Derm Knows Best: Do I Have Dark Spots or Melasma?

Welcome to our new series Derm Knows Best, where a dermatologist takes over the Good Skin Blog to share their expertise on need-to-know skincare topics. This time we’re hearing from dermatologist Dr. Chris Tomassian, who answers all our questions about uneven tone—including redness, dark spots, and melasma.

Which ingredients do you recommend for dark spots, dull skin, or uneven tone?

My top recommendation is sunscreen, especially a mineral one with an SPF of 30 or more. Some other ingredients that help treat damage and brighten tone are retinol, vitamin C, and alpha hydroxy acids—like glycolic, kojic, or lactic acid. These ingredients work together to help treat uneven tone, dark spots, and even premature wrinkles.

What is melasma and how does it differ from hyperpigmentation? 

Hyperpigmentation is a broad term used to describe increased pigment (called melanin) within the skin. Melasma is a type of hyperpigmentation that can be caused by thyroid disease, pregnancy, hormonal changes (including birth control), and prolonged sun exposure. Sometimes, melasma can show up for no reason at all.

Melasma most commonly affects women and appears as an ill-defined, splotchy brown discoloration around the forehead, cheeks, mouth, and neck. In contrast, hyperpigmentation is usually more well-defined and occurs in areas of previous inflammation. If you’re unsure which you have, reach out to your dermatologist for help.

How can I prevent hyperpigmentation?

Some people, like those with darker skin tones, are more prone to hyperpigmentation. But there are some steps you can take to prevent this discoloration from flaring up. The more inflammation and UV rays your skin is exposed to, the more likelihood of hyperpigmentation. This is a big reason why I tell people to avoid popping pimples and to use a spot treatment instead. Any increased inflammation can not only lead to hyperpigmentation but also permanent acne scarring. Like I mentioned before, wearing broad-spectrum sunscreen daily is also key. 


Is my redness a form of hyperpigmentation?

You may think any discoloration on the skin is hyperpigmentation, but post-inflammatory erythema (a.k.a. red spots) are caused by the dilatation and inflammation of our blood vessels, not melanin overproduction. Post-inflammatory erythema typically resolves on its own quicker than post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. If you’re often red, use skincare made for sensitive skin and inflammation, like the oat milk found in Gentle Cycle.


I have dark spots on my legs and lips, is that normal?

Yes. Hyperpigmentation can affect any part of your body, especially when it comes to post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. Quite commonly in the winter, people who lick their lips can cause inflammation (irritant dermatitis) which, as it heals, leaves behind that dark pigment left. Nip that habit in the bud with our Conditioning Lip Oil and use an exfoliating lip scrub to help remove any discoloration.  


What are the best in-office treatments for dark spots?

Many in-office procedures can help with hyperpigmentation including chemical peels, lasers, light devices (IPL), and microneedling. These procedures are often used in combination with each other. It is important to see a board-certified dermatologist that can customize the right treatment plan for you. 

If you’d rather stay home, try Doctor’s Visit. It’s a weekly pro-grade facial peel that’s perfect for those trying to improve skin texture, tone, and hyperpigmentation. 

To get visible results for dark spots, shop my limited edition Tone + Texture Repair Kit.