Skin Lightening

Latest update: April 11, 2024
Medically reviewed by: Jennifer Trent MD, FAAD
How it works


Skin lightening can fade dark marks such as scars or hyperpigmentation. These treatments target melanocytes in the skin to stop their production of the pigment melanin. There are over-the-counter creams, prescription topical medications, and professional treatments available.

Patients must apply sunscreen religiously and avoid direct sunlight after all treatments. 

Hydroquinone is a popular bleaching cream used on scars, freckles, or melasma. It is effective in lightening these marks. OTC creams are generally less potent than ones prescribed by a dermatologist.

Kojic acid is another topical skin-lightening ingredient derived from a Japanese mushroom. While it can lighten pigmentation and age spots, it does not work as fast as hydroquinone.

Arbutine is a much gentler topical ingredient. This product protects the skin from sun damage and further darkening of scars.

Licorice root has anti-inflammatory properties and can lighten dark spots if applied 1-2 times a day. However, results tend not to be long-lasting. 

There are also clinical treatments that can lighten spots and hyperpigmentation. Chemical peels combine a cocktail of skin-brightening ingredients, such as retinol, vitamin C, glycolic acid, and hydroquinone. They can target the superficial layer of the skin without damaging the deeper layers.

Laser treatments emit a light beam to target dark spots and break up the pigment. They are an effective brightening procedure, but some are only suitable for lighter skin tones. Clear+Brilliant is a low-energy laser treatment ideal for darker skin tones.  Intense Pulsed Light (IPL) and BroadBand Light (BBL) can also brighten the complexion by removing dark spots.

Radiofrequency Microneedling uses controlled micro-injuries to boost collagen production. It punctures the skin with tiny needles while rejuvenating it with energy waves. A salt facial removes dead skin and smoothes out the complexion without thermal energy. Practitioners then apply serums together with LED therapy to reduce inflammation.
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Dr. Andrea Suarez, known on social media as Dr. Dray, uses one of her daily videos to talk about Kojic acid. She tells us why she likes it, why it's helpful, and what it does for the skin. She explains how this chemical is made and instances where it is found naturally. She talks about its inclusion in topical creams for the purpose of skin lightening and other uses. She discusses the varied benefits of the substance.

Intense Pulse Light (IPL) Therapy Helps Remove Dark Spots, Wrinkles, and More!

Registered Nurse, Elizabeth Marley, a laser and Microneedling specialist, takes a moment to speak to the viewers about Intense Pulse Light (IPL). She explains how this therapy is used to target and correct variances of color. She describes the advantages of IPL and explains and defines photo rejuvenation. She details the procedure and, using diagrams, explains how it works.