Dark elbows occur when your elbows accumulate darker skin than the rest of your arm. This can be caused by:
- an accumulation of dead skin cells
- hyperpigmentation increased by sun exposure
- birth control pills
- melasma (dark spots) from a recent pregnancy
- freckles and age spots
- certain skin conditions, such as psoriasis and eczema
- inflammation from a previous injury
While such causes can affect any part of your skin, your elbows are perhaps more vulnerable due to a lack of attention and care compared with other more prominent parts of your body, such as the face. People with naturally darker skin tones are also at an increased risk for dark elbows.
Despite the numerous causes and risk factors for dark elbows, there are steps you can take at home to minimize the effects right away.
Home remedies to lighten
Home remedies are the most desirable for lightening dark elbows. For one, they’re relatively inexpensive. They also don’t pose side effects like medicated products can. Try one or more of the following methods:
One 2012 study suggested that aloe vera can lighten the skin. This is because of a process called alpha adrenergic receptor stimulation, which occurs when you apply the product to your skin. Look for gels or lotions with aloe vera, and apply up to twice per day.
Baking soda has both exfoliating and skin lightening properties that may help treat dark elbows. Start by adding a teaspoon at a time with water to a bowl. Keep adding and mixing well until you have a desired amount of product. Then, apply directly to your elbows.
Treat the process as a face mask, where you leave the product on for about 10 to 15 minutes and then rinse off. Repeat twice per week. But avoid using baking soda on your face.
A 2014 study suggested that oral supplements containing citrus fruit extracts were especially helpful in lightening dark skin patches due to sun exposure. However, you can potentially reap some of the benefits by using lemons or other citrus fruits from your own kitchen without having to worry about supplements.
Simply squeeze the juices out of the citrus fruit into a cup. Then, use a cotton ball or wash cloth to apply the juice directly to your elbow. You may repeat this process daily.
Oatmeal and yogurt
Both oatmeal and yogurt have soothing qualities that can add extra moisture to dry skin. Like baking soda, these two ingredients work best as a mask. Combine equal parts oatmeal and yogurt until mixed well, then apply to your elbows. Leave on for up to 20 minutes at a time.
This ingredient comes from an Indian root plant that’s like ginger. According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, turmeric powder may help a variety of skin conditions when used as a paste. Mix the powder with water, and then apply directly to the elbows. Leave on for up to 10 minutes and then rinse off.
Long-term skin care
Aside from home remedies to get rid of dark elbows, you’ll want to invest some time and effort into your overall skin care routine. Daily rituals, such as cleansing, moisturizing, and protection, can decrease the look of dark skin spots over time while also keeping your skin healthy.
Cleanse and moisturize
Take time to make sure you wash your elbows daily when in the shower or bath, and always follow up with a moisturizer. You can also put on a thicker moisturizing agent on top of your daily body lotion, such as coconut oil or aloe vera. Products containing soy, lignin, ellagic acid, and vitamin B-3 can also lighten skin, according to the American Academy of Dermatology.
Exfoliate the elbows
In addition to moisturizing your elbows for softness, you’ll need to take steps to get rid of dead skin cells and prevent their accumulation. You can do this by exfoliating once or twice a week. You may use an exfoliating body wash, or a sugar scrub for extra intensity. Make sure you rub the product onto your elbows in a smooth, circular motion. Also, don’t rub too hard — this will only irritate the skin around your elbows and make any perceived imperfections more noticeable.
You should also wear sunscreen every day. If your arms are exposed to the sun, be sure to apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen 15 minutes beforehand. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends a product with an SPF of at least 30. Take special care in applying the product to your elbows. Since there’s a natural stretch in this area of the arm from bending your elbow, you’ll likely need to reapply your sunscreen often.
It’s also important to keep in mind that sunscreen not only protects your skin, but it also helps preserve the effects of any treatments you use. According to the American Osteopathic College of Dermatology, just one day of unprotected sun exposure can end up undoing several months’ worth of treatments.
If home remedies and healthy skin care practices don’t seem to do the trick for your dark elbows, you might need something stronger to address the underlying hyperpigmentation. Over-the-counter (OTC) lightening products are the first step. Try products with hydroquinone, which helps lighten dark skin pigmentation, or products with lipo-hydroxyl acid.
The downside to OTC products is that they can quickly become expensive for the amount of product you get in each bottle, since you need to use it on a large area. It can also take several weeks — or even months — to take effect.
Some side effects include:
- peeling skin
- increased sun sensitivity
Ingredients such as licorice and kojic acid have caused allergic reactions in some people. Stop using a product if it causes redness, rash, and itchiness.
There’s also prescription-strength lightening products available if OTC products don’t cut it. Talk to your healthcare professional about these options, including ingredients such as prescription-strength hydroquinone or other bleaching agents.
For severe cases, laser treatments are another option. The greatest risk with these treatments is scarring, which could ultimately make dark elbows look even darker.
The bottom line
Dark elbows can be frustrating and it can take time to reverse this type of skin problem. However, a solid skin care plan coupled with home remedies or medicated products can help you get rid of dark elbows.
If you don’t see results within a couple of months, check in with your healthcare professional. They can help you assess your current treatment plan and make other recommendations as needed.