What are effective ingredients to treat skin discoloration? Dr. Haley answers:

Unevenness of skin tone is the number one complaint from women. There are dozens of products to help with discoloration, which often make promises that can’t be kept. Unfortunately, even the best products will take two to three months before improvement is noticed. I will highlight some of the key ingredients to look for so that you can be your own skin-care expert.

Brown spots on the face generally are a result of three factors:

1. The sun: sun spots (large looking speckled freckles called lentigines).

2. After trauma: Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, a condition in which an injury or inflammation attracts pigmentation to the area when the condition resolves (i.e., acne, rash, trauma).

3. Hormones: Melasma may occur during pregnancy or with birth control pills and presents as large brown patches over cheeks and forehead.

The quickest way to treat sun spots is with an Intense Pulse Light device, IPL or “photofacial.” This device may make the other two causes of pigmentation worse, as these are caused by inflammation and can unpredictably darken from any irritation to the skin.

All types of discoloration have one thing in common— strict sun protection and avoidance are mandatory. No matter the cause of your discoloration, those pigmented cells are programmed to darken immediately with ultraviolet light and heat. You may spend a month successfully evening out your complexion and one day in the sun will ignite those pigment cells to fire up and darken. So, seek shade, enjoy the outdoors early and late in the day, wear a wide-brimmed hat and apply a sunscreen with SPF 30-plus with zinc oxide every single morning. My favorite daily sunscreens are EltaMD Physical, Daily or Clear.