The old adage “a leopard never changes its spots” may hold true for a lot of situations, but I was hoping that the stubborn brown spots on my forehead and cheeks could be coaxed into fading. I’ve been struggling with hyperpigmentation for some time, during which I’ve become obsessed with dark spot-correcting skin care and have tried almost every facial and treatment on the market that promises brightening results (microneedling with platelet-rich plasma and souped-up facials where a serum’s absorption is assisted by laser, to name a few), essentially sparing no expense on my skin. But my quest to get rid of my sun-induced hyperpigmentation was starting to feel impossible, like it was going to be something that I would just have to live with. Once I got to the point where even full-coverage makeup had a difficult time hiding my sunspots, I decided to do a little more research on possible treatments I’d missed.
I decided on a chemical peel, specifically, the VI Peel, which is what’s known as a medium-depth peel. Its mix of ingredients (including the exfoliators trichloroacetic acid, salicylic acid, and tretinoin, and skin-brightening vitamin C) penetrate the top layer of skin, exfoliating away damaged skin cells to, hopefully, reveal glowing skin underneath. “This peel is basically a bit of a buff for the skin, evening out the tone while reducing fine lines and roughness. If someone is concerned about photodamage, melasma, the first signs of aging, or even a little KP [keratosis pilaris], this would be a good treatment for them,” says Mona Gohara, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in Hamden, Connecticut. “It is a great virginal peel for people who want to take a cosmetic plunge — a good bet for first-timers.” As far as treating dark spots goes, “the peel’s phenol, in particular, is effective against hyperpigmentation,” says Dr. Gohara, adding that what makes the VI Peel different from a lot of other chemical peels is that its ingredients “are all powerhouses against hyperpigmentation.”
I had heard a lot about chemical peels over the years. But after seeing Samantha Jones’ raw skin in Sex and the City long ago, I was nervous about having one touch my own face. As a last-ditch effort to get a more even skin tone, though, I decided to brave the VI Peel, which experts say is gentler than others.
What Is Hyperpigmentation vs Melasma?
I knew that the brown patches on my forehead and cheeks were hyperpigmentation, but I was unsure if what I had could be classified as melasma, which is especially difficult to correct and might inform the type of treatment I’d need. So I reached out to Nkem Ugonabo, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City, to help me figure it out. “Melasma is a type of hyperpigmentation which typically presents on the face as small brown patches, classically on the cheeks but can also be on [the] forehead, upper lip, chin, etc.,” says Dr. Ugonabo. The type of hyperpigmentation that I have can be classified as melasma because of the small brown spots I have on my cheeks and forehead. With all of the brightening skin care and the facial treatments I’ve done consistently, I felt that my sunspots shouldn’t have appeared so dark — and melasma is notoriously difficult to fade.