After a severe acne breakout, Fermande Saintilis started noticing unsightly brown spots on her face. Concerned, she headed to her dermatologist.
"I'm 30 years old and want to look fly, so I wanted them off," she said.
Her spots are known as hyperpigmentation, which are 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. Health Woolery-Lloyd, creator of Specific Beauty.
It turns out Saintilis isn't the only one stressing over unsightly blotches. Studies now show hyperpigmentation will impact 90 percent of women at some point in their life.
"It's up there with acne and wrinkles as being one of the leading concerns among women," cosmetic chemist Ron Robinson said.
The best-known ingredient for zapping these trouble spots is also controversial.
"Although hydroquinone is an effective ingredient, it can be very irritating in certain patients, especially if you have sensitive skin," Dr. Woolery-Lloyd said .
"There are some studies in lab animals where it possibly has shown some carcinogenic effects. So there are a lot of regulatory groups that have been trying to ban this ingredient," Robinson said.
In 2006, the FDA proposed that hydroquinone products should not be available over-the-counter and recommended additional scientific studies. Consumer concern has led to a recent explosion in skin-lightening products.
"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," Dr. Woolery-Lloyd said.
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."
As for Saintilis, she says a chemical peel has given her the confidence to put her best face forward, without any spots.
Dermatologists say while there are many effective treatments to lighten brown spots, including laser treatments, or microdermabrasion, the best defense is prevention. Wear sunscreen, with a minimum SPF of 15 everyday.