Brown Spots, Melasma & Pigment Problems

Dear Readers - So many people have problems with uneven pigment due to sun damage, melasma, skin irritation and acne, that I'd like to give you the basic products that you need to use to help control and improve pigment problems. Below are the products that are a must. Hydroquinones are their own issue and need to be customized for each person. They may make pigment worse, especially if used for too long or in high concentrations.

When trying new products, always start one at a time about 3-7 days apart, so if you have a problem, you know which product it is!

Morning: 1) Gentle cleanser (over scrubbing makes pigment worse)
2) A potent antioxidant (they have been shown to decrease pigment over time)
3) Moisturizer if needed (dry skin is more easily irritated which makes pigment worse)
4) Double sunscreen layer with at least 10-20% zinc (no sunscreen blocks UVA perfectly but zinc is the best at it)
5) A hat whenever possible
Evening: 1) Gentle cleanser
2) A plant based skin lightener/brightener
3) A gentle Vit A cousin - a retinoid (these help the pigment move out of the skin faster and disperse more evenly) A prescription version is fine also but make sure    you don't get irritated - it makes pigment problems worse.
4) Moisturizer - Use the moisturizer first if retinoids tend to irritate you.
*Remember that cell growth factors, peptides and other marketed products have not been shown to help with pigment and are just marketing.
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  • Gentle Cleanser
    Gentle Cleanser
    SkinCeuticals
    $35.00

    Size: 6.8 fl oz

    Who It's For

    All skin types but not for very sensitive skin. If you have oily and acne prone may want a cleanser that's more drying or medicated.

    Dr. Irwin's Product Review

    Creamy, gentle and good for most all skin types. Doesn’t foam. Slight orange scent that's nice.

    How to Use

    Twice daily

    Ingredients

    Aqua (Water), Carbomer, C12 15 Alkyl Benzoate, Methyl Gluceth 20, Cetyl Alcohol, Tridecyl Stearate, Neopentyl Glycol Dicaprylate/Dicaprate, Tridecyl Trimellitate, Glyceryl Stearate, PEG 100 Stearate, Phenoxyethanol, Methylparaben, Ethylparaben, Butylparaben, Propylparaben, Isobutylparaben, Citrus Aurantium Dulcis Oil (Orange), Thriethanolamine, Polysorbate 20, Disodium EDTA

  • antioxidants
    Phloretin CF Gel
    SkinCeuticals
    $165.00

    Size: 1 fl. oz

    Who It's For

    All but sensitive skin.  If you are sensitive, try this in a small amount for a few days on a test area.  

    Dr. Irwin's Product Review

    SkinCeuticals made its name originally by making the best antioxidants, and this one is no exception. 3 antioxidants in one, it contains L-ascorbic acid 10%, phloretin 2%, and ferulic acid 0.5%. My personal antioxidant under my sunscreen. The same high quality without the glass jars - love the new closed pump with its travel-friendly packaging. Oxidizes only minimally with time (turns slightly yellow).

    How to Use

    Apply after cleansing and under your moisturizer and/or sunscreen.

    Ingredients

    2% Phloretin, 10% L-Ascorbic Acid (vitamin C), 0.5% Ferulic Acid

  • Rich and affordable moisturizing skin cream
    Replenish Hydrating Cream
    SkinMedica
    $66.00

    Size: 2 oz

    Who It's For

    Those with dry or very dry skin.

    Dr. Irwin's Product Review

    Similar to La Mer but at half the price, this product is very moisturizing.  Stays on the skin longer than most.  In my own skin care product regimen especially in dryer climates or skiing.  Has a very subtle fragrance that most patients like.

    The Replenish Hydrating Cream comes now in SkinMedica packaging (Allegan, the owner of Vivite, bought SkinMedica).  But it is the same product.

    How to Use

    One to three times a day.

    Ingredients

    Purified Water, Glycerin, Cyclotetrasiloxane, Sucrose Cocoate, Cetyl Alcohol, Stearyl Alcohol, Cyclopentasiloxane, Isododecane, Isohexadecane, Cyclohexasiloxane, Sericin, Glyceryl Stearate, PEG-100 Stearate, Sodium PCA, Microcrystalline Cellulose, Tocopheryl Acetate, Bisabolol, Glycosaminoglycans, Imidazolidinyl Urea, Cholesterol, Polysilicone-11, Millet (Panicum Millaceum) Extract, Methylparaben, Camellia Oleifera Extract, Cellulose Gum, Cetyl Hydroxyethylcellulose, Propylparaben, Tocopherol, Butylene Glycol Linoleic Acid, Linolenic Acid, Ceramide III, Allantoin Glycyrrhetinic Acid, Superoxide Dismutase, And Magnesium Ascorbyl Phosphate

  • light moisturizer, normal or oily skin
    Daily Moisture
    SkinCeuticals
    $63.00

    Size: 2 fl oz

    Who It's For

    Normal or combination skin, or 40+ skin that is not too dry.

    Dr. Irwin's Product Review

    This lightweight, pore-minimizing moisturizer is for normal or combination skin. A nice, light basic moisturizer. Contains marine and plant extracts in small amounts. This is perfect if you are about 30 with normal or combination skin or older but not too dry.

    How to Use

    Once or twice daily

    Ingredients

    Water, Hypnea Musciformis extract, Gelidiela Acerosa extract, Sargassum Filipendula extract, Sorbitol, Cetyl Palmitate, Stearic Acid, Stearyl Benzoate, Butylene Glycol, Sanguisorba Officinalis extract, Glycerin, Alpha Tocopherol, Cyclopentasiloxane, Hamamelis Virginiana extract, Hypericum Perforatum extract, Thymus Vulgaris extract, Glycyrrhiza Glabra extract, Urtica Dioica extract, Urtica Diocia extract, Glyceryl Stearate, PEG-100 Stearate, Sodium Hyaluronate, Retinyl Palmitate, Allantoin, Panthenol,Phenoxyethanol, Carbomer, Triethanolamine, Methylparaben, Trisodium EDTA, Propylparaben, Butylparaben, Ethylparaben

  • hydrating gel, no oil, light
    Hydrating B5 Gel
    SkinCeuticals
    $83.00

    Size: 1 fl oz

    Who It's For

    Oily, acne-prone skin that still needs hydration without any oil.  Good also if you are dryer but still acne prone.  Men generally like this product.  OR.....for very dry skin, as a layer under your moisturizer.

    Dr. Irwin's Product Review

    This product has three great uses:

    1. Men and almost anyone with oily or acne prone skin, love this product. Its hyaluronic acid base adds hydration without any oil. Very light, and still hydrating. One of the best moisturizers on the market for oily skin, in my opinion.  Expensive but worth it.

    2. As an layer under moisturizer, for very dry skin or skin that doesn't retain surface moisture very well - like the month or two after a laser procedure or peel.  Use it help retain moisture in the skin and put your moisturizer and sunscreen over it.

    3. For sensitive skin  -  tends to be well tolerated since very few chemicals.

      How to Use

      One to three times a day.  Good for use with a Vitamin C serum (use the serum first, then this), and can be used under another moisturizer or sunscreen

      Ingredients

      Water, Sodium Hyaluronate, Pantothenic Acid, Pheonoxyethanol

    1.  High Zinc Sunscreen Non-Tinted
      ZinClear SPF 30 Non-tinted (now called SheerZinc)
      DermaQuest
      $51.50

      Size: 2 fl. oz

      Who It's For

      Great daily sunscreen (not for sports, water etc.) for those who want the extra zinc especially for melasma or other pigment problem.  Works well for all but the darkest skin types - could be a little chalky here but you can put makeup over it. 

      Dr. Irwin's Product Review

      Still one of my favorites. Note that this is now called SheerZinc.  New name, but the same excellent product.  No other sunscreen has 18% zinc and goes on this well that I’ve ever seen. This is the clear, non-tinted version which goes on fairly white but absorbs quite well after several minutes.  Scroll down to see the tinted version which many like better.

      Great for melasma and anyone with pigment problems due to the 18% zinc. This is a physical (mineral) sunscreen, meaning that it contains no sunscreen chemicals. Excellent also for sensitive skin. Expensive, but worth it for the extra protection.

      How to Use

      Apply sunblock in the morning and reapply every 2-3 hours if sweating or outdoors.

      Ingredients

      Active Ingredient: Zinc Oxide 18.60%, Inactive Ingredients: Water, Cyclomethicone, Glycerine, Glyceryl Stearate and PEG 100 Stearate, Sorbitol, Imperata Cylindrica Root Extract, Caprylyl Glycol, Sorbitan Stearate, Lecithin, Arabidopsis Extract, Plankton Extract, Xanthan Gum, Carbomer, Ascorbyl Palmitate (Vitamin C), Tocopheryl Acetate (Vitamin E), Citric Acid, Disodium EDTA

    2. High Zinc Sunscreen Tinted
      ZinClear SPF 30 Tinted (now called SheerZinc)
      DermaQuest
      $53.50

      Size: 2 fl. oz

      Who It's For

      Great daily sunscreen (not for sports, water etc.) for those who want the extra zinc especially for melasma or other pigment problem.  Works well for all but the darkest skin types - could be a little chalky here but you can put makeup over it. 

      Dr. Irwin's Product Review

      Still one of my favorites. Note that this is now called SheerZinc.  New name, but the same excellent product.  No other sunscreen has 18% zinc and goes on this well that I’ve ever seen. This is the tinted version which some like better because it gives a bit of sunkissed look.

      Note that we carry the tinted version called "Nude," which has the least amount of dark tint.  If you want a darker shade, you can order "Tan" or "Sunkissed" through another site.  We do carry the non-tinted version also here on SkinTour.

      Great for melasma and anyone with pigment problems due to the 18% zinc. This is a physical (mineral) sunscreen, meaning that it contains no sunscreen chemicals. Excellent also for sensitive skin. Expensive, but worth it for the extra protection.

      How to Use

      Apply sunblock in the AM to fingertips and gently massage into the skin. Reapply as needed.

      Ingredients

      Active Ingredient: Zinc Oxide 18.60%, Inactive Ingredients: Water, Cyclomethicone, Glycerine, Glyceryl Stearate and PEG 100 Stearate, Sorbitol, Imperata Cylindrica Root Extract, Caprylyl Glycol, Sorbitan Stearate, Lecithin, Arabidopsis Extract, Plankton Extract, Xanthan Gum, Carbomer, Ascorbyl Palmitate (Vitamin C), Tocopheryl Acetate (Vitamin E), Citric Acid, Disodium EDTA

    3. powder sunscreen,
      SPF 30 Powder Sunscreen
      Colorescience
      $57.00

      Size: 0.21 oz

      Who It's For

      Everyone, nice for kids and men, and for double coverage over a lotion or cream sunscreen.  Especially key for those with melasma or other pigment problems.

      Dr. Irwin's Product Review

      Powder Sunscreen. This is a great invention.  I love this product and use it all the time. The Medium shade is pretty clear and good for all sites.  The Tan shade is the tinted version and is nice for the face.  Especially great for outdoor sports because it can be reapplied without getting your hands greasy. It's also fast to apply due to the built-in brush applicator. Even better over a lotion sunscreen base.  I often use this product over a lotion/cream sunscreen base especially for athletics and high sun situations.

      Good for golf, cycling, hiking, open-water swimming, rock climbing, long distance running, rowing, and many other situations where grease doesn't cut it. It's lightweight and small to carry. Men and kids like this product usually.

      Great for a humid climate (or oily skin), because it goes on dry and leaves no oily, greasy sheen. Expensive but worth it, and it lasts a long time. Layer it over a sunscreen lotion for maximum protection at altitude or in intense sun. Men like this product usually.  Make sure to apply it in a well-ventilated area.

      Use this SPF 30 for everyday use.  Use the SPF 50 for outdoor activities or occupations or if you want extra protection. 

      How to Use

      Apply this in a well-ventilated area, and do not breathe in the powder.  Brush on skin that has some moisture or lotion on it (i.e., not on dry skin) before sun exposure, repeat application after perspiring, immersion in water or toweling.  It comes in a small tube, with a self-contained brush. You just shake the powder down, and brush on the powder. The powder stays on your skin, and the high zinc and titanium content gives you great UVA and UVB blocking.

      Ingredients

      Active Ingredients: Titanium Dioxide (21%), Zinc Oxide (11.8%) Inactive Ingredients: bismuth oxychloride, calcium, cilicate, corallina officinalis, dimethicone, dimethicone/vinyldimethicone crosspolymer, iron oxide, manganese, violet, mica, titanium dioxide

    4. Retinol for Wrinkles and Skin Care
      Retinol Complex .25
      SkinMedica
      $62.00

      Size: 1 oz

      Who It's For

      For sun-damaged skin and for those wanting to prevent the appearance of wrinkles and aging.

      Dr. Irwin's Product Review

       This is SkinMedica's updated version of the old Tri-Retinol Complex, and it is still an excellent over-the-counter retinol.  At this percentage, the effects are similar to Renova/tretinoin, etc. Use at night. If you can use the prescription version of tretinoin (like Renova), do so - but many people don’t want to be bothered with a prescription and the two retinols listed on this site are almost as good. This retinol also has vitamin E in a base that will not clog pores and is still compatible with moisturizers and sunscreens. Also see the Neocutis Nouvelle+Retinol Correction Cream.  Start with this one though if you have never used a retinoid before.

      Retinoids are repair creams that have 20 years of science and experience behind them. They build collagen and normalize sun damaged keratinocytes (skin cells) and help to prevent precancerous growths and skin cancers if used regularly. 

      How to Use

      Apply one pump to the face at night. Always use at night - light inactivates it. Begin using twice per week, then increase gradually.  If this product irritates your skin a little, try applying your moisturizer first, then wait 10-20 minutes, then apply this. You must use a sunscreen every morning if you use a retinoid because your skin will be just slightly more sun sensitive.  Stop this product a week before sunny vacations and consider not using it if you can't be consistent with sunscreen or truly are outdoors constantly. 

      Ingredients

      Water/Aqua/Eau, Cetyl Ethylhexanoate, Glycine Soja (Soybean) Oil, Niacinamide, Polyacrylate-13, Squalane, Retinol, Palmitoyl Tripeptide-8, Dunaliella Salina Extract, Magnolia Grandiflora Bark Extract, Tocopherol, Tocotrienols, Ceramide 3, Bisabolol, Phytosterols, Squalene, Tocopheryl Acetate, Oryza Sativa (Rice) Bran Wax (Oryza Sativa Cera), Glycerin, Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride, Polysorbate 20, Butylene Glycol, Cetyl Palmitate, Laureth-23, Trideceth-6 Phosphate, Sodium Hydroxide, Dicaprylyl Ether, Lauryl Alcohol, Polyisobutene, Dextran, Potassium Sorbate, Disodium EDTA, Phenoxyethanol, Ethylhexylglycerin

    5. Antiaging wrinkle cream with retinol
      Retinol 1.0
      SkinCeuticals
      $88.00

      Size: 1 fl. oz

      Who It's For

      Almost everyone who's trying to repair sun damage and prevent wrinkles and skin cancers should be on one of these vitamin A "cousins."   A few will be too sensitive for retinoids and should use a combination of cell growth factors and antioxidants instead.  Don't use if you have a propylene glycol allergy. 

      Dr. Irwin's Product Review

      This product is now an excellent value for its price point!   The generic prescription tretinoin and all the prescription retinoids like Renova have gotten very expensive.  This product is quite similar in strength to Retin A .25% but at a much better price.   If you've used prescription products before, you should do well with this.   If you haven't used them before, consider starting with the SkinMedica Retinol .25 first, then going to the NeoCutis Nouvelle+ (.6%), and then this SkinCeuticals 1.0.

      How to Use

      Always at night.  Usually best to put a moisturizer on, wait 5-10 minutes and then apply a pea sized amount.  You don't need very much. 

      Ingredients

      Water, Cyclomethicone, Cyclopentasiloxane, Dimethicone Crosspolymer, Dimethicone, Dimethiconol, Laureth-4, Laureth-23, Hydrogenated Lecithin, Butyorspermum Parkii (shea Butter), Caprylic/capric Triglyceride, Ceramide 2, Ceramide 3, Phytosphingosine, Cholesterol, Hypericum Perforatum Extract, Propylene Glycol, Allyl Methacrylate Crosspolymer, Polysorbate 20, Retinol, BHT, Sodium Polyacrylate, Dimethicone PEG-7 Isostearate, Glycerin, Polyacrylamide, C13-14 Isoparaffin, Leureth-7, Bisabolol. Rosa Canina Leaf Extract, Silybum Marianum Fruit Extract, Passiflora Incarnata Flower Extract, Chamomilla Recutita (matreicaria) Leaf Extract, Citric Acid, Methylsothiazolinone, Tetrasodium EDTA

    6. PM Therapy Facial Moisturizer
      PM Therapy Facial Moisturizer
      Elta MD
      $32.50

      Size: 1.7 oz airless pump 

      Dr. Irwin's Product Review

      Niacinamide is the true active in both the AM and PM Therapy Facial Moisturizer from EltaMD.  It's listed as the 3rd ingredient which means there is a good concentration of it in the product.  Niacinamide is a work horse. Most people will notice within 30 days improvement in texture, elasticity, pigment and fine lines.  Also contains a vitamin C (Ascorbyl Palmitate), caffeine, and willow bark extract.

      Other skincare products with niacinamide include Revision Nectifirm Advanced - also a great product.

      Key Ingredients

      Purified Water, Ethylhexyl Isononanoate, Niacinamide, Cholesterol/Lanosterol Esters, Sodium Hyaluronate, Linoleic Acid, Cetearyl Glucoside, Thioctic Acid, Tocopheryl Acetate

    7. C-Infusion Serum
      C-Infusion Serum
      DermaQuest
      $92.00

      Size1 fl. oz 

      Dr. Irwin's Product Review

       An antioxidant, this is a non irritating Vitamin C lotion that's still light.  With the Vitamin C (tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate) as the second ingredient, it has enough concentration of the active to make it effective.  Great for sensitive or easily irritated skin, but also great for those with dry skin.  Use it under your sunscreen in the morning.

      Ingredients

      Water (Aqua),Tetrahexyldecyl Ascorbate, Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride, Glycerin, Hexyl Laurate, Sorbitol, Butylene Glycol, Stearic Acid, Glyceryl Stearate, PEG-100 Stearate, Cetyl Alcohol, Sorbitan Stearate, Polysorbate 60, Dimethicone, Squalane, PPG-12/SMDI Copolymer, Sodium Hyaluronate, Tocopheryl Acetate, Cetearyl Ethylhexanoate, Linoleic Acid, Glycine Soja (Soybean) Sterols, Phospholipids, Citrus Aurantium Dulcis (Orange) Callus Culture Extract, Hydrolyzed Glycosaminoglycans, Alcohol, Ectoin , Lecithin, Cyclotetrapeptide-24 Aminocyclohexane Carboxylate, Di-PPG-2 Myreth-10 Adipate, Glucosamine HCl, Algae Extract, Yeast Extract, Urea, Micrococcus Lysate, Plankton Extract, Arabidopsis Thaliana Extract, Retinol, Polysorbate 20, Phenoxyethanol, Caprylyl Glycol, Ethylhexylglycerin, Hexylene Glycol, Magnesium Aluminum Silicate, Xanthan Gum, Disodium EDTA, Citrus Aurantium Dulcis (Orange) Peel Oil.

    8. Prevention + Daily Moisturizer SPF 30 – Tinted
      Prevention + Daily Moisturizer SPF 30 – Tinted
      Image
      $39.00

      Size:  3.2 oz.

      Dr. Irwin's Product Review

      This sunscreen has been very popular. It works well with many skin tones.   Moisturizing but not oily, and spreads easily.  It's not chalky and good for men who often don't like oily products.  Tube is 3.2 oz and lasts well.  Good price point for the quality.  The combination of zinc and titanium makes it less chalky and easier to use for darker skin types.

      Ingredients

      Active Ingredients: zinc oxide 6%, titanium dioxide 4.6%. 

      Inactive Ingredients: aqua, cyclopentasiloxane, plankton extract, hexyl triethoxysilylethyl, polydimethylsiloxyethyl dimethicone, cyclohexasiloxane, dimethicone /peg-10/15 crosspolymer, arabidopsis extract, dimethicone/polyglycerin-3 crosspolymer, aluminum hydroxide-stearic acid, polyglyceryl-4 isostearate, cetyl peg/ppg-10/1 dimethicone, hexyl laurate, sodium chloride, cetearyl olivate, sorbitan olivate, tetrahyxeyldecyl ascorbate, micrococcus lysate, lecithin, tocopheryl acetate, caprylyl glycol, phenoxyethanol, ethylhexylglycerin, hexylene glycol, iron oxide (ci 77491, ci 77492, ci 77499)

    9. AM Therapy Facial Moisturizer
      AM Therapy Facial Moisturizer
      Elta MD
      $32.50

      Size: 1.7 oz airless pump 


      Dr. Irwin's Product Review

      Niacinamide is the true active in both the AM and PM Therapy Facial Moisturizer from EltaMD.  It's listed as the 4th ingredient which means there is a good concentration of it in the product.  Niacinamide is a work horse. Most people will notice within 30 days improvement in texture, elasticity, pigment and fine lines.  Also contains a vitamin C (Ascorbyl Palmitate), caffeine, and willow bark extract.

      Other skincare products with niacinamide include Revision Nectifirm Advanced - also a great product.

      Key Ingredients

      Purified Water, Cyclopentasiloxane, Ethylhexyl Isononanoate, Niacinamide, Lauryl PEG-9 Polymethylsiloxyethyl Dimethicone, Dimethicone, Salix Alba (Willow) Bark Extract, Sodium Chloride, Piptadenia Colubrina Peel Extract, Sodium Hyaluronate, Glycerin, Allantoin, Caffeine, Ascorbyl Palmitate, Dimethicone/PEG-10/15 Crosspolymer, Butylene Glycol, Phenoxyethanol, Capryloyl Glycine, Undecylenoyl Glycine, Disodium EDTA, Sodium Hydroxide.

    10. Lytera® 2.0 Pigment Correcting Serum
      Lytera® 2.0 Pigment Correcting Serum
      SkinMedica
      $154.00

      Size: 2.0oz


      Dr. Irwin's Product Review

      Finally there is a plant based alternative that works almost as well as the hydroquinones which are available by prescription. For those those with melasma, or a lot of sun damage, there may not be a "cure," but it's nice to have a reasonable alternative to the hydroquinone.  You can use this product year around, or use it when you are taking a break from prescription hydroquinone.

      If you have pigment problems, you must wear  an 18-20% zinc containing sunscreen every day, and wear a brimmed hat whenever outdoors! 


      Key Ingredients:

      Transexamic Acid Helps correct the appearance of hyperpigmentation.

      Phenylethyl Resorcinol Helps support melanin balance to correct the appearance of hyperpigmentation.

      Niacinamide & Tetrapeptide-30 Helps prevent the appearance of new spots while visibly balancing the appearance of your skin tone.

      Marine Extract Blend Helps to correct and prevent the appearance of hyperpigmentation while supporting a healthy skin barrier.

      Phytic Acid Enhances skin texture and promotes even-looking skin.

    Dr. Brandith Irwin, MD

    Ask me your skincare question!

    Hi, I’m Dr. Irwin, and I believe that consumers need and deserve a medically trained and unbiased skincare advocate.

    • All our content is written and researched by myself and my trained staff.
    • My medical office in Seattle has experience treating thousands of patients.
    • This site is not affiliated or financially tied to any product line.
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    SkinTour's Philosophy:
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    One of the best investments in your skin is your daily skincare. Why? Because you can prevent many problems with blotchy skin color, lack of glow, texture, some types of acne, and fine lines with good skincare products. You can also correct some of these problems with effective skincare products. Great skincare is often more expensive because quality ingredients are expensive. Some companies spend on research/development which benefits all of us and adds to the cost. Are they worth it? In general - yes!

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