3 Hyperpigmentation Treatments that Actually Work
Most of us have experienced hyperpigmentation at one point or another. Whether you’ve had a pimple, left the house without sunscreen, or underwent hormonal changes, there are many reasons why you might end up with some form of hyperpigmentation.
Nowadays, you’ve got plenty of options when it comes to finding the best treatment for hyperpigmentation. Here’s everything you need to know about hyperpigmentation and the go-to treatments for achieving a more even skin tone.
What is Hyperpigmentation?
Hyperpigmentation is any patch of skin that appears darker than your natural skin tone. This occurs when the brown pigment melanin is overproduced, leading to age spots, sunspots, and discoloration.
Post Inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH) means after inflammation. For example, after a breakout. PIH is a type of hyperpigmentation that forms after a pimple goes away. It is temporary and only happens after the skin cells have been damaged in some way — like in the case of picking your pimples. Hyperpigmentation, on the other hand, is not brought on by any sort of damage to the skin but by excess melanin production. In many cases, it does not fade on its own.
Causes of Dark Spots and Discoloration
According to dermatologists, these are the most common causes of hyperpigmentation.
There’s a reason we’re always telling you to slather on the sunscreen! Unprotected sun exposure leaves you vulnerable to sun damage, which translates to fine lines, wrinkles, and hyperpigmentation. That’s because UVA and UVB rays trigger extra melanin production as a means to repair skin from damage. And it’s that extra melanin that gives you a tan. Unfortunately, excessive or unprotected sun exposure can cause sunspots to appear.
Injuries and Inflammation
Any kind of skin trauma from acne to eczema, cuts or scratching can set off inflammation in the skin, resulting in dark spots once the injury has healed. Known as post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, it’s commonly seen in those who pick their pimples.
Another type of hyperpigmentation, melasma is characterized by brown patches and often associated with hormonal changes from birth control or pregnancy.
Dark Skin Tones Are Most Prone
Hyperpigmentation most commonly occurs when patients have more melanin (or pigment) deposits in their skin. Those with darker skin tones are more prone to hyperpigmentation and dark spots.
The 3 Best Hyperpigmentation Treatments
Fortunately, there are plenty of over-the-counter hyperpigmentation treatments and correctors you can use to even out your skin tone. Here are three derm-favorites for the job.
#1: Exfoliating Acids
And by exfoliating acids, we primarily mean alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) like glycolic acid, lactic acid, and mandelic acid.
“Making exfoliating acids part of your skincare routine will help tremendously with visible scarring and skin discoloration” says Samantha Mims, Esthetician and founder of Dermasaa. “It promotes a much brighter complexion as it effectively and gently removes the outermost layer of dead cells from the skin.”
In addition to AHAs, you can also use BHAs like salicylic acid or azelaic acid which aid in encouraging cell turnover and fading hyperpigmentation. Retinol (a retinoid) is another fantastic resurfacing active ingredient that can help treat acne scars, dark spots, and discoloration.
PRODUCT PICK: GLOW Serum, a lightweight topical hyperpigmentation treatment formulated with glycolic acid and bakuchiol to lighten, brighten, and smooth.
#2: Vitamin C
Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that can be found in many skincare products. In addition to brightening skin and enhancing the effects of your daily sun protection, vitamin C can help minimize the appearance of skin discoloration.
“Treatments containing ingredients like vitamin C, licorice root, and kojic acid help reduce hyperpigmentation by inhibiting tyrosinase, an enzyme responsible for the formation of skin-darkening melanin," explains Ni'Kita Wilson, a cosmetic chemist in New York City.
PRODUCT PICK: SMOOTH Serum, a satiny serum packed with vitamin C + vegan collagen to plump, smooth, and even out skin tone.
#3: Chemical Peels
If over-the-counter treatments just aren’t doing it for, try booking an appointment for an in-office chemical peel with a board-certified dermatologist.
“Chemical peels can help remove surface layers of pigment, thus lightning while at the same time allowing for greater penetration of topical treatments,” says Dr. Sarah Allen, founder of The Skin Clique.
She urges you to book with a qualified professional to avoid the risk of side effects such as infection or post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation.
How to Prevent Hyperpigmentation
Prevention is always better than cure. One of the best ways to avoid developing hyperpigmentation such as age spots, melasma or sun spots is to ALWAYS apply SPF. And by always, we mean every single day, whether or not it’s cloudy outside.
Scoop up a broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher to protect your skin from both UVB (burning) and UVA (aging) rays. The derms also suggest choosing sunscreens that contain only zinc oxide as they shield the sunlight from causing hyperpigmentation.
If your hyperpigmentation is the result of acne, one of the most effective ways to swerve PIH is to avoid picking your pimples, as this will only increase inflammation and likelihood of discoloration and scarring.
Those with sensitive skin should aim to keep their skincare routine as gentle as possible to prevent traumatizing their skin, which often leads to hyperpigmentation. That means swapping out drying soaps for delicate cleansers and using low concentrations of active ingredients.
Are there Any More Treatment Options?
Dermatologists occasionally recommend the topical use of hydroquinone for treating hyperpigmentation. However, while it can give dramatic results, overuse of this skin lightening product can trigger some unpleasant side effects.
In terms of in-office treatments, the derms recommend laser treatments and microneedling in addition to chemical peels.
As for what you can do in your daily skincare routine, keep your skin nourished and hydrated! All skin types and tones can benefit from a daily moisturizer containing hyaluronic acid, glycerin, or niacinamide to boost cell renewal, plump skin, and help new skin cells stay healthy as they rise to the surface.