Freckles are cute on the under-10 set, but hyperpigmentation—their grown- up counterpart—can add years to an adult face. Typically brown in colour, it strikes all ages and may appear as sun spots, age spots or larger patches (melasma). “The sun, hormones, pregnancy, birth-control pills and genetics are all factors, but in the case of melasma, some people are just prone to it,” says Lupin.

Most products that target discolourations work by slowing or stopping underlying melanin produc- tion as well as fading the existing pigment. The most common—and, arguably, effective—ingredient is hydroquinone, which is available without a prescription in concentrations as high as four percent. But it shouldn’t be used for more than two years, says Dr. Mark Lupin, a dermatologist based in Victoria, B.C, because “long-term use can induce a blue coloration in the skin, and it has been banned in Europe because it can be mutagenic [potentially carcinogenic] in lab animals.” Less potent over-the-counter options include vitamin C and glucosamine (found in Estée Lauder’s new Idealist Even Skintone Illuminator) as well as kojic acid, azelaic acid, licorice extract and arbutin. Others work by speeding up the turnover of abnormal layers of skin where hyperpigmented cells accumulate. Look for alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs), retinol or [LR 2412]— the newest retinol alternative. This breakthrough patented molecule in Lancôme’s new Visionnaire [LR 2412 4%] Advanced Skin Corrector may deliver similar results on unevenness without irritation.

Derms are buzzing over Lumixyl, a peptide-based system that studies have found to be 5.5 times more effective at inhibiting melanin as an equivalent dosage of hydroquinone—without the irritation. It’s available through doctor’s offices and medispas as both a topical at-home treatment (no pre- scription required) and a SilkPeel infusion treatment. For more resilient skin types, Lupin also prescribes hydroquinone (up to an eight-percent concentration) or retinoids like Tazorac and Retin-A.

“If bleaching creams fail, we typically use a Fraxel laser,” says Dr. Nowell Solish, an assistant professor of dermatology at the University of Toronto. “It works best on significant pigment and dull skin—usually people in their 40s who have a lot of sun damage.” Not up for several days of intense redness and swelling? Chemical peels and intense pulsed light (IPL) treatments need less (if any) downtime but are better for younger skin with only minor pigment issues.

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Michelle Villett is the founder of Beautyeditor.ca. Check out her latest beauty how-tos, trend updates and more.