Hyperpigmentation. Melasma. Sun spots. Uneven skin tone. Discoloration.
Whatever you call it and whatever its cause, it’s a relatively new thorn in my side and I refuse to live with it.
And it’s a tricky nuisance too.
One day it’s not there. One day it is. Commanding your full attention and endless scrutiny in the mirror.
Products proven to treat it may be damaging. May have side effects. May be pricey. And after all that, may not even work on you.
It may go away. It may come back.
It’s all very, verrrry frustrating.
Even derms, off the record, are still somewhat baffled by the nature of this unsightly beast and how to best treat it per patient.
It’s been my skin nemesis for about two and a half years now and while my case was never severe, it was incredibly bothersome. Especially since I start some of my beauty videos without makeup and do a lot of work on-camera (damn you, HD!). I’ve tried lotions and potions, scrubs and spa services. I’ve also strongly considered the somewhat extreme (and very expensive) Fraxel Dual where the top layer of skin is lasered (read: purposely and carefully damaged) to the point where collagen is stimulated and new healthy skin replaces it. I’ve been optimistic, disappointed, excited, discouraged, and mostly aggravated at its persistence.
Here’s the rocky road I’ve been down since first seeing darker patches of skin on my cheekbones, where I used to have pretty freckles that only came out in the summer.
Makeup - Never underestimate the power of concealer. Now I’m not a full-coverage kind of girl. I prefer a BB cream or a sheer MAC Face & Body foundation for most days and occasions. But in the past couple of years, I’ve tried concealers by the dozen. Unlike for under eye or color correction, with this type of skin issue you need to pat on a heavy duty concealer in an exact shade match to your normal skintone – it will cover the pigmentation and blend seamlessly. Set it with powder. Since I only have a few areas with discoloration and it’s not very dark, this is possibly the easiest and cheapest solution. But I of course won’t be satisfied until my skin is completely even, given my line of work not to mention my stubborn disposition :)
Estrogen Reduction – Simply put, I got off the pill. While I was hoping for a miracle, this alone just slightly improved my skin.
Prescription Hydroquinone – Many women swear by it so even though it is said to be potentially unsafe, I gave it a shot. Oh vanity!! After a few months, it only slightly lightened the color of my patches. I did not refill the prescription.
Prescription Retin-A – I used this in conjunction with the hydroquinone, as instructed by a derm. It caused my skin to dry up and flake as well as break out (very unusual for me, I have normal-to-oily skin and very rarely have acne or reactions). I started using it more sparingly and finally listened to my skin which seemed to be silently but clearly communicating: stop doing this to me.
Microdermabrasion Facials – I am a big fan of gentle exfoliation, I believe it leaves my skin smooth and supple (and better able to receive skincare benefits). But since most discoloration isn’t a surface imperfection but rather a much deeper (literally) problem, aggressive microderm at a spa by a pro didn’t help me.
Glycolic Peels - These are no joke. They burn. And as a series, they burn a whole in your wallet. But they actually did work for me. I would say they improved my spots by 40%. I wanted flawless so I wasn’t done in my search for a fix but for someone plagued with dark patches, this option could be a life-changer.
Clinique Even Better Clinical Dark Spot Corrector – This serum also worked for me and improved my spots by 50%. Pretty impressive. But over the summer, even with sunscreen, those faded spots got a little darker again. This product (and all products used to treat uneven skintone) must be used with a very high, broad-spectrum SPF daily. [NOTE: I recommend, and live by, La Roche-Posay SPF 50 Mineral Tinted Ultra Light Sunscreen Fluid.] It also must be accompanied by a shot of reality. I got very excited when this started to work but over time, while it had lightened spots, it couldn’t remove them. I hit a patch plateau.
StriVectin-EV Get Even Spot Repair – This worked but the Clinique worked better in my experience for my skin. But I did see a visible improvement with this product.
iS Clinical White Lightening Complex and Serum – This set was shipped to me in a shiny metal kit that felt full of promise. I did see a decent improvement but it was not as noticeable as with the Glycolic Peels or the Clinique serum. Overall, though, my skin looked pretty great using this system. Perfect for someone who just wants more radiant skin.
Boscia Bright White Mask – Similar to the iS Clinical product duo, the Boscia mask made my skin glow. It looked lush and luminous (and the mask was superfun to use and peel off) but I didn’t seen a noticeable difference pigmentation-wise.
Mario Badescu Glycolic Gel – This gel also improved skin texture and appearance but did not address pigmentation issues. However, using it in combination with other methods did seem to help in the overall appearance of my skin.
Garnier Clinical Dark Spot Corrector Skin Renew - I was happy to find that a much less expensive product also showed improvement. But by this point, I wanted something more dramatic. I wanted my old skin back. I was a step away from booking the Fraxel.
Elure Advanced Brightening Lotion and Night Cream - I read about Elure online and in some trusted beauty publications and it was honestly depicted as the holy grail for people with pigmentation problems. I was cautiously optimistic given my past experiences. By now my spots were not very dark but still very troublesome. Their placement on my cheekbones kind of made it look as though my face was hollow there (think about how light and dark is used for highlighting and contouring) so I felt my face looked somewhat gaunt, especially on video and in photographs. Ideally, cheeks should be plump and cheekbones high and accented by light. Mine, while improved, were still not ideal with these patches covering and distorting them. I reached out to the company and started using the 2-step Elure day lotion and 2-step Elure night cream religiously for a month and a half.
I was besides myself when 2 days after, I saw a difference. The edges of the patches seemed to be shrinking inwards. I stared for maybe an hour wondering if my mind was playing tricks on me. By day 7, the patches started getting lighter and, to my amazement, breaking up into freckles. This was the fastest-acting product I’d tested to date! By day 14, the edges of the now-smaller patches were blending into my skin. I could no longer see exact outlines. By day 21, some patches completely dissipated into freckles and others were just a touch or two darker than the rest of my skin.
A month and a half later, I still see subtle improvements over time. Even those freckles are now lighter. My skin is actually pretty close to perfect (or back to normal in terms of even tone, I should say, something I took for granted my whole life). Of course I’m wondering if Elure will be the one to get me there fully or if I will plateau again just shy of problem-solved. Or if next summer, despite my full-body coating of sunscreen, the patches will return. Either way, I am thrilled with it. And while Elure is a pretty penny, I would absolutely purchase it when I run out if I’m not yet crystal clear. Over time, it will save over all those other combined methods not to mention a lifetime of serious-business concealer.
And the freedom of waking up and not staring at spots will be much-enjoyed.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a journey if not for some things I’ve learned along the way.
1. Patience. We all want overnight solutions. These products take time to work. Stick with a regimen for at least a month or two so long as it doesn’t cause a bad reaction. This is not the time to be non-committal.
2. Perspective. Even though it is your face and it is something that may bother you, it could be worse. It’s not a threat to your health and unless it’s a severe case, most people hardly notice. So - while it’s not welcome, it’s not the worst thing ever.
3. Focus. Similar to perspective, you can focus on what you don’t like or play up what you do. It’s amazing how bright red lips or metallic smoky eyes can steal all the attention. Change your focus and you change what other people focus on.
4. Realistic Expectations. If your goal is permanently perfect, flawless, even skin, these products all fail. If your goal is an improvement, big or small, to something that troubles you, these products all succeed. It all depends on your outlook.
5. Hope. Even with realistic expectations, you can still hold on to hope. These products didn’t even exist years ago and the science, technology and innovation that got them here is only going to get better. I see a brighter future.
NOTE: I was given complimentary samples of the Clinique Even Better Clinical Dark Spot Corrector, the StriVectin-EV Get Even Spot Repair, iS Clinical White Lightening Set, the Boscia Bright White Mask, the Mario Badescu Glycolic Gel, the Garnier Clinical Dark Spot Corrector and Elure Advanced Brightening Lotion and Night Cream. This post is not sponsored and all reviews and thoughts are unbiased and my own.