When I was young, I had freckles, and people loved them. I also did not know about suncream, SPF or the long-term damage the sun was doing to my skin. Having said this, the only sun I saw was the British sun as my parents were farmers, so July and August were busy months. I remember we spent all day outside, in the farmyard, helping with the harvest and having a magical time. I don’t remember suffering from sunburn ever, and by the end of the summer, my freckles were in full bloom, and my skin had a healthy glow. Haven’t times changed? Children are now wrapped in UV protections suits, and parents spend hours smothering them with SPF sun creams. Meanwhile, we are left with the results of our misspent youth – hyperpigmentation. As summer is approaching and meeting up outside being encouraged, I thought it was a good time to look at how we can prevent these dark spots.
First up, what is hyperpigmentation?
Hyperpigmentation appears as brown patches or dark spots on the skin which are the result of increased production of melanin, the natural pigment that gives our skin its colour and is produced by cells called melanocytes in our deeper skin layers. Dermatologist and skincare expert Anita Sturnham says these cells release melanin as a defensive shield whenever the skin is exposed to inflammation or injury.
Is there a set cause for dark spots?
Dark spots don’t have a single cause – they’re not just the result of UV exposure though this is most common in fair skin and can increase with age.
Melasma, which looks like dark brown or grey patches and is common within Mediterranean, Hispanic, Middle Eastern, North African and Asian communities, and tends to spread during pregnancy or when taking hormonal contraceptives. And finally post-inflammatory (PH), which occurs after an injury to the skin, such as acne, and is most common with darker skin.
What can be done to improve discolouration?
While a bout of laser treatment can help to fade and refine texture, new formulations can now visibly reduce the appearance of dark spots.
“For dark spots it’s vitamin C plus arbutin, kojic acid and liquorice. For melasma a combination of hydroquinone and tretinoin is the best and for post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation – time will help, this often fades of its own accord, otherwise you can use the above ingredients.”Dr Sarah Tonks, founder of The Lovely Clinic
Below are reviews of some serums and creams that either one of us or one of our guest contributors has tried and tested.
DERMALOGICA PowerBright Dark Spot Serum
This is a fairly new addition to the Dermalogica range. Its light-diffusing technology blurs the appearance of uneven skin tone instantly, while niacinamide, shiitake mushroom, and ashwagandha help fade dark spots over time.
I personally tried this one and loved it. Interestingly I did their online skin analysis using a camera, and Dermalogica did not suggest this product for me. However, I know I need it as I look in the mirror each day. They recommended a whole skin regime which would have sent my bank balance into meltdown. Anyway, I stuck with this one product.
The results started to show within one week and it did make me think a little more about some of the other products. I loved the way it brightened my skin and so I could use it morning and evening.
PAULA’S CHOICE C25 SUPER BOOSTER:
Best for: Sun spots & post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation
Founded by American businesswoman Paula Begoun, who creates all her products based on peer-reviewed research, this potent treatment cream is a high concentration of 25% ascorbic acid (Vitamin C) to brighten dark spots. There may be not much of it, but you can see the results after one application. We would recommend using a fingertip amount at night because it has quite a thick powdery finish.
It also started tingling on the first application, which some people might find too uncomfortable, the brand advises you to wash it off if it becomes too unbearable. What is evident is after just a week of using, there was an unmistakable difference in the appearance of both acne scars and dark spots and in general, the whole face looked a whole shade brighter.
SKINCEUTICALS Discolouration Defence Serum:
Skinceuticals is well known for hard-working, results-driven formulas. This serum is no different. 3-5 drops deliver brightening kojic acid into the skin alongside a new high-tech ingredient: tranexamic acid. An anti-inflammatory, it helps to lighten dark patches and decrease their reoccurrence without the need for any irritating bleaching agents.
This serum does not have the best online reviews; however, I have used this serum, which definitely worked for me. I chose this one rather than the other SkinCeuticals product that we have reviewed below because it was cheaper. I have one large dark spot, which is definitely sun damage. It is at the edge where my sunglasses rim sits, and I guess the sunglasses would rub off any sun cream hence the darker skin. This has reduced in size and colour but has not disappeared, but we cannot expect miracles!
SKINCEUTICALS C E Ferulic Antioxidant Vitamin C Serum for Normal/Dry Skin 30ml
Arguably the best and most effective brightening serum of all time, CE Ferulic is a potent dose of ferulic acid and the antioxidant vitamin C to lift dark marks and prevent new ones from forming.
Our reviewer was worried it would be irritating to her sensitive skin, but she had no problems. It’s easy to use and absorbs into the skin nicely. It is a preventative serum so the results are long-term and so it should become part of a daily skincare routine.
OLAY REGENERIST Luminous Niacinamide Serum for Brightening Dark Spots
OLAY continues to be an old faithful in the skincare department. I am sure many of us have used OLAY products during our lives. There are very mixed reviews online as customers either love it or hate it. Our reviewer felt it made her skin softer and smoother but her dark spots did not reduce. The price drew us to this one. There are lots of offers at half price. It is nice and light and you don’t need too much. Our reviewer had no reactions and said it was easily absorbed.
This is one for those who do not have a lot of dark spots.
CLINIQUE Even Better Clinical Dark Spot Corrector
Clinique can always be relied upon for producing scientifically well-researched products and their sales assistants are well-trained to understand the needs of older skin. This product was recommended for me at the John Lewis Clinique counter.
The dual-chamber pump releases a blend of clinical-strength serum and calming lotion to fade the appearance of dark spots and prevent irritation, a root cause of pigmentation. It buffs away dead cells with salicylic acid , brightens with blackout yeast extract and vitamin C and keeps sensitive skin in check with soothing turmeric.
I think this product is as good as some of the ones that are £30 more expensive.
THE ORDINARY ALPHA ARBUTIN 2% + HA:
Best for: All types of hyperpigmentation
The chemistry-led beauty brand that prides itself on “clinical formulations with integrity” has created this acid, which directly works to reduce the look of hyperpigmentation. For anyone who is really on a budget, this is the only product you need. The two per cent alpha-arbutin is a higher concentration than the standard one per cent used in other products.
It is slightly sticky because of the hyaluronic acid used to support the solution, but if you don’t mind it, use a few drops day and night for the best results. Otherwise, use it at night before bed. Over the course of a month, our tester’s hyperpigmentation patches slowly lightened. However, we wouldn’t recommend this for very sensitive skin as it could be a bit too harsh and lead to breakouts.
iS CLINICAL WHITE LIGHTENING SERUM 15ml:
Best for: Melasma
iS Clinical is made up of a team of world-renowned pharmacologists who develop results-driven products with cutting edge science. This serum is one of the most expensive in our roundup, but for a reason. Equipped to treat melasma in the shortest space of time (results showed a near to total fading of melasma in six days), it is designed as a night serum, but be sure to apply sparingly as the solution is potent.
It contains a brightening mushroom extract and alpha-arbutin with natural exfoliant sugar cane extract. It is hydroquinone-free, which is impressive as most melasma creams contain this substance that controversially has been linked to some quite severe skin conditions. Long-term, this serum actually helps skin to produce less melanin, which prevents the problem of discolouration in the future.
KORRES WILD ROSE 24-HOUR MOISTURISING & BRIGHTENING CREAM:
Best for: Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation
The Greek beauty brand that focuses on using natural ingredients and homoeopathic remedies has created a 96.8 per cent natural formulation brightening cream to help treat hyperpigmentation using wild rose oil. High in Vitamin C, this is what works to correct the pigmentation while making the skin brighter. The fragrance-free cream is quite thick to touch but glides on effortlessly and actually dries completely matte, and leaves the skin feeling soft and smooth.
Well-priced and suitable for vegetarians and vegans, this is a great option for anyone who has quite sensitive skin and doesn’t want to risk breakouts from using high potency AHAs. However, this does mean that the results are not as visible within a few weeks of use and will need to be used for a good few months before the fading of pigmentation takes effect.
OLE HENRIKSEN GLOW 2OH DARK SPOT TONER:
Made by a Danish skin cosmetician who was inspired to enter the world of beauty after developing cystic acne, this toner is ideal for anyone who would like to add an extra layer of treatment into their hyperpigmentation routine. It contains high potency glycolic acid and lactic acid alongside witch hazel water, lemon, sugar cane, liquorice root, camomile and sandalwood extracts. What you get is a cleanser that tingles when it touches your skin, but still gentle enough to use every day. The brand recommends using this at night, before a moisturiser.
The sugary lemon scent is pleasant, and after a few weeks of use, skin does look brighter. If your dark spots or acne scars are particularly bad, we wouldn’t recommend just using this toner because it might be some time before you see any results, however it is a great post-inflammatory treatment to add alongside your serums and moisturisers, and it is very affordable.