Most people aren’t aware of it. But the real reason why you’re bothered by hyperpigmentation is that it makes you look older. That’s right. Dark spots and patches give you an uneven skin tone. But don’t get discouraged. Because we’ve got the best skincare products for hyperpigmentation.
But finding products to get rid of hyperpigmentation is only half of the story. The whole thing can be as complex as having to sort out 8 different earphones all tangled together. Because broadly speaking, the more factors involved in your hyperpigmentation, the harder it becomes to get rid of it. Keep in mind that hyperpigmentation is the broad term people use for all kinds of skin discolorations. But in general, there are three types of hyperpigmentation.
The first one is dark spots, which are usually the result of excessive sun exposure. The second one is post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, which results from discolorations from acne or any type of skin injury. And the last one is melasma, which usually manifests itself as relatively larger dark patches on the skin. And it’s usually associated with hormones.
As you can gather, treating a hormonal issue is not the same as treating an acne scar. However, when skincare is concerned, the path is pretty much the same. There are three major ways to deal with hyperpigmentation using skincare products. Some ingredients prevent melanin production.
Others prevent the skin cells from picking up that melanin. And some others get rid of hyperpigmentation simply by increasing the skin turnover rate. And we’ve covered all!
The Best Products For Hyperpigmentation
Whether you’re dealing with dark spots or uneven skin tone marks, below are the best products to get rid of hyperpigmentation.
1. Drunk Elephant C-Firma Fresh Day Serum
Pros: Fragrance-free, contains enzymes for superficial exfoliation
Vitamin C, with a ton of research behind its antioxidant properties, is one of the best ingredients to treat free radical damage on the skin (1). And when we say free radical damage, we mean dark spots on the skin that are formed as a result of sun exposure. Vitamin C plays the “inhibiting” role where it interferes with the process of melanin production. This serum contains ascorbic acid; the purest form of vitamin C and the most effective one in getting rid of hyperpigmentation. Additional brightening agents include ferulic acid and licorice root. Use it daily under your sunscreen to get rid of sunspots and to protect your skin against the formation of new ones.
What It Has: Ascorbic acid, enzymes, ferulic acid, licorice extract
What It Does: Brightens, fades pigmentation
Skin Type: Normal, dry, combination, oily Size: 0.94 oz
2. Kiehl’s Clearly Corrective Dark Spot Corrector
Pros: Gentle formula, contains stable vitamin C, suitable for sensitive skin
And speaking of vitamin C, know that ascorbic acid isn’t your only option. There are vitamin C derivatives out there. And they’re equally effective but more stable than pure ascorbic acid. This makes them more suitable for sensitive skin types too. And this dark spot correcting serum is made with one of the most effective derivatives, namely 3-o-ethyl ascorbic acid. It also packs antioxidant-rich peony extract and feels incredibly light on the skin too.
What It Has: 3-o-ethyl ascorbic acid
What It Does: Reduces hyperpigmentation, boosts radiance
Skin Type: All Size: 1 oz
3. The Ordinary Azelaic Acid 10% Suspension Brightening Cream
Pros: Affordable, gentle, suitable for sensitive skin
Azelaic acid is one of those multi-taskers and is beneficial in treating both hyperpigmentation and acne (2). Because it’s majorly anti-inflammatory. It inhibits melanin production but also reduces inflammation. Azelaic acid will be especially helpful if you’re dealing with acne-related pigmentation. Plus, it’s generally well-tolerated by most skin types. This azelaic acid cream is a great way to target hyperpigmentation without irritating your skin. It’s fragrance-free and oil-free, and an overall budget-friendly cream to target hyperpigmentation and skin discolorations.
What It Has: Azelaic acid
What It Does: Minimizes discolorations, redness, acne
Skin Type: All Size: 1 oz
4. SkinCeuticals Discoloration Defense
Pros: Super targeted treatment for hyperpigmentation, multi-acid formula, fragrance-free
Tranexamic acid is another ingredient you can rely on to treat hyperpigmentation. Tranexamic acid is anti-inflammatory and actually plays a preventative role against the formation of dark spots. It’s the most popular anti-pigmentation agent when melasma is concerned (3). The super-targeted treatment contains 3% tranexamic acid topped with other skin brighteners. 1% kojic acid, 5% niacinamide, and a 5% lesser-known acid (sulfonic) prompt exfoliation and improve skin tone. The fragrance-free serum is the perfect formulation to combat acne scarring, melasma, and any kind of skin discoloration.
What It Has: Tranexamic acid, kojic acid, niacinamide, sulfonic acid
What It Does: Fades stubborn dark spots
Skin Type: Dry, normal, oily, combination Size: 1 oz
5. Murad Rapid Dark Spot Correcting Serum
Pros: Multi-purpose product exfoliates and brightens at the same time
Both alpha-hydroxy acids and beta-hydroxy acids are chemical exfoliants that remove the top layer of your skin. The brown spots made up of pigmented dead skin cells sitting on the surface of your skin can be sloughed off simply by using a hydroxy acid product. So hydroxy acids help with hyperpigmentation by exfoliating the skin (4). Glycolic acid and salicylic acid are both incredibly effective. But if you’re prone to acne, salicylic acid will be the better choice to reduce acne, and pigmentation, and brighten your skin. The dark spot serum is made with brightening tranexamic acid as well as exfoliating glycolic acid. Containing 2 effective actives, the serum is a powerful one and essential for any anti-pigment skincare routine to reveal brighter skin.
What It Has: Glycolic acid, tranexamic acid
What It Does: Exfoliates, brightens
Skin Type: Normal, dry, combination, oily Size: 1 oz
6. Paula’s Choice 10% Niacinamide Booster
Pros: Fragrance-free, suitable for sensitive skin, can be used alone or mixed with other products
Also known as vitamin B3, niacinamide treats hyperpigmentation by blocking the transportation of pigments. That’s how niacinamide creams and serums prevent dark spots from ending up on your face. So it’s not necessarily a melanin inhibitor. But according to studies, niacinamide gave better results in terms of getting rid of hyperpigmentation when combined with N-acetyl glucosamine, which is also a melanin inhibitor (5). So look for N-acetyl glucosamine in your niacinamide products for amplified results. And this one is the perfect formulation that contains both. Use it alone as a treatment or super-charge your serums and creams by adding a few drops of this.
What It Has: Niacinamide, vitamin C, licorice extract
What It Does: Evens skin tone, increases radiance, minimizes pores
Skin Type: All Size: 0.67 oz
7. Peter Thomas Roth Retinol Fusion PM Night Serum
Pros: Encapsulation makes retinol tolerable, anti-aging night treatment
Vitamin A, both prescription retinoids and over-the-counter retinol, is the golden standard for regulating skin turnover. For the sake of keeping things to the point, retinoids will help with hyperpigmentation mostly by constantly renewing your skin. As a result, you get rid of surface pigmentation by getting rid of old skin cells. Retinoids are also incredibly effective in treating acne and acne-related hyperpigmentation (6). The serum is formulated with 1.5% retinol. To tackle possible irritation and sensitivity, retinol is encapsulated. So the serum absorbs slowly and gradually. The night serum boosts epidermal skin turnover and also contains vitamins C and E to treat free radical damage. And because of retinol, it’s one of the best products you can use to get rid of hyperpigmentation.
What It Has: Encapsulated retinol, vitamin E, vitamin C
What It Does: Stimulates skin turnover to remove dark spots
Skin Type: Normal, dry, combination, oily Size: 1 oz
8. PCA Skin Pigment Gel HQ-Free
Pros: Contains gentle exfoliant, resurfaces the skin without peeling
Hydroquinone is an obvious choice for anyone who wants to fade dark spots and even out the skin tone. Hydroquinone inhibits the activities of certain enzymes (tyrosinase) responsible for producing melanin. But it’s no secret that it can be irritating for the skin. The side effects like dryness, irritation, and unwanted de-pigmentation usually outweigh the benefits. That’s why we have other safer options. And one of them is kojic acid. It’s derived from mushrooms as well as fermented sake and it also interferes with melanin production (7). It helps fade dark spots as well as acne scars. And this serum combines kojic acid with other potent actives like lactic acid for exfoliation and azelaic acid for brightening.
What It Has: Lactic acid, azelaic acid, kojic acid
What It Does: Gently exfoliates, reduces discolorations without irritation, prevents dark spots
Skin Type: All Size: 1 oz
9. Caudalie Vinoperfect Radiance Dark Spot Correcting Serum
Pros: Suitable for sensitive skin, instantly brightening, smells amazing
And lastly, this is one of the gentlest products out there for hyperpigmentation. It’s made with viniferine, a plant-derived antioxidant similar to resveratrol. These types of antioxidants also have anti-inflammatory benefits. That’s why they’re helpful in reducing discolorations from sun exposure too. The oil-free formula hydrates with squalane and glycerin and evens out the skin tone with viniferine. It also has an instant brightening effect on the complexion, leaving it dewy and luminous.
What It Has: Viniferine, squalane
What It Does: Instantly brightens, evens skin tone, plumps
Skin Type: All Size: 1 oz
This concludes our round-up of the best skincare products for hyperpigmentation. As you can see, there’s not really a cure-all ingredient. It’s more like utilizing different ones that all contribute in different ways. You can cover as much basis as you can with ingredients that are suitable for your unique skin. But remember, prevention is easier than cure. That’s why SPF is the best way to get rid of hyperpigmentation!
What Causes Hyperpigmentation?
For normal skin, melanin production is a pretty regular process. When your skin is exposed to sunlight, melanocytes start producing melanin. They are nestled in the base layer of the outermost layer of your skin.
As they start producing melanin, the ever-renewing skin cells that travel upwards pick up some of that melanin and absorb it, becoming brown in the end and giving you a tan.
But sometimes, either genetics, excessive sun exposure, or just having a hormonal imbalance can cause those melanin-producing cells to become hyperactive.
They get so sensitive that they’re triggered by the tiniest things like an insect bite, a bit of sun-bathing, or just picking your face. That hypersensitivity causes uncontrollable melanin production, giving you dark spots or patches.
That’s how you get hyperpigmentation. As you can see, melanin isn’t the problem. It’s the overactive, overly enthusiastic melanocytes that need intervention.
What to Look for in Products for Hyperpigmentation?
As we established, retinoids, vitamin C, niacinamide, and azelaic are some of the most effective ingredients to get rid of hyperpigmentation.
Other skincare ingredients you can use to brighten the skin and reduce dark spots are arbutin, resveratrol, licorice extract, mulberry extract, and soy extract.
And some in-office procedures you can consider are chemical peels and laser treatments. These will be aggressive but way more efficient than at-home skincare products. So it’s important to consult a board-certified dermatologist and get these treatments done by a professional.
What Are the Best Products for Hyperpigmentation for Darker Skin Tones?
To better understand how to deal with hyperpigmentation when you have a darker skin tone, you need to understand the deal with melanin.
Melanocytes are the cells that produce melanin, that brownish pigment. And melanin is actually your skin’s defense mechanism against UV-induced damage.
Melanin absorbs UV rays so that those rays can’t make it to the DNA of your skin cells and cause damage. So melanin, and of course melanocytes, are your friends. People with lighter skin tones have very little melanin. And people with darker skin tones have an abundance of it.
As melanin is your body’s own sunblock, you can infer that lighter skin tones are more prone to getting sun-induced skin damage compared to darker skin tones. Similarly, hyperpigmentation is more common among people with medium/dark skin tones.
So what does that mean? It means that people with darker skin tones usually require more caution with skincare actives. Unfortunately, people generally do the opposite. You can absolutely use any of the ingredients/products listed above. The most important thing is to be very gentle about it.
For example, over-exfoliation, or not using sunscreen when exfoliating make the skin prone to sunburn and more hyperpigmentation. And if you’re a person of color, your skin is already more susceptible to pigmentation. That’s why caution is necessary.
Use exfoliators once a week, for example. Or opt-in for a lactic acid serum instead of a glycolic acid serum as lactic acid is gentler. Other than that, just as we established, exfoliants, retinoids, and vitamin C, are great for treating hyperpigmentation regardless of your skin color.
How to Prevent Hyperpigmentation?
The whole process of your skin becoming hyperpigmented involves hundreds of different types of cells. A lot of different proteins and enzymes are responsible for the whole thing. So “inhibiting melanin production” is an oversimplification.
Think of it as washing a plate in the sink. There are certain steps and each step requires a tool like water, sponge, or detergent. But before anything else, you want to eat clean so that you don’t have a very dirty plate to wash in the first place.
Similarly, sunblock will provide the main protection against hyperpigmentation. For all of that skincare to work and last, you can’t underestimate your own sun protection efforts, which include wearing SPF and protective clothing.
- Telang P. S. (2013). Vitamin C in dermatology. Indian dermatology online journal, 4(2), 143–146. https://doi.org/10.4103/2229-5178.110593
- Davis, E. C., & Callender, V. D. (2010). Postinflammatory hyperpigmentation: a review of the epidemiology, clinical features, and treatment options in skin of color. The Journal of clinical and aesthetic dermatology, 3(7), 20–31.
- Atefi, N., Dalvand, B., Ghassemi, M., Mehran, G., & Heydarian, A. (2017). Therapeutic Effects of Topical Tranexamic Acid in Comparison with Hydroquinone in Treatment of Women with Melasma. Dermatology and therapy, 7(3), 417–424. https://doi.org/10.1007/s13555-017-0195-0
- Kornhauser, A., Coelho, S. G., & Hearing, V. J. (2010). Applications of hydroxy acids: classification, mechanisms, and photoactivity. Clinical, cosmetic and investigational dermatology, 3, 135–142. https://doi.org/10.2147/CCID.S9042
- Farage, M. A., Miller, K. W., & Maibach, H. I. (2009). 51 Hyperpigmentation in aging skin [E-book]. In Textbook of Aging Skin (pp. 495–501). Springer Publishing. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-540-89656-2
- Zasada, M., & Budzisz, E. (2019). Retinoids: active molecules influencing skin structure formation in cosmetic and dermatological treatments. Postepy dermatologii i alergologii, 36(4), 392–397. https://doi.org/10.5114/ada.2019.87443
- Saeedi, M., Eslamifar, M., & Khezri, K. (2019). Kojic acid applications in cosmetic and pharmaceutical preparations. Biomedicine & pharmacotherapy = Biomedecine & pharmacotherapie, 110, 582–593. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biopha.2018.12.006
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