As tempting as it might be to scratch a mosquito bite or squeeze a stubborn blackhead, think back to your mother's warning — "Don't pick!" — and pay attention. "Scratching and picking at a spot will only increase the inflammation that's responsible for skin discoloration," says Jeanine Downie, MD, a dermatologist and the director of Image Dermatology in Montclair, N.J. "The more you mess with it now, the worse it'll look later."
The sooner you treat hyper pigmentation, the faster it will fade, so begin using skin-brightening products as soon as a wound has healed. Start at the drugstore. "Ingredients like vitamin C, licorice root, and kojic acid help reduce hyper pigmentation by inhibiting tyrosinase, an enzyme responsible for the formation of skin-darkening melanin," explains cosmetic chemist Ni'Kita Wilson. Other ingredients to look for include such patented agents as pine tree bark extract and growth factors, which reverse sun damage by encouraging cell turnover.
While your primary goal with hyperpigmentation is to lighten the dark spots, an effective over-the-counter product should contain ingredients that benefit the skin in other ways. "In addition to addressing the pigment issues, a good product will have moisturizing agents like glycerin or hyaluronic acid, and maybe even a retinol to boost cell turnover". "These inactive ingredients allow the active brighteners to work more effectively."
If OTC remedies aren't getting rid of the dark spots, it's time to call in the pros. Considered the gold standard among dermatologists, prescription-strength hydroquinone is the most effective treatment for stubborn skin discoloration because it slows the production of pigment. "It's our go-to," says Dr. Downie, "because unlike many of the ingredients in OTC products, it almost always works at eliminating hyper pigmentation."
That being said, in high concentrations hydroquinone can cause sun sensitivity and may bleach the skin, so you need to be sure your dermatologist is monitoring the treatment closely.
Depending on how deep the hyperpigmentation is and what product you're using, it can take up to three months for your dark spots to fade completely. If topical solutions aren't fixing the problem, you may want to talk to your dermatologist about more aggressive methods, like laser treatments or chemical peels. (One exception: If you have melasma, lasers and chemical peels could make your hyperpigmentation worse.)
If your skin is prone to hyper-pigmentation, you'll probably get dark marks again (Sorry!). Still, you can take steps to minimize future damage. First of all, you should protect yourself against the triggers: Use acne medications to fight off pimples, and bug spray to prevent bites, and treat acne and bug bites as soon as possible. Finally, the importance of sun protection can't be stressed enough. "The UV rays just send the pigment into overdrive, turning dark spots darker". "You must wear sunblock daily on exposed areas."