The skin on the neck can darken due to hormonal disorders, sun exposure, and drug-induced or other skin-related conditions. Darkening of the neck may be associated with changes in the texture of the skin when compared to the surrounding skin conditions like itching and dark patches in other parts of the body. Dark lines on the skin on the back of the neck (acanthosis nigricans) may be a sign of diabetes or insulin resistance in the body. Darkening of the neck can cause cosmetic concerns. It is not typically a medical emergency but requires a medical diagnosis from a doctor to rule out other underlying causative conditions. Dark neck is often difficult to treat, usually requiring a combination of medical treatment and home remedies. Home remedies alone may not be enough to see satisfactory results. If one is already undergoing medical treatment, they may consult with the doctor if home remedies may be followed to avoid reactions.
Home remedies for dark neck:
The following home remedies can help reduce dark patches in the neck, face, and other parts of the body.
1. Daily exfoliation and cleansing with AHAs and BHAs:
Regular exfoliation with alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs) and beta hydroxy acids (BHAs) can help make the skin smoother, softer, and brighter. They help reduce pigmentation, fine lines, remove excess sebum, dead skin cells, and unclog pores, as well as gently remove existing blackheads and whiteheads and improve skin texture. AHAs and BHAs also cleanse the skin of dirt and makeup. Glycolic acid and lactic acid are the most popular AHAs, and salicylic acid the most popular BHA.
There are several over the counter products that contain either one of these acids or a combination of them in varying strengths, which are safe to use every day. Cleansing the neck and face twice a day with a cleanser that contains these acids can improve the skin. AHAs and BHAs are also good for those with dry skin. There are also toners, serums, and masks, which contain either one or both salicylic and glycolic acid. Some people may be sensitive to AHAs and BHAs, hence they can use it once every few days or start with a low percentage of the acid (1-2%) and gradually increase the strength. In case of allergic reactions, it should be discontinued.
2. Topical toners, serums, masks, lotions, and creams:
There are several over the counter topical products that contain ingredients to lighten the skin and improve the skin texture. The important ingredients to look out for are AHAs, BHAs, Vitamin C, and Vitamin E. Alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) and beta hydroxy acids (BHAs) can help reduce pigmentation, fine lines, remove excess sebum, dirt, and dead skin cells. Vitamin C helps reduce skin pigmentation and nourish the skin. Vitamin E is an important ingredient to moisturize the skin. Keeping the skin hydrated helps soften the skin and increases cell turnover, making the skin appear brighter. Following a daily skincare routine and practicing it at least once a day, preferably at night can improve skin health significantly. Certain acids and Vitamin C can cause increased sun sensitivity, hence should be applied at night. A daily skin routine would involve cleansing, applying a toner, followed by a lotion or cream. Lotions and creams vary in their consistency. Lotions are lighter, whereas creams are thicker. Water-based moisturizers may be used for those with very oily skin. A face and neck mask may be used two to three times a week.
3. Topical retinoids:
Retinoids can effectively reduce pigmentation, acne, and wrinkles. Retinoids should be used with caution. People typically experience visible peeling, dryness, burning, redness, and increased sensitivity to the sun (hence, it should be applied only at night) till the skin gets accustomed to retinoids, which may take 4-6 weeks. One may start with applying low strength counter retinoids, two to three times a week, and gradually increase the strength and frequency of usage. Higher strengths of retinoids require a doctor’s prescription. Isotretinoin (oral retinoids) may be prescribed to those with severe acne. Treating acne is essential to lighten pigmentation associated with acne, which is a common problem. Retinoids are generally avoided during pregnancy due to the potential risk of causing birth defects.
4. Homemade masks:
Masks may be prepared at home using natural ingredients. They may be applied all over the face and neck two to three times a week. Some masks that can help reduce pigmentation include:
- Yogurt, turmeric, lemon, and gram flour mask: Yogurt is a milk product that is rich in nutrients. The lactic acid in yogurt is a naturally occurring skin lightening agent. Lemon contains Vitamin C, which can reduce pigmentation. Turmeric also contains skin lightening abilities. Gram flour helps thicken the mask, giving it a paste-like consistency. Gram flour also acts as a natural exfoliating scrub, which is gentle on the skin and improves skin texture, and reduces hyperpigmentation. The mask may be applied all over the face, neck, and other problem areas, left on for 30 minutes, and then washed off.
- Papaya, banana, lemon, honey, and gram flour mask: These ingredients contain vitamins and minerals that can naturally lighten and nourish the skin. They may be mashed into a paste, applied all over the face, and washed off after 20 minutes.
5. Apple cider vinegar:
Apple cider vinegar contains acetic acid, which can lighten pigmentation. Apple cider vinegar should be diluted with water in equal parts and applied to the skin. It should be washed off after 2-3 minutes. This may be repeated every day, once or twice a day.
6. Aloe vera:
Aloe vera contains aloin, a natural depigmenting agent. Pure aloe vera gel can be applied to the hyperpigmented areas at night and washed off in the morning.
Milk, buttermilk, and even sour milk can all help lighten skin because they contain lactic acid. A cotton ball may be soaked in plain milk and applied all over the affected areas and washed off after 20 to 30 minutes. This may be repeated every day, once or twice a day. Milk can also effectively hydrate the skin.
A healthy, balanced diet, rich in fruits and vegetables, adequate hydration (8-10 glasses of fluids per day) are important for skin health because it can improve skin cell turnover, improving the skin tone and texture. Fresh fruits and vegetables have several ingredients that can lighten skin naturally. One may also consider taking nutritional supplements, especially Vitamin C, Vitamin B, Vitamin E, and omega-3 fatty acids because they help in maintaining good health.
9. Sun protection:
Sun damage causes tanning of the skin, triggers other pigmentation problems, burns the skin, and reduces skin elasticity, leading to premature aging. Excessive sun exposure is also a risk of skin cancer. Preventing hyperpigmentation due to sun exposure would allow the skin to lighten on its own because the cells regenerate and other skin treatments effectively lighten the skin as well. Without protection from sun damage, medical and natural treatments to lighten the skin would be futile. One of the best ways to protect the skin from sun damage is by using sunscreen. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends everyone use sunscreen that provides broad-spectrum protection (protects against ultraviolet A and ultraviolet B rays), has sun protection factor (SPF) 30 or higher, and is water-resistant throughout the year, including the winters and cloudy days. Sunscreen should be reapplied every 3-4 hours to the face and neck. Additional protection by wearing a wide-brimmed hat or carrying an umbrella can also help. It is also recommended to avoid being out in the sun when the sun’s rays are strongest between 10-11 a.m. and 3-4 p.m.
There are several medical treatment options available that can result in significant improvement for dark neck. Depending on the cause of hyperpigmentation and the extent, the doctor would be able to suggest a treatment plan. Medical treatment may include prescription drugs, prescription topical products, chemical peels, microdermabrasion, laser, etc. Medical treatment of underlying medical conditions would also be required.
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Zhu W, Gao J. The Use of Botanical Extracts as Topical Skin-Lightening Agents for the Improvement of Skin Pigmentation Disorders. J Investig Dermatol Symp Proc. 2008;13(1):20-24. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0022202X15526663
American Academy of Dermatology. Sunscreen FAQS. https://www.aad.org/public/everyday-care/sun-protection/sunscreen-patients/sunscreen-faqs