Hands Down, These are the Best Retinols for Hyperpigmentation

Best Retinols For Hyperpigmentation

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The fact that retinol is dermatologist-approved, and science-backed makes it one of the most sought-after skincare ingredients to treat several skin concerns. Its versatility is unquestionable. And it’s used by many, including yours truly, to treat anything from acne to signs of aging. Personally, I’ve been milking its anti-aging benefits primarily for my forehead wrinkles but retinol is also helpful in treating hyperpigmentation. So if you’re dealing with uneven skin tone, dark spots, and patches, there are retinols that work amazingly well to treat hyperpigmentation.

Just to put you up to speed in case you’re new to the ingredient, here’s the recap. Retinol is a form of vitamin A. In skincare, all vitamin A derivatives are collectively called retinoids. Retinol works by increasing the cell turnover rate. In the simplest terms, it makes the top layer of the skin renew faster. As a result, it improves a lot of the texture and complexion irregularities we see when we look in the mirror.

How Retinol Treats Hyperpigmentation

Retinol treats hyperpigmentation in two ways. First of all, just as the way it treats other skin concerns, retinol treats hyperpigmentation and uneven skin tone by accelerating the skin turnover rate. It replaces the old skin cells with new, healthier ones. By rejuvenating the top layer of the skin, retinol fades discolorations and brightens the skin. And secondly, retinol reduces melanin activity and blocks melanin transfer.

So you might be wondering how a regular retinol product is any different than a retinol product for hyperpigmentation. Well, that’s where other active ingredients come into play. Keep reading to find out what makes certain retinols work better for hyperpigmentation.

How to Choose Retinols For Hyperpigmentation

Ingredients to Look For

Studies show that combining retinoids with other depigmenting ingredients increases the effects of your treatment to reduce hyperpigmentation.

Retinol is already effective in treating hyperpigmentation. But when you’re dealing with stubborn marks, dark spots, and sun damage due to aging, you should adopt a more targeted approach. The aim is to address multiple pathways that lead to hyperpigmentation. This strengthens your hand in reducing skin discolorations by covering all the bases, so to speak.

Look for well-known skin brighteners like vitamin C, azelaic acid, arbutin, or niacinamide in your retinols to treat hyperpigmentation. These ingredients work by preventing melanin production, which causes dark spots and patches to appear on the skin. Combining these types of ingredients with retinol makes your product more targeted and effective.

Moreover, it’s best to look for skin-restoring ingredients like hyaluronic acid and ceramides too. These ingredients make your product gentler and minimize potential irritation and dryness.

Type of Retinol

Retinol comes in different concentrations varying between 0.1% to 1% in serums and creams. If you’re a beginner, keep your concentration low. Even though more potent formulations will be more effective in treating hyperpigmentation, higher concentrations may cause more irritation.

And if your skin isn’t ready for higher potency retinols, this irritation can indeed make hyperpigmentation worse. So pick your retinol wisely. Keep the concentration low because slow and steady wins the race. Consider encapsulated retinol or try retinols with lower irritation potential such as Granactive retinoid.

And as a general rule of thumb, face serums are inherently more potent than face creams. So a retinol serum will work better than a retinol cream if you want to get the most out of your product.

Best Retinols For Hyperpigmentation

1. Kiehl’s Micro-Dose Anti-Aging Retinol Serum

Kiehl's Micro-Dose Anti-Aging Retinol Serum - Best Retinols For Hyperpigmentation

Suitable for sensitive skin
Can be used around the eyes
Creamy texture doesn’t require buffering

This is one of the gentlest retinols out there. And if you want to start using retinol for hyperpigmentation, consider this formula. Most serums are more potent than creams. But they can be more irritating too. But this serum has a very emollient texture to significantly decrease the likelihood of irritation.

It combines low-concentration retinol with niacinamide to better target uneven skin tone. And it’s got ceramides to protect your skin barrier too. I have sensitive skin from rosacea so I generally use a moisturizer before retinol. But this one is creamy enough so I can apply it directly onto my skin without worrying about dryness or irritation.

Retinol: Pure retinol
Other Ingredients: Niacinamide, ceramides, hyaluronic acid
Skin Type: All skin types
Size: 1 oz/30 ml
Good To Know: Fragrance-free

2. PCA Skin Intensive Brightening Treatment

PCA Skin Intensive Brightening Treatment - Best Retinols For Hyperpigmentation

Contains encapsulated retinol
Rich in antioxidants
Fast-absorbing texture
Potent night treatment


This is a medical-grade, super-effective retinol treatment. Even though it’s in the mid-strength range, the serum utilizes encapsulated retinol to mitigate potential sensitivity to the skin. This makes it more tolerable for most skin types.

The better part is retinol is combined with niacinamide, and resveratrol, which is a botanical antioxidant that brightens the skin. It also has hexylresorcinol, another skin brightener to amplify the effects. The antioxidant-rich retinol serum is ideal if you have hyperpigmentation from sun damage.

Retinol: 0.5% pure retinol
Other Ingredients: Niacinamide, resveratrol, hexylresorcinol
Skin Type: Normal
Size: 1 oz/30 ml

3. Youth To The People Retinal + Niacinamide Youth Serum

Youth To The People Retinal + Niacinamide Youth Serum - Best Retinol For Hyperpigmentation

Instantly illuminates and brightens skin
Pleasant texture

Only for night use

Retinaldehyde, aka retinal, is a more potent vitamin A derivative than retinol. It’s one step closer to converting to retinoic acid. While retinol requires 2 steps, retinaldehyde requires only 1. So it’s more effective. Concerning the potential irritation, it’s similar to that of retinol.

So if you’re ready to take things up a notch, consider this retinaldehyde serum for hyperpigmentation. Its light, fast-absorbing texture combines 0.15% retinal with a whopping 5% niacinamide to even the skin tone and boost radiance. To avoid drying the skin out, it’s got ceramides, amino acids, hyaluronic acid, and a blend of plant oils too.

Retinol: 0.15% retinaldehyde
Other Ingredients: 5% niacinamide, ceramides, adaptogenic mushrooms
Skin Type: Normal, dry, combination, oily
Size: 1 oz/30 ml
Good To Know: Vegan, cruelty-free

4. The Ordinary Retinol 1% in Squalane

The Ordinary Retinol 1% in Squalane

High strength retinol

Not suitable for sensitive skin

Understandably, the price goes up when you go for a retinol formulated with several other active ingredients that brighten the skin. So if you’re on a budget and a multi-active formula is not an option, you can consider a higher-strength retinol serum. And when budget is concerned, this is one of the most affordable retinol serums out there.

It’s retinol, squalane, and jojoba oil. As you can gather, the formula or the texture isn’t the best when you’re looking for a ‘sensory experience’. But it’s retinol at its finest. So it encourages skin turnover to help you achieve an even skin tone and texture. Keep in mind that this is not beginner-friendly. If you’ve never used retinol before, skip this one and check out the one below.

Retinol: 1% pure retinol
Other Ingredients: Squalane
Skin Type: Normal
Size: 1 oz/30 ml
Good To Know: Vegan, cruelty-free

5. CeraVe Resurfacing Retinol Serum

CeraVe Resurfacing Retinol Serum - Best Drugstore Retinol For Hyperpigmentation

Contains encapsulated retinol
Suitable for sensitive skin and beginner retinol users

This drugstore retinol serum treats hyperpigmentation with encapsulated retinol on top of niacinamide and licorice extract. Licorice is a known skin brightener that also has anti-inflammatory benefits. And because of that, it’s helpful in managing acne-related hyperpigmentation and redness too.

The serum has a thin consistency and also packs ceramides and hyaluronic acid to support the skin barrier. Again, as someone with rosacea, I swear by this gentle formula. Whether it’s dark spots from sun damage or stubborn marks from acne, it’s a dermatologist-favorite serum.

Best Drugstore Retinol Serum For Hyperpigmentation - CeraVe Skin Resurfacing Retinol Serum
Image by Ejollify

Retinol: Encapsulated pure retinol
Other Ingredients: Niacinamide, licorice extract, ceramides, hyaluronic acid
Skin Type: All
Size: 1 oz/30 ml
Good To Know: Fragrance-free, non-comedogenic

6. iS Clinical Pro-Heal Serum Advance+

iS Clinical Pro-Heal Serum Advance+

Contains pure vitamin C
Brightening formula
Great for all types of hyperpigmentation
Suitable for sensitive skin

Higher price per ounce

Nothing can hold a candle to vitamin C when it comes to preventing hyperpigmentation while treating existing skin discolorations. Combine pure vitamin C with pure retinol and you’ll be targeting uneven skin tone from all possible angles. The brightening serum is incredibly gentle on the skin.

It also has arbutin, another skin brightener, to amplify the results and vitamin E for enhanced antioxidant benefits. The featherlight consistency stimulates skin turnover and collagen production for smoother and brighter skin. So overall, it’s an effective retinol product to minimize hyperpigmentation.

Retinol: Pure retinol
Other Ingredients: Pure vitamin C, arbutin, vitamin E
Skin Type: All
Size: 1 oz/30 ml

7. Paula’s Choice 1% Retinol Treatment

Paula's Choice 1% Retinol Treatment

High strength but still gentle
Non-drying formula
Contains soothers and hydrators
Thin consistency

With high-strength retinol, encapsulation, multiple brighteners, and an incredibly hydrating texture, this checks all the boxes. It has slow-release retinol to gently prompt skin turnover.

It has a blend of brighteners, including vitamin C and licorice extract, to ensure a more even complexion. The non-irritating, emollient texture is all thanks to ceramides, hyaluronic acid, calming oat, and allantoin.

Retinol: 1% pure retinol
Other Ingredients: Vitamin C, ceramides, peptides, licorice, oat, allantoin
Skin Type: Normal, dry, combination
Size: 1 oz/30 ml
Good To Know: Fragrance-free, cruelty-free

So these are the best retinols for hyperpigmentation. In my opinion, rather than starting with a potentially irritating high-strength retinol, start with a low-strength one. It’s going to be much easier to incorporate that into your routine. And you’re more likely to have a pleasant experience where you don’t deal with much redness.


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