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Dangerous treatments for brown spots on skin

May 10, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
Brown spots, or hyperpigmentation, affect people of all ethnic groups and all ages, though they're most common in women as they age. But not all treatments are equal, and some might be dangerous.

After a severe acne breakout, Fermande Saintilis started noticing unsightly brown spots on her face, so she headed to a dermatologist.

"I'm 30 years old and want to look fly, so I wanted them off," she said.

Her spots were caused by an overproduction of melanin in the skin.

Dr. Heather Woolery-Lloyd, creator of Specific Beauty, says there are various causes of brown spots, including pimples, pregnancy and sun abuse. Studies show hyperpigmentation will impact 90 percent of women at some point in their life.

The best known ingredient for zapping these trouble spots, hydroquinone, is also controversial.

"Although hydroquinone is an effective ingredient, it can be extremely irritating in certain patients, especially if you have sensitive skin," Woolery-Lloyd said.

Cosmetic chemist Ron Robinson, founder of Beauty Stat, says in some studies in lab animals, the product has shown some carcinogenic effects.

"There are a lot of regulatory groups that have been trying to ban this ingredient," Robinson said.

In 2006, the FDA proposed hydroquinone products should not be available over-the-counter and recommended additional scientific studies. For now, it's still generally recognized as safe by the government.

But consumer concern has led to a recent explosion in skin-lightening products. It seems all the major cosmetic lines have a solution.

"There are a lot of wonderful natural ingredients that are extremely effective at fading brown spots. So there's licorice, soy, even vitamin C can be helpful to fade brown spots," Woolery-Lloyd said.

No matter what you try, avoid products coming from overseas that could contain mercury. The FDA recommends avoiding those with terms like mercurous chloride and calomel. If there is no label, or it's not written in English, the product could be very dangerous.

Fernande says chemical peels have given her the confidence to put her best face forward.

Dermatologists say while there are many effective treatments to lighten brown spots, including laser treatment on light skin or dermabrasion, the number one tactic is prevention. Wear sunscreen with a minimum SPF 15 and UVF protection every single day.

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