Using a Chemical Peel for Dark Spots & Hyperpigmentation

9 minutes
November 30, 2022

Dark spots are like uninvited party guests who won’t leave. Here’s how chemical peels (plus daily SPF!) can get them to go away – and prevent them from coming back. 

What are dark spots and what causes them? 

Dark spots, or hyperpigmentation, are an overproduction of melanin pigment in a certain area, and are most often caused by sun damage. (It’s no wonder they’re called ‘sunspots.’) So how do these round-ish little splotches happen? Melanocyte cells in the skin produce a pigment called melanin in an effort to protect you from exposure to sun. Picture melanin as little dark umbrellas shielding your skin cells from UV rays. By the way, this is also how a suntan happens, so think of that bronze color as a warning sign.

Another common cause of dark spots is post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH), which can occur after an irritation or injury – anything from a reaction to an insect bite to acne or even popping a zit – that can trigger melanocytes to make too much pigment in that area. Darker skin types are especially sensitive and prone to PIH discoloration. 

Can a chemical face peel help to fade dark spots?

Yes! Different types of acids (the “chemicals” in a peel) work to disintegrate surface pigmentation. This is a form of chemical exfoliation using acids such as beta-hydroxy (BHA) such as salicylic acid, and alpha-hydroxy (AHA), which include glycolic, lactic, citric, malic, and mandelic acids. The acids in a face peel for dark spots interact with the skin and dissolve dead, overly pigmented, skin cells. Glycolic and lactic acids also have been shown to help stimulate skin cell turnover, which speeds up the fading effects as new skin cells replace old, pigmented ones over time. Using an OTC peel can definitely reverse sun damage and fade dark spots – but be patient. Those brown spots didn’t pop up overnight and getting rid of them takes some time. With consistent use, you should see pigment-lightening results within a few weeks.

By the way, don’t let the words “chemical peel” scare you. An over-the-counter peel, like Dr. Dennis Gross Alpha Beta Peels, is carefully formulated to be effective without irritating the skin. In fact, chemical exfoliation is a much gentler option than over-scrubbing, which can inflame the skin and potentially lead to inflammation and more pigmentation.

Choosing the best kind of chemical peel for dark spots

It’s all about the strength of the peel, which is why Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare has three Alpha-Beta Peels: The Universal Daily Peel, the Extra-Strength Daily Peel, and the Ultra Gentle Daily Peel. Start with the Universal Daily if you’re a peeling newbie, and use it every other night until your skin becomes acclimated. Then you can apply our Alpha Beta peels daily, and work up to both AM and PM. If you have oily or acne-prone skin, or just want to get rid of those spots a little faster, use the Extra Strength. And, if you have sensitive skin, you can mix and match: one night use Extra Strength and the next try Ultra Gentle. 

! Bonus: Daily peels have multiple complexion benefits besides spot removal! You’ll notice brighter, smoother, clearer, more radiant skin within a day or two. 

!! Long Term Bonus: Glycolic acid has been found to stimulate collagen production, which helps to soften fine lines and firm the skin over time. 

How to use peel pads for dark spots

The Alpha Beta Peels involve a two-step process, similar to a dermatologist-administered chemical peel in which acids are applied to the skin and then neutralized to stop the peeling process. The peels start with the application of acids (Step 1), followed by the important Step 2, the Neutralizing peel pad, which instantly calms skin and reduces redness with soothing anti-inflammatory and hydrating ingredients like chamomile, phospholipids, colloidal oatmeal, and glycerin. It’s also infused with antioxidants such as green tea, resveratrol, soy isoflavones, and ubiquinone (CO-Q10) as well as retinol that all work together to fight free radical damage, reverse sun damage, and fade discoloration. 

Step by step instructions: 

Step 1:

Massage Peel Pad 1 onto clean dry skin. Gently glide it over your face and neck (no scrubbing needed!) until the pad is dry.

Step 2:

Wait two minutes, then massage Peel Pad 2 over your face and neck. Do not rinse. 

Step 3:

Follow with a hydrating serum and moisturizer (like Dr. Dennis Gross C + Collagen Brighten & Firm Vitamin C Serum). A chemical peel exfoliates dead skin cells, allowing moisturizing ingredients or antioxidants like vitamin C to absorb and work better!

More tips for preventing and erasing dark spots 

Wear SPF daily!

We can’t say it enough: Wearing sunscreen every single day as part of your regular skincare routine is the key to preventing future damage. Remember, the sun is one of the main causes of brown spots! It’s also especially important to protect your skin post-peel because chemical exfoliation removes dead skin cells from the surface, revealing brighter, fresher skin underneath. This makes your skin more sun sensitive. Dr. Gross Skincare All Physical Lightweight Wrinkle Defense Broad Spectrum SPF 30 shields that fresh baby skin with non-irritating mineral zinc oxide and titanium dioxide.

Try a Vitamin C serum 

To amp up the spot fading and brightening benefits you get from your Daily Peels, use an antioxidant serum like Dr. Dennis Gross Vitamin C Lactic 15% Vitamin C Firm & Bright Serum. It’s power-packed with vitamin C (our proprietary 3-0 Ethyl Ascorbic Acid) that works to get rid of dark spots and even the complexion. It’s also got niacinamide, an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory that’s been proven to help decrease hyperpigmentation by reducing the transfer of extra melanin to the skin. Basically, it intercepts those melanin umbrellas before they get to the surface. 

Consider a potent dark spot treatment 

For really stubborn discoloration, try a treatment serum that zeroes in on pigmentation and goes into full-on erase mode. Dr. Dennis Gross Clinical Grade IPL Dark Spot Correcting Serum has 10% L-ascorbic acid, kojic acid (derived from mushrooms and clinically proven to lighten hyperpigmentation). Another key ingredient in this spot removing cocktail: Arbutin, a natural alternative to hydroquinone that works by blocking tyrosinase, the enzyme in the melanocyte cells that activates when it comes in contact with UV light. By blocking tyrosinase, arbutin helps to stop dark spots from forming. 

When to see a dermatologist for hyperpigmentation

It’s a smart idea to get an annual skin check from your dermatologist to get a clean bill of health skin cancer-wise. And, if your dark spots just aren’t erasing as rapidly as you’d like, even with a diligent peel + sun protection routine, a dermatologist can do a series of deeper, professional-strength chemical peels to remove hyperpigmentation much faster. We then recommend using Alpha Beta Peels to maintain your results. 

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Originally published on June 21, 2022

Updated on November 30, 2022

Written By

Kayla Kernel

Kayla is a Medical Esthetician with 10+ years of experience. Growing up, Kayla struggled with cystic acne and scarring. This experience drives her passion to help others on their skincare journey. Kayla specializes in all skin types, tones, and ages.

Read More from Kayla Kernel

Written By

Kayla Kernel

Kayla is a Medical Esthetician with 10+ years of experience. Growing up, Kayla struggled with cystic acne and scarring. This experience drives her passion to help others on their skincare journey. Kayla specializes in all skin types, tones, and ages.

Read More from Kayla Kernel

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