Natural Remedies for Dark Spots

Woman with aloe face mask
Trinette Reed/Stocksy United

Natural or plant-based remedies are often used in an effort to remove dark spots from the skin of the face. Sometimes known as sun spots, liver spots, or age spots, dark spots are caused by hyperpigmentation, an overproduction or inappropriate deposition of melanin (the pigment responsible for giving your skin its natural color). They often appear on the face, hands, arms, and other areas frequently exposed to the sun.

Dark spots can form as a result of years of exposure to the sun's ultraviolet rays. They can also result from the natural aging process, during pregnancy, from the use of birth control pills or estrogen therapy (a condition known as melasma), after an inflammatory skin condition such acne (known as post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation), or from other factors.

Dark spots are more common in people with darker skin due to the higher melanin content of their skin. In people with fair skin, overexposure to the sun's ultraviolet rays are the leading cause of dark spots.

Although they sometimes resemble moles and other growths associated with skin cancer, dark spots are often harmless and don't need to be treated. If you do want to get them removed, skin-lightening products are a popular option, and strategies such as chemical peels and laser therapy are occasionally recommended.

There's some concern, however, about the safety of certain skin-lightening products. Hydroquinone, for instance, has been banned for safety reasons in a number of countries, and some skin-lightening creams have been found to contain unsafe levels of mercury and arsenic.

Natural Remedies for Dark Spots

A number of natural substances are being explored as treatments for removing dark spots on the face. However, there's currently a lack of scientific support for their effectiveness and little is known about side effects. Here's a look at some of the more popular ingredients:

Aloe Vera

A plant often used topically for a variety of skin conditions (including sunburn), aloe vera contains aloesin, a compound that has been shown in preliminary laboratory studies to inhibit the pigmentation process in the skin. A small study found that topical treatment with aloesin suppressed pigmentation after exposure to UV radiation.

Pomegranate

Proponents suggest that ellagic acid (an antioxidant compound found in pomegranates, cherries, and strawberries) may help with dark spots on the face by interfering with tyrosinase, an enzyme needed to produce the melanin pigment in skin. A small study published in 2014 explored the use of a topical pomegranate skin extract on skin for a period of 12 weeks and the results suggested that the extract had an impact on skin redness and skin melanin levels.

Tea Polypenols

Green tea is rich in epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), a polyphenol compound touted for its skin-protective effects. Preliminary research suggests that EGCG may help to reduce melanin production, as well as have positive effects on skin hydration, moisture retention, and wrinkle formation. Other research suggests that black tea, which is fermented, produces polyphenols (such as thearubigins and theaflavins) that may inhibit melanin formation and deposition by a greater extent.

Soy

Soy is a substance, derived from the soybean plant, said to offer skin brightening benefits. There's some evidence that it may prevent melanin from being carried to the skin's surface. Preliminary research also suggests that soy may protect against UVB-induced skin damage.

Essential Oils

An essential oil used in aromatherapy, yuzu essential oil (Citrus junos) is often said to be a remedy for a wide range of skin problems, including dark spots. Proponents suggest that the oil may have an anti-aging effect on skin. A preliminary laboratory study found that a yuzu extract applied to the skin resulted in a decrease in the melanin content in the skin.

Chrysanthemum boreale is another essential oil being explored as a possible topical skin care ingredient. Note that essential oils should be used very sparingly and shouldn't be applied directly to skin.

Side Effects

Little is known about the safety or adverse effects of topical remedies for dark spots. Side effects can include skin irritation, redness, rash, contact dermatitis, and allergic reactions. There may be a greater risk of skin irritation and other adverse effects when using these ingredients alone or in homemade remedies than in skin-care products that have been tested. Also be cautious about products purchased on the Internet where the ingredients (and purity) of the products may not be known.

Pregnant and breastfeeding women, children, and adolescents should avoid certain skin-lightning creams, serums, or treatments, and should consult a dermatologist before using any products. Some creams, for instance, have been found to contain mercury and have been known to cause mercury poisoning, a condition that can cause permanent effects in a child.

Topical treatments don't work overnight, so you should be wary of any company that claims to help dark spots disappear quickly and should avoid overusing any product.

Tips for Preventing Dark Spots

To prevent dark spots, it's important to limit your sun exposure and to use sunscreen whenever you spend time outdoors in daylight hours. It's particularly important to keep out of the sun when its rays are strongest, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Strategies such as dressing in clothing made of tightly woven fabrics, wearing sunglasses, and shielding your face and scalp with a wide-brimmed hat can also help stave off dark spots.

When selecting a sunscreen, opt for a broad-spectrum sunblock with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher. To ensure optimal protection, the Skin Cancer Foundation recommends applying the equivalent of a shot glass (two tablespoons) of sunscreen to the exposed areas of the face and body. This includes applying a nickel-sized dollop to the face alone.

The Bottom Line

Since dark spots are sometimes similar in appearance to cancerous growths, it's crucial to consult your physician if you experience any changes in your skin (such as an increase in the size of a dark spot). You should also seek medical attention if a dark spot has a jagged or otherwise irregular border.

Other causes for concern include dark spots with a combination of colors, as well as dark spots accompanied by such symptoms as bleeding, itching, and/or redness.

It can be frustrating to see dark spots on your face and you may be tempted to try skin creams and home remedies to fade them, but keep in mind that just because an ingredient is natural and/or plant-sourced doesn't mean it's safe for you.

While some of the above ingredients are readily available in skin care products, further research is needed on many natural substances to see if they are effective for dark spots. Consult a dermatologist to find the most suitable treatment for you.

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