The term hyperpigmentation refers to the dark, discolored patches of skin that occur when melanin is overproduced. According to the American Osteopathic College of Dermatology, reasons for this overproduction include sun exposure, skin damage, hormones and certain medications. The condition is typically harmless, though its appearance on prominent areas of the body--such as the face--can affect your self-esteem. Fortunately, there are several over-the-counter fade creams intended for home use. At-home creams and lotions lighten dark spots over time and offer a less-expensive, less-invasive alternative to professional treatments. Consult a professional to determine one that is suitable for you.
Wash your face with soap and lukewarm water, then pat dry. Refrain from using harsh cleansers, as these can dry out and irritate the skin.
Apply the hydroquinone cream to the treatment area. Rub it in well, making sure that the medication stays within the patches of discoloration. Hydroquinone is a bleaching agent that works by preventing melanin production, according to the book “The Dermadoctor Skinstruction Manual” by Dr. Audrey Kunin. It affects both abnormally and normally pigmented skin; therefore, application outside of the intended treatment area can result in spots of lighter-than-average pigmentation.
Wash your hands to remove any remaining hydroquinone. Kunin recommends using the treatment twice a day, once in the morning and once at night. During the day, wear a broad-spectrum SPF 15 sunscreen or moisturizer to prevent hyperpigmented areas from further darkening.
Wash your face with a mild soap. Rinse with tepid water, then dry completely.
Apply a kojic acid fade cream twice a day. Kojic acid is a skin lightener derived from fungus. Like hydroquinone, kojic acid fades hyperpigmentation by stopping the production of melanin. In fact, the Cleveland Clinic recommends kojic acid as an alternative for those who are unable to use hydroquinone.
Wash and dry your hands. Protect the treatment area from the sun with sunscreen or a wide-brimmed hat.
Cleanse and dry your face.
Apply glycolic acid lotion over your entire face. This ingredient is a chemical exfoliant, meaning it helps remove the top layer of skin without the use of the rough “scrubbers” associated with traditional exfoliators. By encouraging cell turn over, glycolic acid essentially peels away superficial dark marks caused by hyperpigmentation.
Apply a light moisturizer. This will help prevent dryness, one of the side effects of glycolic acid use, says Discovery Health. Glycolic acid products are typically intended for twice daily application, but use the treatment once a day if your skin becomes overly dry. During the day, use a moisturizer that contains an SPF of 15 or higher.
Both hydroquinone and glycolic acid come in prescription and non-prescription formulations. You can buy 2 percent hydroquinone and 5 percent to 10 percent glycolic acid in stores. However, your doctor may prescribe stronger preparations. Kojic acid is also available over-the-counter in strengths of up to 1 percent.
There is no quick fix for hyperpigmentation, and the use of fade creams, especially those sold over-the-counter, requires time and patience. Even highly concentrated formulas can take several weeks to several months to achieve results, says MayoClinic.com.
All three ingredients can cause irritation and sun sensitivity. When using topical fade creams, protect your face from the sun and monitor your skin carefully. Excessive irritation can actually cause discoloration known as post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, warns Kunin.