3 Ways To Brighten Melasma & Dark Spots, From A Top Derm
Melasma patches often pop up due to hormonal shifts in the body, such as pregnancy or menopause. While you can't fully control your hormones, you can certainly support your skin topically to encourage subtler dark spots or even eliminate them completely.
Below, three essential steps for tending to melasma patches, straight from board-certified dermatologist Hadley King, M.D.:
Never skip SPF
"Sun protection is the most important thing you can do to prevent sun-related dark spots like lentigines and melasma," King says. (Lentigines is a fancy word for "freckles," FYI.) She adds that both sun protection and being mindful about sun exposure are critical.
Does this mean you should never spend time in the sun? Not at all. Instead, "That means broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher on an everyday basis, combined with other sun-smart behaviors like avoiding peak UV hours, seeking shade, and wearing protective clothing, a broad-brimmed hat, and UV-shielding sunglasses," she says.
Her sunscreen pick: Brush on Block's Sheer Genius Mineral Sunscreen + Moisture SPF 50. "[It's an] all-mineral non-nano formulation that also moisturizes and supports the skin barrier. It goes on sheer, [and it's] easy to wear alone or under makeup," she notes.
Use strategic topicals
Next, you should be using topical serums and moisturizers that strategically target dark spots. Below, a few ingredients to look for in your next skin care purchase:
- Arbutin: "A glycosylated form of hydroquinone that is extracted from the bearberry plant. Applied topically, it inhibits an enzyme called tyrosinase, which is needed to produce melanin, and thus prevents the formation of melanin," King explains.
- Kojic acid: A chemical produced from some forms of fungi, kojic acid is another option. "It is used as a skin-lightening ingredient for hyperpigmented skin conditions such as melasma and post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation," King says. "It works by blocking tyrosine from forming, which then prevents melanin production."
- Tranexamic acid: "Studies have shown that tranexamic acid slows melanin synthesis by inhibiting the plasminogen/plasmin pathway1," King says. "Doing so blocks interactions between melanocytes and keratinocytes. Consequently, using either oral2 or topical tranexamic acid can decrease melasma-associated skin pigmentation."
- Niacinamide: "Some studies have found that niacinamidemay help reduce the appearance of age spots3 and other forms of skin discoloration," she notes. What's more, niacinamide is a potent antioxidant that helps to brighten your overall complexion, reduce redness, and strengthen the skin barrier.
Once you have your brightening topicals in your skin care routine, it's time to think about exfoliation. Those with melasma or dark spots can certainly benefit from regular exfoliation, but you'll want to approach it in a way that's tailored for sensitive skin.
Look for toners and serums with gentle alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs) or enzyme exfoliants. This way, you avoid going overboard with harsh exfoliants and irritating your skin barrier. See, when this skin function becomes compromised, you're more susceptible to sun damage (even if you're wearing SPF), and this may only result in more discoloration.
If you're trying to brighten your melasma patches, remember to be diligent with your sun care, use brightening ingredients, and gently exfoliate your skin regularly. Curious about why dark spots show up in the first place? Check out this guide.
Hannah Frye is the Assistant Beauty Editor at mindbodygreen. She has a B.S. in journalism and a minor in women’s, gender, and queer studies from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. Hannah has written across lifestyle sections including health, wellness, sustainability, personal development, and more. She previously interned for Almost 30, a top-rated health and wellness podcast. In her current role, Hannah reports on the latest beauty trends, holistic skincare approaches, must-have makeup products, and inclusivity in the beauty industry. She currently lives in New York City.