These 9 Ingredients Are The Best Ones To Treat Hyperpigmentation

Best Ingredients For Hyperpigmentation

There’s no better time to manage hyperpigmentation than now. Because an array of skincare ingredients are available, allowing you to treat hyperpigmentation with the convenience of a face serum, or a night cream.

Hyperpigmentation is a skin condition that’s characterized by dark spots and patches on the skin. It can be caused by UV exposure or triggered by inflammatory acne, which leads to the excess production of melanin.

And melanin is what causes pigmentation on the skin. It’s more common among people with darker skin tones. Either way, it can be bothersome because it gives you uneven skin tone.

So whether you’re dealing with dark spots from sun exposure or acne marks, topical ingredients are here to help you out with your skincare routine!

By prioritizing the skincare ingredients that have been proven to work, you can manage uneven skin tone, and dark spots with the skincare products you use.

Best Ingredients for Hyperpigmentation

1. Retinol

Retinol is a form of vitamin A and is one of the most researched topical ingredients with well-documented benefits. Other types of vitamin A, collectively called retinoids, are also available with a prescription.

How It Helps Hyperpigmentation

Retinol works by increasing the cell turnover rate, causing the continuous renewal of the upper layer of the skin (1). In essence, it works by replacing old melanin-riddled cells with new, healthier ones underneath.

It’s got major anti-aging benefits so it’s helpful for people with aging skin dealing with sun damage and UV-induced skin discolorations.

How To Use It

What you need to know about using retinol for hyperpigmentation is that it’s notorious for being irritating to the skin. You need to properly incorporate retinol into your routine and use it sparingly until your skin builds tolerance.

You can infer that it’s not the best choice of ingredient to tackle hyperpigmentation when you have sensitive or dry skin.

In that case, you can scroll down and navigate other gentler options, see a dermatologist for prescription retinoids, or try retinol products for sensitive skin.

2. Vitamin C

Surely, vitamin C is one of the most popular active ingredients out there right now. But its popularity is backed by science (2).

Also called ascorbic acid or L-ascorbic acid, vitamin C is an antioxidant that neutralizes the damaging effects of free radicals.

How It Helps Hyperpigmentation

Concerning hyperpigmentation, vitamin C inhibits melanin production, which is triggered by free radicals. So it’s a great choice of ingredient if you want to treat dark spots or patches and also prevent their formation.

Additionally, vitamin C has anti-inflammatory effects. And because of that, it also helps fade discolorations from acne and acne marks.

How To Use It

The best way to collect the brightening benefits of vitamin C is to use it in a face serum. There are vitamin C creams, moisturizers, toners, and cleansers out there too. But serums are inherently more potent.

Invest in a good, stable formula with proper packaging in a dark container and use it daily. If you have sensitive skin, you can try serums made with vitamin C derivatives like magnesium ascorbyl phosphate.

3. Kojic Acid

Kojic acid is derived from several types of fungi and can also be obtained through the fermentation of rice or soy sauce. It’s one of the best ingredients for dark spots and post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation.

How It Helps Hyperpigmentation

Kojic acid works by inhibiting the enzyme responsible for melanin production (3). In addition, it has anti-microbial, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant effects too.

It’s relatively difficult to stabilize into skincare products. That’s why it’s most commonly formulated together with other brightening ingredients.

How To Use It

Kojic acid can be irritating for you, especially if you have sensitive skin. So keep this in mind and perform a patch test to be on the safer side.

Also, kojic acid isn’t as widely available as a standalone active ingredient in a face serum like vitamin C. It doesn’t mean it’s less effective.

Look for kojic acid products that also pack other brightening ingredients to achieve cumulative benefits without dealing with potential irritation.

4. Azelaic Acid

Azelaic acid is a naturally occurring acid usually found in grains like wheat and barley. It’s like the mother of all multi-taskers.

It helps with redness, rosacea, acne, and hyperpigmentation and it’s majorly anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial.

How It Helps Hyperpigmentation

Azelaic acid works by inhibiting melanin production as well as preventing the accumulation of melanin on the skin’s surface (4).

It has mildly exfoliative properties but not like exfoliating acids such as glycolic acid. Azelaic acid is gentler and it’s also recommended for people with darker skin tones dealing with post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation.

How To Use It

You can use topical azelaic acid products in the form of serums, gels, or creams. Because it’s generally well tolerated, azelaic acid is an effective ingredient to fade hyperpigmentation for people with sensitive skin who can’t tolerate other active ingredients.

5. Niacinamide

Niacinamide is a form of vitamin B3 and another multi-tasker. It helps with uneven skin tone, acne, dryness, and inflammation.

How It Helps Hyperpigmentation

Niacinamide works by preventing melanin transfer (5). Because of its anti-inflammatory properties, niacinamide is also used to treat acne. Therefore, it’s also helpful in preventing hyperpigmentation from acne.

How To Use It

Niacinamide is readily a gentle skincare ingredient. You can find it in products formulated with other brighteners like vitamin C or as a standalone ingredient in face serums, toners, and creams.

Though it’s mostly well-tolerated, it may still require some getting used to for certain people. But overall, niacinamide is one of the gentlest ingredients out there to treat hyperpigmentation and brighten skin.

6. Arbutin

Another depigmenting compound is arbutin aka alpha arbutin. It’s usually derived from several types of berries, and it’s actually a derivative of hydroquinone. More on hydroquinone in a bit.

How It Helps Hyperpigmentation

Arbutin helps hyperpigmentation in two ways. It inhibits both melanin production and melanin maturation. So in a way, if it doesn’t get those dark spots the first time, it’s going to get them the second time!

How To Use It

Arbutin is overall a gentle ingredient especially compared to hydroquinone. You can find alpha arbutin serums or other treatment serums that happen to contain arbutin too. Either way, it’s a great option for darker skin tones or when your skin can’t tolerate harsher ingredients.

7. Tranexamic Acid

Tranexamic acid is a derivative of an amino acid called lysine. It’s available in cosmetic products in the form of serums. The story behind its discovery is really interesting. Definitely give our tranexamic acid 101 a read.

How It Helps Hyperpigmentation

As a certain type of hyperpigmentation disorder, melasma is a little bit more complex than, say, dark spots from acne. It’s because the cause is unknown and assumed to be related to genetics, UV exposure, or hormones.

And because of this, it’s not clear how topical tranexamic acid works on melasma -such a complex pigmentation disorder. Simply put, it seems to interfere with the process of melanin formation (6).

How To Use It

Tranexamic acid can be found in all kinds of skincare products. It sometimes accompanies other brighteners like niacinamide or kojic acid. Either way, it’s a gentler skincare ingredient to treat skin discolorations, especially melasma.

8. Licorice Extract

Licorice extract is a natural ingredient derived from the Glycyrrhiza glabra plant (7). The active compounds of the plant include glabridin and liquiritin, which help with hyperpigmentation.

How It Helps Hyperpigmentation

Licorice extract works by inhibiting melanin production and dispersing existing melanin, which is when you think of it, kind of a weird way to improve hyperpigmentation.

But that’s how it fades skin discolorations. Because it’s plant-derived, licorice extract possesses anti-inflammatory benefits too, which is great for redness.

How To Use It

Licorice extract is usually formulated into brightening products, anti-aging products, and soothing products. The reason is that UV exposure is the most important factor in aging skin. It causes inflammation which eventually leads to dark spots. So you can look for licorice in your anti-aging products.

Additionally, if you’re dealing with hyperpigmentation but you have very sensitive skin, look for licorice extract as well as other phenolic antioxidants (botanicals) in your products. These can be green tea, resveratrol, and mullbery extarct.

9. Hydroquinone

Hydroquinone is one of the most researched and effective ingredients for hyperpigmentation (8). You can’t talk about hyperpigmentation without talking about hydroquinone.

It’s considered to be the gold standard ingredient for skin discolorations. Whenever some new ingredient comes up, they usually compare it with hydroquinone to see how well it performs.

It’s commonly prescribed by dermatologists to treat hyperpigmentation and it’s also available in low concentrations in over-the-counter skincare products.

How It Helps Hyperpigmentation

Hydroquinone works by inhibiting melanin production. That’s as straight as things get. Whether you’re dealing with melasma, acne marks, or dark patches from sun damage, hydroquinone is an effective ingredient.

How To Use It

There’s a reason why I saved hydroquinone for last even though I’ve mentioned that it’s the gold standard treatment for hyperpigmentation.

It’s because it’s very irritating for the skin. It causes sensitivity, redness, stinging, and sensitivity to sunlight. Moreover, you’re supposed to use it for a certain period of time and take a break.

So there are a lot of strings attached! For that reason, it’s best to leave it to professionals and see a dermatologist and let them hold your hand through the whole process.

Though it’s the holy grail, it’s not the ideal ingredient to look for in over-the-counter products. When you’re taking matters into your own hands, stick with the gentler options above.

So these are the best skincare ingredients for hyperpigmentation. Again, these are directly involved in the production of melanin. They either prevent the process, reverse it, or stop it in its tracks. That’s why these are superior and the primary options for hyperpigmentation.

A secondary method would be using exfoliants like glycolic acid or salicylic acid, which work by exfoliating the skin. And lastly, wearing sunscreen is the best way to prevent dark spots and uneven skin tone.


  1. Ortonne J. P. (2006). Retinoid therapy of pigmentary disorders. Dermatologic therapy19(5), 280–288.
  2. Telang P. S. (2013). Vitamin C in dermatology. Indian dermatology online journal4(2), 143–146.
  3. Saeedi, M., Eslamifar, M., & Khezri, K. (2019). Kojic acid applications in cosmetic and pharmaceutical preparations. Biomedicine & pharmacotherapy = Biomedecine & pharmacotherapie110, 582–593.
  4. Davis, E. C., & Callender, V. D. (2010). Postinflammatory hyperpigmentation: a review of the epidemiology, clinical features, and treatment options in skin of colorThe Journal of clinical and aesthetic dermatology3(7), 20–31.
  5. Hakozaki, T., Minwalla, L., Zhuang, J., Chhoa, M., Matsubara, A., Miyamoto, K., Greatens, A., Hillebrand, G.G., Bissett, D.L. and Boissy, R.E. (2002), The effect of niacinamide on reducing cutaneous pigmentation and suppression of melanosome transfer. British Journal of Dermatology, 147: 20-31.
  6. 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 therapy7(3), 417–424.
  7. Ciganović, P., Jakimiuk, K., Tomczyk, M., & Zovko Končić, M. (2019). Glycerolic Licorice Extracts as Active Cosmeceutical Ingredients: Extraction Optimization, Chemical Characterization, and Biological Activity. Antioxidants (Basel, Switzerland)8(10), 445.
  8. Schwartz C, Jan A, Zito PM. Hydroquinone. [Updated 2023 Mar 7]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 Jan-. Available from:

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