Brightening products have ingredients that work to treat each condition. They work to block the production of pigment, or they help to increase cell turnover so that the darker-stained uppermost layers of the skin can exfoliate away, revealing lighter, healthier skin.
"Hydroquinone is a common one," says Zararian. "This ingredient is usually found in brightening creams and acts by bleaching the skin — or making it whiter. It's safer for lighter skin tones, while darker skinned people need to be cautious they don't lighten their normal skin accidentally (if they don't apply it only to the dark spots)." Vitamin C is an antioxidant that's safer to use because it works by decreasing pigment, and, Nazarian explains, "In this way, Vitamin C would be considered more of a 'lightening' or 'fading' cream." Melanozyme and kojic acid are more recently used ingredients that have gained popularity because of their safety profile. They both help lighten sun spots and fade post-inflammatory stains without the risk of bleaching the skin, so they're considered safe even on darker skin tones.
Once I fully understood exactly what dark spots were, and how brightening products help, I wondered what I should do next. In a market so massively oversaturated, how was I to pick a product that was right for me? Nazarian suggests, " Elure Advanced Brightening Lotion ($125) is best for sunspots because it uses Melanozyme. I love Ambi Fade Cream ($7) (with hydroquinone) for old acne stains. Vitamin C is in SkinMedica Vitamin C + E Complex ($90), which allows for overall cell turnover."
Though it is doable to buy a product and brighten hyperpigmentation, that's not the first step you should take in protecting yourself. Bowe offers, "Anyone with uneven tone or brown spots can benefit, but it's essential to use sun protective measures as well. You can undo the damage with these creams but then you are fighting an uphill battle if you don't protection your skin from whatever is triggering the pigment production in the first place (the sun, acne, etc). That's why it's so essential to wear sunscreen and make sure you're working to treat the cause of the issue."