From breakouts to irritation, every seemingly unwanted skin condition is a means of communication. Our bodies are smart, and as such, they signal to us via aches, pains, and even acne that something's up. Hyperpigmentation is one of those communication methods. Since you're here, it's probably safe to assume that you've dealt with this finicky condition in the past or are currently dealing with it and are looking for the solutions to get rid of the dark, overly pigmented spots that result from the overproduction of melanin in small and large marks on the skin.
I know as well as anyone that hyperpigmentation is no fun and that it takes a lot of time and patience to treat. (Read more about my journey here.) But listen. We all spend so much time staring at our own faces that every little mark or line can feel like the end of the world. Of course, there are many levels of hyperpigmentation and different severities that can leave us feeling self-conscious and having major "why me" moments, but hyperpigmentation is normal. In fact, dermatologists see it all the time and are constantly helping their patients identify the best treatment options. Take a deep breath and continue reading to learn about three common mistakes that can cause hyperpigmentation and to get the expert intel to help you avoid making them. Then, scroll on for an edit of the internet's 15 favorite hyperpigmentation creams to help restore your skin tone to its clearest, most even state.
Mistake #3: Not Understanding the Kind of Hyperpigmentation You're Dealing With
So you've got hyperpigmentation. Now what? According to Ronald Moy, MD, FAAD, of Moy, Fincher, Chipps in Beverly Hills, identifying the type of hyperpigmentation you're dealing with will help you better hone in on a treatment plan. "The main types of hyperpigmentation include melasma, post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, and sun-induced hyperpigmentation," he explains.
While each type of hyperpigmentation is treatable, the root causes are essential to consider, as they can inform both preventative measures and effective treatments. Ryan Turner, MD, of Turner Dermatology in NYC, says that melasma will be the most difficult of the hyperpigmentation types to treat because it's linked to hormones. "Melasma is a difficult type of hyperpigmentation to treat because it is caused by certain hormonal influences and chronic sun exposure," he says. "The hormonal changes of pregnancy and the use of oral contraceptives can bring on or worsen melasma." Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation results from physical trauma to the skin like a scrape, rash, or stubborn acne breakout. It may even appear following certain in-office treatments like strong lasers and peels. Sun-induced hyperpigmentation, or sunspots as they're not-so-lovingly known to the layman, is the result of photoaging from chronic sun damage.
Mistake #2: Using the Wrong Ingredients to Treat It
Different types of hyperpigmentation do crop up for varying internal and external reasons, but our experts agree that there are some standard skincare ingredients that can be helpful across the board. "The active ingredients for hyperpigmentation include hydroquinones, azelaic acid, kojic acid, alpha hydroxy acids, and retinol," says Moy. Turner tells us that additional ingredients to look out for are niacinamide, vitamin C, and topical tranexamic acid. Variation in treatment can be determined by a board-certified dermatologist, who might also recommend certain in-office peels or lasers in specific cases.
But as Turner points out, it's crucial to remember that more isn't always better. A dermatologist can help you determine how rigorous an exfoliation regimen you might need to curb hyperpigmentation, but it's never a good idea to go overboard. "It goes without saying, but repeated rubbing or picking skin can exacerbate hyperpigmentation. Using mechanical exfoliating scrubs with harsh abrasives liked crushed walnut shells or crystals can also worsen hyperpigmentation," he explains. Long story short, resist the urge to apply harsh pressure or overly abrasive products onto your skin, or you might end up doing more harm than good.
"Failure to be aggressively mindful of sun protection is one of the most common mistakes," Turner implores. And a day at the beach or spent doing some other outdoor activities aren't the only times sun protection is necessary. Instead, it's an "all the time" kind of deal. "We don’t always think about it, but grabbing a 15-minute lunch outside with unprotected sun exposure can worsen hyperpigmentation," he says. Yikes! As many of us are continuing to work from home, we might think our SPF needs are lower, but if your workspace is near a window where you're receiving sustained sun exposure throughout the day, you'd better plan to protect your face.
Despite its difficulty to treat, Moy says that sun protection and avoidance where possible is a major player when it comes to melasma."Melasma is the most preventable if sun avoidance is possible," he says. So as with most skin conditions and concerns, preventing hyperpigmentation is key! And the best way to prevent it is sun protection.
Shop top-rated hyperpigmentation creams:
According to Turner, this is one of the most effective hyperpigmentation creams out there. "This combination therapy has hydroquinone in addition to azelaic acid and other botanical skin lighteners. Of course, sun protection with zinc oxide at least SPF 50 must be added to any treatment if it isn’t in the combination product," he says. This treatment is only available with a prescription, so speak to your dermatologist if you're interested in trying it for your hyperpigmentation.
Everyone is in love with this product by Gen Z darling brand Topicals. It's a gel serum formulated with all skin types in mind, including darker skin tones that are often ignored by researchers and clinical trials, to combat dark spots and discoloration from sun damage, scarring, and inflammation.
As our derms mentioned, retinol is among the most effective resurfacing treatments for keeping hyperpigmentation and bay and clearing it from the skin's surface. This one from CeraVe earns high marks from users since it's fragrance-free and formulated with ceramides to comfort and strengthen the skin.
Moy calls this savvy formula from his own skincare line the single most effective topical treatment for hyperpigmentation. "It contains a human epidermal growth factor bioengineered from barley, which thickens aged skin, stimulates the stem cells in the skin, and leads to an improvement in hyperpigmentation," he explains.
In addition to the SkinCeuticals CE Ferulic ($166) in the morning, the brand's potent 1% retinol is a winner for lightening hyperpigmentation as you sleep. Remember that retinol can increase photosensitivity even though you apply it at night, so layering a good sunscreen on top of your morning products is imperative.
Skincare insiders swear by Jan Marini Skin Research for its cutting-edge, highly effective formulations. This light cream offers a nonirritating delivery of retinol, collagen-boosting peptides, and protective antioxidants to lessen the appearance of hyperpigmentation while also encouraging an overall youthful glow.
In the same family of lightweight, multitasking SPF moisturizers, this one works on hyperpigmentation via vitamin C to increase cell turnover.
This oil-free gel-cream has a potent concentration of another hyperpigmentation buster identified by our pros, azelaic acid. It can be used alone all over the face, as a spot treatment, or mixed with your favorite moisturizer to give it a little extra magic. Either way, you'll get the added benefits of other ingredients like breakout-clearing salicylic acid and calming licorice root.
This overnight cream brings in the AHA glycolic acid to resurface the skin and Viniferine, vine sap from grapes, for brightening. Hydrated, more radiant skin is the result.
This beauty editor–adored retinol goes the extra mile with the addition of kojic acid and niacinamide, ingredients our experts recommend for lightening hyperpigmentation. What a trio!