Two dermatologists weigh in.

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how to treat and prevent dark spots
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Melanin is poppin—it's why some folks have skin glows just like pearls. Melanin even protects people from harmful skin damage. However, an excess of melanin can sometimes cause pesky and long-lasting dark spots—especially those with Black and Brown skin.

Unlike people with lighter skin, melanin-rich skin produces—and overproduces—melanin. Ultimately, this can lead to uneven skin texture and tone. While they're not exactly the bane of your existence, they sure are a nuisance. So, we hit up two dermatologists of color to share why dark spots form, how to get rid of them, and how to prevent them from forming.

Melanin describes a large group of molecules related to pigmentation in humans and animals. Additionally, research shows that melanocytes, the cells that produce different types of melanin, produce more melanin for darker-skinned individuals. This means dark spots show up deeper on Black and Brown folks. 

Rochester-based board-certified dermatologist Mara Weinstein, M.D. explains that melanin is a pigment that gives hair, skin, and eyes their color. Additionally, she says that melanin also protects the skin against ultraviolet rays.

"Everyone has roughly the same number of melanocytes, but the quantity of melanosomes (the cells that transport melanin) are different for different skin types," Dr. Weinstein explains. "In darker-skinned individuals, melanosomes are larger and more plentiful, therefore, the more melanosomes there are."

That being said, something as simple as a pimple will show up differently on someone with more melanin than others. However, depending on how much melanin one's skin produces, the degree of how people experience damage to the skin will vary.

According to Connecticut-based board-certified dermatologist Mona Gohara, M.D., highly melanated folks are more prone to have discoloration, or dark spots, after acne and pimples show up, known as post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, or PIH, because inflammation activates the release of melanin.

"Dark spots form when melanin goes into overdrive, usually in an endeavor to protect us from some type of trigger—often after inflammation," Dr. Gohara explains. "It appears as a darker patch after a pimple."

As the saying goes "time heals all wounds." Though it may be difficult to wait three months up to two years for dark spots to completely disappear as studies have shown, there are plenty of things to put into action now to prevent dark spots from forming and speeding up their recovery. Below, check out three expert-backed ways to actively get ahead of potential dark spots and address the blemishes you're currently treating. 

3 easy ways to care for your dark spots:

1. Use sunscreen every day.

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Sunscreen is the start of all dark spot prevention—and that goes for every skin type and tone. To ensure your skin is nourished and protected, apply sunscreen after your moisturizer: "Remember that all skin tones should use a sunscreen of broad-spectrum 30 or higher—and reapply every two hours," says Dr. Gohara. Moreover, studies show that SPF 30 is the minimum to help ​​with things like skin texture, clarity, and pigmented skin.

Sunscreen isn't just for when you're laying in the sun—sitting in front of a screen without SPF could cause major damage to the skin, too. To prevent giving dark spots a place to thrive on your face, make sure to protect your skin from the sun while you're indoors as well as outdoors. This rings true particularly for people with deeper skin tones. 

"Brown skin is more likely to be damaged from computer screens and cell phones," Dr. Gohara says. "[Blue light] can give you melasma, which is a blotchy discoloration that is much more common in those of us with more melanin."

2. Apply a dark spot corrector.

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If you already have a dark spot, not all is lost. For best results, apply a dark spot corrector in replacement or in addition to your serums to treat and lighten the dark spots. For the best results, start using one as soon as you see acne and pimples forming rather than waiting to act after the blemish is gone. "When [you] get acne, use a dark spot corrector almost immediately as the pimple resolves to avoid post-inflammatory dark spots," Dr. Gohara notes.

According to Dr. Gohara, hydroquinone has been the traditional dark spot fader. However, it's not as accessible as it used to be. With inflammation being the root of many dark spots, this serum contains anti-inflammatory ingredients to prevent things like PIH from forming on the skin.

"[Hydroquinone] isn't sold over the counter anymore," Dr. Gohara explains. "This product is a perfect, equally efficacious non-hydroquinone option which uses resorcinol and niacinamide to work its magic. Not irritating, cosmetically elegant, and very effective."

The product's bottle shows users see how the retinoid and niacinamide in the formula separate. However, once the user shakes it up, the two ingredients combine to create a bi-phase topical that treats inflammation and brightens dark spots.

3. Use a vitamin C serum to speed up recovery.

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According to Dr. Weinstein, post-inflammatory dark spots are typically reversible. One option is utilizing a vitamin C serum between your cleanser and moisturizer throughout your skincare routine as it's lightweight and can penetrate the skin better than a cream. Dr. Weinstein specifically recommends LOUM's Golden Vitamin C Serum, which "is a potent antioxidant, yet gentle, and great for preventing [dark spots] in all skin types."

Ultimately, the sooner you catch a dark spot forming, the quicker you should treat it. Dr. Weinstein adds that in addition to vitamin C, other brightening ingredients to look for are kojic acid, cysteamine, tranexamic acid, licorice root extract, and arbutin are helpful dark spot treatments to look for while you're browsing the beauty aisle.