Pigmentation And Dark Spots: What Causes Them And How To Manage Them Naturally

Medically reviewed by Dr. Hari Hara Sudhan, MD, Dermatologist
by Ramona Sinha

Whether it is sun spots, age spots, freckles, sun damage, or melasma – skin pigmentation is a common issue. While imperfections can be beautiful, you cannot deny that if not appropriately addressed, those tiny brown spots adorning your cheeks or nose can become a real problem. Hyperpigmentation is usually harmless. However, it may also indicate an underlying medical condition.

If you got these spots because you didn’t take proper care of your skin, you can take steps to fade them. You can use natural methods instead of resorting to laser treatment. Keep reading.

What Is Skin Pigmentation?

Any discoloration of the skin is known as pigmentation. This common problem – in which you develop darker patches on your skin – is faced by both men and women. It is caused by excess melanin, the pigment that gives you your natural skin tone. When this pigment forms a deposit in the skin, it causes pigmentation (or hyperpigmentation).

Note: Not all pigmentations are completely harmless. Some may be a sign of an underlying disease too. Consult a doctor if you notice any skin discoloration.

There are several types of pigmentation:

  • Age spots are the most common type of skin pigmentation and are a result of sun damage. They are often found in the areas frequently exposed to the sun.
  • Melasma or chloasma is yet another type of hyperpigmentation characterized by spots that are very similar to age spots but cover a larger area on the skin. These spots mostly appear due to hormonal changes. For instance, during pregnancy, the hormones may trigger the overproduction of melanin and cause darkening of the skin.
  • Freckles (ephelides) are a type of pigmentation caused by sun exposure. They appear as tiny dots and specks on your face and shoulder areas.

What Causes Spots And Pigmentation?

UV rays are the biggest culprits that trigger the overproduction of melanin. However, the damage caused by UV rays is not visible immediately. Hence, if you have developed pigmentation on your face recently, it is most likely a result of the damage caused to your skin about a decade ago.

If you have been using sunscreen all your life but are still experiencing skin pigmentation, don’t get baffled. There are other factors that may cause skin pigmentation:

  • Skin damage caused by injury (also called post-inflammatory pigmentation)
  • Hormonal changes during pregnancy
  • Skin rashes
  • Skin infection (such as acne)
  • Medical conditions

It is extremely important to consult a doctor when you see any changes in your skin color. Although most spots and hyperpigmentation are harmless and occur mainly due to age, sun exposure, or negligence, in some cases, they may also indicate a medical issue. Hence, before you opt for any alternative home remedies for hyperpigmentation and spots, you need to know what type of hyperpigmentation it is and what caused it.

If your spots are harmless, and you want to reduce their appearance quickly, your doctor may suggest chemical peels with acids, such as lactic, glycolic, salicylic, or citric acid. Other than that, you can also try home remedies to help fade the pigmentation and blemishes.

Home Remedies For Pigmentation

These home remedies will not help fade the pigmentation and spots completely. However, they can help improve their appearance and make them less apparent. These remedies take time to show results, so you need to be patient. If your pigmentation and spots are not caused by any medical issues, you may try these home remedies.

1. Apple Cider Vinegar

Apple cider vinegar contains polyphenols (1). These polyphenols may be beneficial for the skin. However, there is no scientific proof that it can manage pigmentation. People who have used ACV often found it beneficial in managing pigmentation and other skin issues.

How To Use: To use ACV for pigmentation and spots, mix a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar and water in a container (take equal parts of both depending on the treatment area). Dip a cotton swab into the mixture and apply it all over the affected area. Leave it on for 3 minutes or until it dries completely. Wash it off with lukewarm water. Repeat two times daily.

2. Aloe Vera

Aloe vera contains an active ingredient called aloin that has skin lightening properties (2).

How To Use: Mix 2 tablespoons of fresh aloe vera gel and 1 teaspoon honey in a bowl. Let the mixture sit for 5-10 minutes. Apply it all over the affected area and let it dry. Wash your face with lukewarm water.

3. Green Tea

Tyrosinase is an enzyme found in your body that is responsible for pigmentation. Green tea extracts have been found to inhibit mushroom tyrosinase (in vitro), which may have a depigmenting effect (3). However, more studies are required to establish its efficacy.

How To Use: Steep a green tea bag in a cup of hot water and wait for it to cool down. Rub the tea bag on the affected area. Repeat this treatment two times daily.

4. Lemon

Lemon is a potent bleaching agent and has skin lightening properties. It is used in many skin lightening formulations, such as Lucederm, Meladerm, and Skin Bright (4). However, lemon juice can irritate sensitive skin, so do a patch test on your arm before using it. Also, make sure that you apply sunscreen after using this remedy because lemon juice can make your skin photosensitive.

How To Use: Mix a tablespoon of diluted lemon juice with a teaspoon of organic honey. Apply the mixture on the affected area and wait for 15 minutes before washing it off with lukewarm water.

[ Read: Best Homemade Lemon Face Packs For Clear Skin ]

5. Red Onion

Red onion is often used in scar lightening creams. A study done on mushroom tyrosinase found that the skin of red onion contains ingredients with potential for skin-whitening cosmetics (5).

How To Use: Take a slice of red onion and rub it on the affected area. Let it stay for 10 minutes and then wash it off. Repeat the treatment two times daily.

6. Licorice Extract

Licorice contains glabridin, a polyphenolic flavonoid that helps prevent UV-induced pigmentation and has an anti-inflammatory effect. However, further studies are required to establish the depigmenting property (3).

How To Use: Boil 4-5 licorice roots in water. Let the liquid cool down and strain it into a spray bottle. Apply it as a mist twice daily.

Note: Store the licorice extract in the refrigerator and use it within 8-10 days.

7. Milk

Milk contains lactic acid, which is often used in chemical peels to brighten and whiten skin. It has also been found that lactic acid can be used to treat melasma (6).

How To Use: Apply fresh milk with a cotton swab on the affected area and let it dry. Wash it off with lukewarm water. Do this two times daily.

8. Tomato

Tomato contains lycopene that can reduce the long-term effects of photodamage (7). Since spots and pigmentation are also long-term consequences of photodamage, tomato may help lighten them.

How To Use: Slice a tomato and rub it on the spots. Let it dry, then wash it off with lukewarm water. Do this two times daily.

[ Read: Homemade Tomato Face Packs ]

9. Black Tea

Black tea extract is said to have a skin-whitening effect. A study found that when applied to pigmented spots on guinea pigs, black tea inhibited the development of melanocytes and reduced hyperpigmentation (8).

How To Use: Boil a tablespoon of tea leaves in water. Let the water cool down and strain it into a bowl. Apply it on the affected area with cotton balls. Use it two times daily.

10. Orange Peel

Orange peel extracts can reduce melanin deposits, fade dark spots, and brighten your skin. The study was done on humans, and none of the subjects developed any skin irritation (9).

How To Use: You can dry and powder orange peels, mix it with a teaspoon of diluted lemon juice and honey, and apply it as a face mask. Use the face mask three times a week.

11. Potato

Potato contains azelaic acid that may help reduce blemishes and hyperpigmentation caused by acne and breakouts (10).

How To Use: Slice a potato and rub it on the spots. Wash it off after it dries. You can do this once daily.

12. Sandalwood Oil

Sandalwood oil contains alpha-santalol that helps inhibits tyrosinase and UV-induced and age-related pigmentation (11).

How To Use: Mix 2-3 drops of sandalwood oil with a carrier oil (such as jojoba or sweet almond oil) and apply it to the affected area. Use this once daily.

Natural ingredients usually do not have any major side effects unless you are allergic to them or have hypersensitive skin. They are safe but may take time to show results. If your condition is severe and you want quick results, you may talk to your doctor for more effective medical treatment options.

Medical Treatment Options For Pigmentation And Spots

The treatment you undergo depends on the cause of your hyperpigmentation. If it is due to other health-related issues, treating the underlying problem can help reduce pigmentation. Some of the common treatments options include:

Preventing unwanted skin darkening is the first step to avoiding hyperpigmentation in the future. You need to take good care of your skin and limit sun exposure. Here are some tips you can follow to prevent skin pigmentation.

Tips To Prevent Skin Pigmentation

1. Use Sun Protection Everyday

Exposure to UV rays triggers sun spots, age spots, dark patches, and hyperpigmentation. Do not forget to apply sunscreen lotion on all exposed areas. Excessive sun exposure activates the melanin production system, and a good sunscreen helps prevent that.

2. Apply Anti-Inflammatory Skin Care Products

Whether it is acne or dermatitis, skin inflammation often leaves behind marks that are tough to erase later and eventually make your skin look dark and pigmented. Let your skin heal by using anti-inflammatory skincare products.

3. Eat Healthy

A healthy and balanced diet keeps your skin and body healthy. Your body can use the vitamins and nutrients derived from the diet to trigger faster healing.

Almost all of us have some form of hyperpigmentation. These natural remedies can help minimize their appearance and prevent any future damage. However, before trying any natural remedy or alternative treatment, consult a doctor and find out the reason behind your hyperpigmentation. If you have ignored those spots all these days, it’s time you get serious about them.

Let us know about your experience on this post on home remedies for pigmentation in the comments section below.

11 sources

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Ramona Sinha

Ramona has a Master's degree in English Literature. She believes that beauty begins with a good skin care regimen and is on a mission to eliminate all toxins from her routine. She helps readers select products and ingredients specific to their skin type and gives out tips to keep their skin healthy in a natural way. When Ramona is not working or experimenting with a new skin care product or ingredient, her books and a passion for music, good food, and traveling keep her busy.