After a severe acne breakout, Fermande Saintilis started noticing unsightly brown spots appearing on her face. Concerned, she headed to her dermatologist.
"I'm thirty years old and want to look fly, so I wanted them off," she explained.
Her spots, also known as hyperpigmentation, were caused by an over production of melanin in the skin.
"You can have a brown spot after a pimple, you can have melasma which are the brown patches on the face that women get with pregnancy. That's very, very common. And then you can get brown spots from years of sun abuse,"said Dr. Heather Woolery-Lloyd, Creator of Specific Beauty.
It turns out Fernande isn't the only one stressing over unsightly blotches. Studies now show hyperpigmentation will impact 90% of women at some point in their lives.
“It’s up there with acne and wrinkles as being one of the leading concerns among women,” said Ron Robinson, a cosmetic chemist with Beauty-stat.com.
“Hyperpigmentation is extremely common. We see it in women of all colors,” said Dr. Woolery-Lloyd.
The best known ingredients for zapping these trouble spots is also controversial.
“Although hydroquinone is an effective ingredient, it can be extremely irritating in certain patients, especially if you have sensitive skin,” said Woolery-Lloyd.
“There are some studies in lab animals where it possibly has shown some carcinogenic effects. So there are a lot of regulatory groups that are trying to ban this ingredient,” said Robinson.
In 2006, the FDA proposed that hydroquinone products should not be available over-the-counter and recommended additional scientific studies. For now, it's still considered gras, 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," explained Woolery-Lloyd.
No matter what you try, everyone agrees you should avoid products coming from overseas that could contain mercury. The FDA recommends you read ingredient lists carefully, avoiding those with terms like "mercury", "mercurous chloride" and "calomel." If there is no label, or it's not written in english, Robinson warns the product could be very dangerous.
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.