s critical to use hydroquinone only under a doctor’s supervision,” Wilson warns.
Recent alternatives are less potentially harmful and have multitasking properties. “The newest products contain ingredients that treat existing spots while also halting tyrosinase, an enzyme that controls melanin production,” says Wilson. She suggests products with vitamin C for brightening, arbutin and peptides to inhibit tyrosinase, and peroxy acid to break up existing melanin.
Dermalogica’s PowerBright TRx system – C-12 Pure Bright serum, Pure Light SPF50 moisturiser, and Pure Night treatment cream – contains peptides and vitamin C. “The peptides are like cell whisperers,” says Annet King, director of global education for Dermalogica. “They tell melanocytes to slow the hell down.” Other good picks: La Prairie White Caviar Illuminating Moisturizing Cream, L’Oréal Paris RevitaLift Triple Power SPF 30 Day Lotion, Lancôme Absolue White Aura, Clarins White Plus Tri-Intensive Brightening Serum, and Clinique Even Better Clinical Dark Spot Corrector, which employs a rare botanical from Korea, Daniella ensifolia, that inhibits its tyrosinase. “The results are equivalent to 4 percent hydroquinone without the irritation,” says Janet Pardo, senior vice president of product development worldwide for Clinique. “You’ll see improved clarity in one to two weeks and a real difference in a month.”
For more instant gratification, consider a trip to the derm. “The best way to get rid of sun spots is with lasers,” says Anolik, who uses a rapid-pulse Q-switched ruby laser to treat individual spots. The procedure requires no anaesthesia, and typically a scab will form on the treated area and fall off in about a week. For more stubborn splotches, Anolik uses the recently FDA-cleared PicoWay laser, which he often combines with Fraxel Dual or Clear + Brilliant lasers. “The exfoliation can help release much of the brown pigment and brighten overall tone,” he says. Clear + Brilliant is a lunchtime procedure, but PicoWay and Fraxel have longer downtimes, with redness and peeling lasting for up to a week.
In Malaysia, The Sloane Clinic’s Dr. Wong Jinly is your best bet. Based on her diagnosis, clients can opt for the Divine Whitening Program, which uses a pigment laser to get rid of blotches and uneven skin tones, or take on the Brightening Program that gets you glowing with IPL Photofacials, which are great for freckles. For stubborn spots, the Brilliant Skin Program uses Fraxel Light, an advanced transformative microlaser peel, to rid dead skin cells on the surfaces and long-standing pigmentations.
For ultimate results, New York dermatologist Dr. Gervaise Gerstner takes a 360-degree view, combining in-office lasers with at-home treatments such as SkinMedica Lytera Skin Brightening Complex, a lotion with vitamin C, peptides, niacinamide, and retinol, along with her custom Brightening Pads at night to speed up the skin-lightening process. But, she warns, “Melanocytes are smart! If you go back out in the sun, the spots will reemerge.” Sunblock, anyone?