Melanin is the pigment that gives color to your skin, hair, and eyes. It’s created by cells called melanocytes, which are found in the outer layer of your skin.

We all have about the same number of melanocytes. However, some people’s cells make more melanin, as well as certain types of melanin, more than others. The more melanin you have, the darker your skin is.

Sometimes, melanin can build up in some areas and cause darkening of the skin, which doctors may call hyperpigmentation. Hyperpigmentation is when parts of your skin are darker than others.

While it’s possible to spot-treat existing melanin deposits, there are risks and limitations. It’s also possible to lower melanin production in the skin.

Read on to learn more about reducing melanin production and removing melanin deposits, including precautions and what to expect.

There are several ways to lower existing melanin deposits in the skin. It’s best to consult a doctor for proper guidance on these methods.

Laser therapy

Laser therapy uses a pulse of light to remove top layers of skin. It decreases melanin in the treated areas. There are several types of laser treatments, including:

  • Ablative lasers. These remove outer skin layers and are ideal for severe discoloration.
  • Nonablative lasers. These are gentler than ablative lasers. They promote collagen growth, which allows new skin to form. Intense pulse light (IPL) is one such treatment, using pulses of light energy to target sunspots by heating and destroying the melanin, which removes the discolored spots.
  • Q-switched ruby laser (QSRL). This uses a pulse of light to heat and dissolve the skin.

As with any medical procedure, laser therapy isn’t for everyone. It can also cause side effects like discoloration, scarring, and infection. Check with a dermatologist to see if you’re a good candidate for the procedure.

Topical creams or ointments

You can also use topical creams or ointments to lighten skin. These products decrease existing melanin in the areas in which they’re used.

Skin lightening products are available by prescription or over-the-counter (OTC). Typically, a product will have one of the following ingredients:

Many of these suppress tyrosinase, the main enzyme needed for melanin synthesis. This slows down melanin production and results in lighter skin.

However, skin lightening products are known for causing side effects like:

  • dryness
  • irritation
  • redness
  • itchiness

It’s best to consult a dermatologist before using lightening creams or ointments.

Methods to lower melanin production don’t involve medical treatments, but depend on your sun care habits and some natural remedy options.

Sunscreen and sun exposure

The purpose of melanin is to protect your skin from sun damage. When you’re exposed to the sun, your skin creates even more melanin.

Wearing sunscreen will limit this process. Sunscreen protects the skin from UV rays, which slow down your melanin production.

According to the American Academy of Dermatology, the best sunscreen is:

  • broad spectrum
  • SPF 30 or higher
  • water-resistant

Sunscreen doesn’t block 100 percent of the sun’s UV rays. To further limit how much melanin your skin makes, you should also:

  • limit your sun exposure
  • stay indoors from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., when the sun’s rays are strongest
  • wear protective clothing, such as sunglasses, long sleeves, and hats
  • avoid tanning beds

Natural remedies

People claim some natural remedies can lighten the skin. It’s not clear how long these remedies take to work, so it’s important to be patient if you decide to try them. Additionally, they’re all temporary, so you’ll need to continue using them routinely.

Turmeric

According to a 2012 study in Phytotherapy Research, the active compound in turmeric may reduce melanin synthesis. This compound, called curcumin, works by inhibiting tyrosinase. This suppresses the ability of melanocytes to create more melanin.

Aloe vera gel

Aloe vera may reduce melanin production after sun exposure. The plant contains aloesin, a compound that was found to suppress tyrosinase in a 2002 study in Clinical and Experimental Dermatology.

However, a more recent 2012 study determined aloe vera doesn’t have these effects.

Though the research is conflicting, users of aloe vera gel say it helps lighten skin.

Lemon juice

People also use lemon juice to reduce skin pigmentation. This may be due to its high vitamin C content. According to a 2017 article in Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology, vitamin C can reduce tyrosinase activity, which prevents the formation of melanin.

Despite its potential anti-pigmentation effect, lemon juice can be harsh on the skin. Use only when diluted and avoid the sun after use.

Skin bleaching

When you apply a skin bleaching product like hydroquinone, it decreases the number of melanocytes in your skin. This can result in lighter skin and a more even skin tone.

Green tea

Green tea has a compound called epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG). A 2015 study found that EGCG can prevent melanin accumulation. It works by inhibiting an enzyme needed to make melanin.

Not all home remedies are created equally. Some remedies can cause skin irritation, redness, or damage.

These include:

Every person’s body continually creates melanin. The amount is determined by genetics.

You can lighten and perhaps remove existing hyperpigmentation, but it may return. It’s not possible to permanently lower your body’s melanin production without regular skin lightening treatments.

Skin lightening poses several risks. If you try to lower melanin, you may have:

  • Higher chances of sun damage. Less melanin means less protection from the sun’s rays. This raises the risk of wrinkles, uneven texture, and discoloration.
  • Increased risk of skin cancer. The high risk of sun damage also increases your chances of developing skin cancer.
  • Irritation and sensitivity. The actual process of skin lightening is harsh on the skin. Many treatments can cause side effects like redness, itchiness, and contact dermatitis.

Skin lightening treatments can temporarily reduce your skin’s melanin production. Most of them work by suppressing the enzyme that’s needed to form melanin.

However, aside from wearing sunscreen and limiting sun exposure, you can’t lower your body’s overall melanin production. Permanent reduction isn’t possible, since melanin formation is determined by genetics.

If you have hyperpigmentation, ask a doctor how to reduce melanin in the affected areas. They can suggest the appropriate treatments or remedies for your needs.