Chances are you are part of the ever-growing population of people with unwanted dark spots on your skin. But, what exactly are those discolored patches of skin, and more importantly, how do you get rid of them? We’re sharing everything you need to know about hyperpigmentation plus the best ingredients to treat it.
What causes hyperpigmentation?
Hyperpigmentation refers to any darkening of the skin, whether it’s dark spots, melasma, acne scarring or a whole host of other conditions. It occurs when skin produces an excess of melanin, which is the pigment responsible for giving skin and eyes their unique shade and tone. Dark spots and discoloration pop up due to both internal and external factors, such as unprotected sun exposure over time, inflammation from chronic health conditions or skin injuries. Melasma, often called pregnancy mask, is the temporary darkening of the skin due to a fluctuation in hormone levels during pregnancy or birth control use but can also occur from excess sun exposure. As a whole, darker toned skin and women are more susceptible to developing hyperpigmentation.
How do I get rid of hyperpigmentation?
When dealing with hyperpigmentation, it’s important to understand that in some cases, the damage is done. However, that doesn’t mean it can’t be improved! We consulted board-certified dermatologist and LovelySkin CEO Dr. Joel Schlessinger to get his take:
The gold standard in lightening hyperpigmentation is hydroquinone. I haven't found any other product that even comes close to it when it comes to results. I don't use it in pregnant or nursing patients and I always stress to my patients that they will likely be on it for the rest of their lives in order to keep pigmentation at bay. Obagi is my favorite product and their Nu-Derm system is terrific. For those who can't access that system, the Obagi FX system contains arbutin, which is a good second option. Since most skin discoloration is caused by unprotected sun exposure, an ounce of prevention is truly worth a pound of cure. Wear a daily sunscreen like EltaMD UV Clear SPF 46 to prevent hyperpigmentation from occurring in the first place.
If you choose not to use hydroquinone, there are several other very effective ingredients to choose from.
Treatments for Hyperpigmentation
A natural derivative of hydroquinone, arbutin is an extract of the bearberry plant that, when applied for a period of time, inhibits tyrosinase activity in the skin. Tyrosinase is a copper enzyme present in both plants and humans that speeds up the production of melanin. Simply put, it doesn’t do skin any favors and contributes to hyperpigmentation. The Obagi Nu-Derm Fx System - Normal to Dry is a seven piece skin lightening kit that contains a cleanser, toner, three treatment products, moisturizer and sunscreen that work in harmony to brighten hyperpigmentation. It uses 7% arbutin to address dark spots, gentle exfoliators like lactic acid to smooth skin and hydrating ingredients like shea butter, avocado oil and mango seed butter to ensure skin stays soft and supple.
Asafetida is taken from a perennial herb typically found in India that, among its many other medicinal and culinary uses, effectively inhibits the production of dark spots. The LovelySkin Luxe Brightening Gel is a next generation brightening treatment that uses Asafetida extract and amino-based filaggrin antioxidants to address discoloration. Working in synergy, these two powerhouse ingredients support natural moisturizing factors (NMFs), which determine skin’s natural ability to retain moisture, while treating discoloration. The result? Effective exfoliation with little to no irritation.
This fairly new skin care ingredient is a derivative of the amino acid lysine that inhibits the activity of melanocytes that contribute to stubborn brown patches and dark spots. SkinMedica Lytera 2.0 Pigment Correcting Serum combines tranexamic acid, niacinamide and the potent antioxidant phenylethyl resorcinol to lighten discoloration and improve tone in as little as two weeks. Phytic acid improves rough texture, and peptides visibly plump fine lines and wrinkles.
Kojic acid is a byproduct of rice fermentation. It’s typically used in the production of sake, but fortunately, it also serves as an inhibitor of unwanted pigment. It’s very effective at improving the appearance of inflammatory marks from acne. SkinCeuticals Discoloration Defense combines 3% tranexamic acid with 1% kojic acid, 5% niacinamide and sulfonic acid to address dark spots, acne marks and other types of post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. In a 12-week clinical study, 81% of users noted an improvement in their post-acne marks.
Derived from grains like barley, wheat and rye, azaleic acid has anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties that clear bacteria from pores and treat breakouts. Additionally, it’s also a natural botanical brightener that addresses discoloration and dark spots. Arcona Brightening Drops contain kojic and azaleic acid to brighten discoloration and vitamin C to boost brightening benefits while promoting healthy collagen production.
Licorice root has been used to treat stomach issues for centuries, but its components are also beneficial in diminishing hyperpigmentation. It has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties that protect and purify the skin. But more importantly, it also contains an active ingredient called glabridin that inhibits the enzyme tyrosinase that, as previously discussed, accelerates the formation of dark spots. Eminence Organics Bright Skin Licorice Root Exfoliating Peel is a potent treatment that combines azaleic acid and licorice root with lactic and mandelic acid, which provide gentle exfoliation to smooth skin and even out tone.
Pro Tip: Don’t forget your hands! Dark spots pop up where the sun hits you most, which is typically the face and hands. Revision Skincare Lumiquin is formulated to address aging hands. Licorice extract treats dark spots while peptides replace lost volume and hyaluronic acid binds moisture to the skin for smoother, younger-looking hands.
Read more about how to get rid of hyperpigmentation on the LovelySkin blog.