Getting rid of hyperpigmentation

How to Treat Skin Hyperpigmentation Naturally

There are several ways that you can treat hyperpigmentation at home. While several of the remedies we share here are anecdotal, some research suggests their main ingredients work on skin pigmentation.

Apple cider vinegar

Apple cider vinegar contains acetic acid, which research shows may lighten pigmentation.

To use this remedy:

  1. Combine equal parts apple cider vinegar and water in a container.
  2. Apply to your dark patches and leave on two to three minutes.
  3. Rinse using lukewarm water.
  4. Repeat twice daily you achieve the results you desire.

Aloe vera

Aloe vera contains aloin, a natural depigmenting compound that has been shown to lighten skin and work effectively as a nontoxic hyperpigmentation treatment, according to a 2012 study.

To use:

  1. Apply pure aloe vera gel to pigmented areas before bedtime.
  2. Rinse using warm water the next morning.
  3. Repeat daily until your skin color improves.

Red onion

Red onion (Allium cepa) extract is an ingredient in some commercially available skin- and scar-lightening creams. Research has found that the dried skin of red onions can effectively lighten skin. Look for creams for hyperpigmentation that contain Allium cepa and use as directed.

Green tea extract

Research shows that green tea extract may have a depigmenting effect when applied to skin. You can purchase green tea extract and apply it as directed. Some websites suggest applying green tea bags to dark spots for a lightening effect, though there is no evidence to back this claim.

If you’d like to give it a try, follow these steps:

  1. Steep a green tea bag in boiled water for three to five minutes.
  2. Remove the tea bag from the water and let cool — you don’t want to burn your skin.
  3. Rub the tea bag over your dark patches.
  4. Repeat twice a day until you get results.

Black tea water

An animal study published in 2011 found that black tea water lightened dark spots on guinea pigs. The black tea water was applied twice a day, six days a week for four weeks.

To try your own version of this hyperpigmentation treatment at home:

  1. Add a tablespoon of fresh black tea leaves to a cup of boiling distilled water.
  2. Steep for two hours and strain to remove the leaves.
  3. Soak a cotton ball in the tea water and apply to areas of hyperpigmentation, twice a day.
  4. Repeat every day for six days a week, over four weeks.

Licorice extract

Licorice extract contains active ingredients that have been shown to lighten hyperpigmentation caused by melasma and sun exposure. Topical creams containing licorice extract are available over the counter. Use as directed on the packaging.


Milk, buttermilk, and even sour milk have all been shown to effectively lighten skin discoloration. Lactic acid is the ingredient responsible for this effect.

To use any of these to treat pigmentation:

  • Soak a cotton ball in the milk.
  • Rub it over darkened skin patches twice a day.
  • Repeat daily until you see results.

Tomato paste

A study published in The British Journal of Dermatology in 2011 found that tomato paste rich in lycopene protected the skin against short-term and long-term aspects of photo damage. Study participants consumed 55 grams of tomato paste in olive oil daily for 12 weeks.

Orchid extracts

Orchid extracts are just as effective as vitamin C hyperpigmentation remedies, according to research. Applying orchid-rich extracts to the skin for eight weeks improved the size and appearance of dark patches.

You can buy skin products containing orchid extract, including masks, creams, and scrubs. Use as directed for the best results.

Masoor dal (red lentils)

Masoor dal face masks, which are made from red lentils, are popular as a hyperpigmentation treatment. Though there isn’t any evidence to back these claims, red lentils are rich in antioxidants that are known to be good for the skin.

To make your own masoor dal mask:

  • Soak 50 grams of red lentils overnight in a bowl of water.
  • Use a blender or food processor to create a fine paste.
  • Apply the paste evenly over your face and leave it on for 20 minutes.
  • Rinse with cold water and pat your skin dry with a towel.

Hyperpigmentation, although not always directly sun-induced, is the height of a patchy tan. Whether you’re experiencing hyperpigmentation caused by acne, hormonal changes, or UV exposure, the treatments are the same.

Three types of skincare treatments fade hyperpigmentation marks fast:

  1. Physical exfoliants

  2. Chemical exfoliants

  3. Brightening actives such as vitamin C, kojic acid, liquorice extract

You can choose products from one or more of these categories to create a lightening skincare routine that works for you. Let’s take a look at each group of products so you can decide which approach is best suited to your situation.

1. Physical Exfoliants To Reverse Hyperpigmentation

The key to effective fading of brown spots is to use products that speed up your skin’s natural exfoliation rate. It takes 30 days on average for skin to renew itself completely. That’s how long a skin cell generally lives.

When you develop hyperpigmentation, the melanin pigment that creates them is also naturally exfoliated over time. However, the time it takes for these marks to disappear depends on the severity and cause of your condition.

Acne-induced hyperpigmentation may take a handful of months to lighten. On the other hand, melasma requires treatment of the underlying trigger, which is usually hormonal.

To fade brown marks more quickly, you can integrate products that increase skin’s exfoliation rate. Physical exfoliants are one type of product that can achieve this.

Physical exfoliants to try:

  • Clarisonic Mia 2 Skin Cleansing System – White

  • Dermalogica Skin Prep Scrub

When used appropriately, these products are safe for sensitive skin, even daily. Physical exfoliants are most effective at treating the top layers of skin.

On the flip side, physical exfoliants can’t reach the deeper layers of skin where hyperpigmentation originates. Brown marks will continue to surface through months of skin cell turnover. However, you can speed up the exfoliation of these areas by using a chemical exfoliant.

2. Chemical Exfoliants To Reverse Hyperpigmentation

Chemical exfoliants are highly effective at treating hyperpigmentation. Their actives penetrate deeply into skin over time, encouraging cellular turnover through several layers.

To achieve this enhanced sloughing, pick an exfoliant containing gentle skincare acids such as:

  • Glycolic acid, best for dry and mature skin types

  • Salicylic acid, best for oily and combination skin types

  • Lactic acid

  • Fruit acids

Try adding one of our favourite chemical exfoliants to your skin-lightening routine:

  • Pixi Glow Tonic 250ml, is a brightening facial toner containing 5% Glycolic Acid to help brighten and firm skin.

  • EmerginC Triple-Threat Peel, containing a potent, pigmentation busting cocktail of Salicylic and Fruit Acids as well as Retinol and Vitamin C

  • Alpha-H Liquid Gold, a best seller for a reason. This much loved anti-aging exfoliant harnesses the power of Glycolic Acid to smooth and brighten skin.

3. Vitamin C Serums To Reduce The Occurrence Of Hyperpigmentation

You may have heard that vitamin C is highly effective at brightening skin. Those same benefits make this vitamin an excellent treatment for hyperpigmentation.

Vitamin C helps to brighten skin in a variety of ways:

  • Increases skin cell turnover, or exfoliation

  • Hinders production of melanin, the pigment responsible for skin darkening, by inhibiting an enzyme called ‘tyrosinase’

  • Increases the skin’s supply of two antioxidants that shift the swing of melanin production from brown/black to red/yellow

Not to mention that vitamin C itself is also a powerful antioxidant that defends against UV-induced damage, which stimulates hyperpigmentation.

To add a dose of vitamin C to your skincare routine, try one of our most-reviewed serums:

  • SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic Serum – 30ml

  • Aspect Extreme C 20

  • SK-II Whitening Source Derm-Brightener

  • Medik8 Super C30+ Intense Potent Vitamin C Antioxidant Serum 30ml

  • La Mav Vit-C Advanced Nightly Repair Nectar

  • Vida Glow Active Vitamin C Serum 30ml

When treating areas of existing hyperpigmentation, it’s helpful to acknowledge that your skin type may always be prone to this condition. If this describes your complexion, you can learn the most effective ways to prevent dark spots.

If you’ve tackled a bout of acne and come out triumphant, it may feel like the battle has been won. However, so many blemishes leave their mark on your skin long after the breakout has subsided. Raised scars and patches of pigmentation can linger for months – even years – but there are tactics you can employ to smooth your way back to bright, even skin.

Here, we ask the experts to reveal exactly how to get rid of acne scars as quickly –and safely – as possible.

What are acne scars?

A generalised term, acne scarring can be used to refer to a multitude of different marks that a breakout may leave behind. Acne scars come in different forms, explains Pamela Marshall, Clinical Aesthetician and Founder of Mortar & Milk. “They can appear as pigmentation, or as rolling, boxcar, and ice-pick scars.”

Acne scars or hyperpigmentation?

Acne scarring and post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation can both occur after a breakout, but the two are actually very different – and thus a different approach is required when it comes to fading them.

“Acne scars occur when too much collagen forms in a particular spot when a wound is healing,” explains dermatologist Dr Dennis Gross. “The scar often develops within the dermis, where the original acne-caused inflammation formed.”

“When someone has cystic acne, there’s a higher probability of having rolling or boxcar scarring – especially if they are picked at before they are ready, or too aggressively,” says Marshall. Ambassador for Filorga, aesthetic practitioner and skin consultant Dr Philippe Hamida-Pisal agrees. “Acne scarring is due to touching and squeezing spots. This damages small veins, glands and tissues surrounding the spots which creates scarring,” he says.

Unlike acne scarring, post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation is simply a form of skin pigmentation, like sun damage, which occurs as a result of trauma to the skin. As it doesn’t damage the follicle, it isn’t considered a true form of scarring. “It occurs when a pimple causes the skin to become inflamed. In response to the injury, the skin produces an increased amount of melanin, (or pigment). This results in dark patches or spots,” says Dr Gross.

Acne Deep Cleanse Verso £35.00 Clarifying Cleansing Oil – Rosemary and Oat Votary £45.00 The Method: Cleanse




3% Glycolic Solutions Cleanser Peter Thomas Roth £32.50

The good news is that when it comes to getting rid of acne scars and pigmentation, there are myriad options available, from in-salon treatments to at-home hacks.

If you’re looking to diminish rolling, boxcar or ice-pick scarring, the solution likely lies in a salon. Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation will fade on its own over time, but there are several options – both in-salon and at-home – that you can utilise to speed up the process.

Acne scars – the best treatments


There are many treatments out there to help fade the various forms of acne scarring – including lasers and microdermabrasion – but Marshall’s preferred treatment is micro needling. “Performed by a professional, microneedling is probably the best for scarring, and also helps reduce the signs of ageing,” she explains. “By making micro-wounds in the skin, we are forcing it to produce new healthy collagen and elastin which reforms the skin.”


If your scars are less severe, don’t underestimate the power of the chemical peel. “For less obvious scarring, having a clinical treatment with a low-pH acid will make a big difference,” says Marshall.

What’s more, at-home peels have come a long way in recent years, and there are now plenty of excellent options that work on renewing the skin surface, reducing the depth and intensity of acne scarring. “To treat acne scars at home, use a product that offers gentle chemical exfoliation,” suggests Dr Gross. These products will exfoliate dead and darkened scar skin cells, and also kick-start your body’s natural production of collagen.

Alpha Beta Universal Daily Peel Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare £18.00 Enzyme Peel

Susanne Kaufmann



Night Switch BHA/AHA 10% LIXIRSKIN £20.00 Replenishing Multi-Acid Peel Murad £48.00

Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation – the best treatments

Vitamin C

When it comes to brightening dark hyperpigmentation, vitamin C should be a key weapon in your skincare arsenal. “I absolutely love it for many reasons. Its benefits are endless, including revitalising and brightening the skin while stimulating your body’s natural production of collagen,” says Dr Gross. “Not only does it help to lighten and break up pigmentation you might already have, but it also prevents dark spots or sun spots from forming in the future.”

Genius Vitamin C Serum




C.E.O. Vitamin C Rich Hydration Cream

Sunday Riley



Glow Daily Vitamin C Gel Cream




C25 Super Booster

Paula’s Choice




According to Dr Hamida-Pisal, the key to fading acne-related redness could lie in resurfacing skincare. “AHAs such as glycolic and salicylic-acid peels can be used to reduce acne-related hyperpigmentation,” he says. “By exfoliating the skin, scarring will be reduced, revealing the smoother skin beneath.”

Today, there are myriad acid-based resurfacing products lining the shelves, in a spectrum of concentrations, but Dr Hamida-Pisal strongly recommends consulting a dermatologist before reaching for a peel, in order to set you on the right path.

Professional Grade Resurfacing Liquid Peel




Filorga Sleep and Peel Filorga £44.25 Blemish + Age Defense Serum SkinCeuticals £85.00 Resurfacing Mask Tata Harper £57.00


Retinol, (or topical retinoid) is useful for acne as it controls the hyperpigmentation by increasing the cell turnover rates,” explains Dr Hamida-Pisal. “This renewal will help to reduce post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation.” However, he also stresses the importance in consulting a dermatologist before reaching for the retinol (as with every highly active skincare formula).

CLINICAL 1% Retinol Treatment

Paula’s Choice



Verso Skincare 6 Dark Spot Fix Verso Skincare £140.00 A-Passioni Retinol Cream

Drunk Elephant



Dreamy Skin Retinyl Oil DISCIPLE Skincare £35.00 Related Story

About the treatment

For over 10 years our award winning Laser and Skin Clinics we have been successfully treating all types of skin pigmentation from freckle removal, sun spots to age spots on facial and body areas.

Skin pigmentation marks are a build up of melanocytes (cells containing melanin) under the skin typically referred to as freckles and age spots on the hands, face and body areas. Different types of laser can be used depending on the type of pigmentation. If pigmentation is in superficial lesions, then the Alexandrite 755nm Laser Pigmentation Removal treatment is effective in removing pigmentation in as little as 1-3 treatments. The treatment will also depend on the area being treated, the type of pigmentation, and level of recovery time. Laser treatment is one of the most advanced treatments for removing unwanted pigmentation on the skin such as age spots, sun spots, and freckles.

Skin Pigmentation Removal with Alexandrite 755nm is a quick, gentle and non-invasive treatment. This specially designed laser is absorbed only by the cells containing excessive concentrations of pigment. It does not affect the surrounding tissues or remove the normal skin colour. The light pulses produced by the laser can feel similar to the flicking of a rubber elastic band and for most people is not too uncomfortable. Immediate darkening is noticed after treatment. For 7-10 days the area will look like a dark scab which eventually sheds off.

For deep pigmentation such as melasma, ActiveFX Laser Resurfacing is the skin pigmentation treatment of choice which can remove up to 80% of melanin in one treatment. See ActiveFX Laser Resurfacing Section for more information. Cosmeceutical skin care with Obagi also provide a fantastic solution to skin pigmentation.

How does Laser Pigmentation Removal work?

The Alexandrite 755nm produces a wavelength of high energy light, which is then converted into heat energy. This can target the specific area of pigmentation because the laser is absorbed only by cells containing an excessive concentration of pigmentation. This causes efficient destruction while leaving the surrounding tissue undamaged.

Vanessa Marc, Celebrity Esthetician

The owner of Vanessa Marc Spa in Manhattan is the go-to esthetician for celebrities including Jasmine Tookes, Alton Mason, Justine Skye, and Candice Swanepoel.

Suggested treatments: Marc suggests three different treatments when it comes to dealing with hyperpigmentation, all of which she offers in her spa. The first is her medical grade chemical peel. After about four days of peeling, “clients will start seeing results a week later,” Marc says. “The skin will look more even-toned and brighter.” The treatment is also great for treating acne, Marc adds. Her second recommendation, microneedling, is “a collagen induction treatment, which helps turn new skin cells into collagen,” making it great for acne scars and wrinkles as well. Last but not least, Marc says her brightening facial is great for hyperpigmentation: dermaplaning “lifts dead skin layers,” leaving skin brighter and allowing “serums and products to absorb better into the skin.” She then uses a diamond tip exfoliator while infusing skin with brightening serums. “It looks visibly brighter immediately.”

Suggested ingredients: Vitamin C and Glutathione. Marc uses her own vitamin C and glutathione products at her spa, and is coming out with her own line in early 2020.

Dr. Chaneve Jeanniton, Founder of Epi.logic skincare and oculofacial plastic surgeon

The founder of Brooklyn Face and Eye, in the heart of Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, Dr. Jeanniton specializes in nonsurgical and surgical procedures for both the face and eye area.

Suggested treatments: Dr. Jeanniton offers some in-office hyperpigmentation treatments including lower energy lasers, gentle chemical peels and microneedling. “The laser treatment I prefer is The Clear + Brilliant laser, due to its safety profile in skin of color,” she explains. “It uses low energy fractionated technology to improve sun damage, melasma and skin texture.” There’s also very little downtime needed for recovery—only a few hours of redness—but Dr. Jeanniton advises multiple treatments to fade stubborn pigment.

Suggested ingredients and products: Daily sunscreen is “easily the most important step in preventing and treating hyperpigmentation,” Dr. Jeanniton says. “The sunscreen should be broad-spectrum, meaning it blocks both UVA and UVB rays, with an SPF 30 or higher.” A Vitamin C rich antioxidant serum for the daytime is also essential because it “treats hyperpigmentation by inhibiting the enzyme, tyrosinase, which prevents melanin production.” Her multi-tasking product Daily Dose was made with hyperpigmentation in mind, as it features niacinamide, “a form of Vitamin B3 which helps fade hyperpigmentation by interfering with the transfer of pigment within the skin.”

Samantha Mims, Esthetician and founder of Dermasaa

The Bed-Stuy based esthetician has her own practice called Dermasaa, catering to some of New York’s It-guys and girls like artist Zuri Marley, stylist Solange Franklin, and makeup artist Marcello Gutierrez.

Secret weapon: “Making exfoliating acids part of your skincare routine will help tremendously with visible scarring and skin discoloration” Mims says. “It promotes a much brighter complexion as it effectively and gently removes the outermost layer of dead cells from the skin.”

Suggested products: “I always like to turn to products with holy grail ingredients like glycolic acid and lactic acid. Some notable faves are Epi.logic’s Clean Reveal Brightening Glycolic Cleanser, Beauty Counter’s Counter+ Overnight Resurfacing Peel, and Dermalogica’s Biolumin-C Serum.”

Dr. Elena Jones, Dermatologist

Dr. Jones counts Pharrell as one of her clients at her private practice in New York City.

Suggested products: Dr. Jones recommends topical creams like Retin A and Altreno, as well as vitamin C serums like SkinCeuticals Vitamin CE Ferulic and Drunk Elephant’s C-Firma Day Serum. But her number-one approach to avoiding hyperpigmentation is sun protection, specifically with a sunscreen containing micronized titanium dioxide or micronized zinc oxide. “The micronized helps to avoid that post sunscreen ashy glow,” she explains.

Suggested treatments: Chemical peels (salicylic acid, lactic acid and glycolic acids, Trichloracetic acid) work well. Nonablative laser devices such as microneedling are okay too. When it comes to lasering, Dr. Jones says “lower intensities of laser treatments, spread out over multiple visits is safest.”

5 Doctor-Approved Ways to Get Rid of Hyperpigmentation for Good

If you’re bothered by darks spots due to hyperpigmentation on your skin, one thing is clear: Today there are more options for erasing that harmless but irksome discoloration than ever before.

What exactly is hyperpigmentation? It’s any patch of skin that looks darker than your natural skin tone due to overproduction of the brown pigment melanin. According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), the most common causes of hyperpigmentation — which can affect people of all skin tones in varying degrees — are:

  • Inflammation Skin trauma — such as acne, eczema, bug bites, cuts, scrapes, even scratching or friction from, say, vigorous rubbing — can set off inflammation. Inflammation, in turn, can send pigment-producing cells into high gear, leaving behind a dark spot after the injury has healed.
  • Sun Exposure The sun’s UV rays hitting your skin triggers extra melanin production as a way to defend your skin from damage. That extra melanin is what gives you a tan. However, when sun exposure is frequent or excessive it can make dark “sun” spots appear. Although sun spots are not cancerous, according to the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery, sun-exposed skin may develop other precancerous blemishes that look similar. For this reason, it’s important to have your skin checked yearly by a dermatologist.
  • Melasma Often referred to as the “mask of pregnancy,” melasma is characterized by brown patches that can commonly form in women during pregnancy. This type of hyperpigmentation most often occurs in women, but can also occur in men. It is thought to be triggered by a combination of sun exposure, genetics, and hormonal changes, since it’s also been linked to the use of oral contraceptives, say experts from the American College of Osteopathic Dermatology. Airborne pollutants that bind to the skin, making it weaker and more easily damaged by the sun, may also be a factor in melasma and other hyperpigmentation, according to Harvard Health.
  • Medical Conditions or Medication Hyperpigmentation can also be due to Addison’s disease, an adrenal gland disorder that can increase melanin production. Certain drugs, including antibiotics and, according to the University of New Mexico Comprehensive Cancer Center, some chemotherapy drugs, can cause hyperpigmentation.

The Best Ways to Treat and Prevent Future Hyperpigmentation

Today, there are plenty of dark spots correctors to choose from — but it’s just as essential to tackle them preventively. The scientifically proven keys:

Editor’s pick: Ambi Skincare Fade Cream ($4,

How to use it: Best applied at night to start, and eventually increased to twice daily for maximum effects. During the day, pair with sunscreen as the ingredient can cause sun sensitivity.

3. Kojic Acid

Kojic acid (derived from mushrooms or fermented rice) is commonly used in skin lighteners, and is best used in conjunction with hydroquinone for maximum results. “It works by suppressing a key factor in the activity of the pigment cells,” Carlos Charles, M.D., dermatologist and founder of Derma di Colore tells SELF. “The risk commonly associated with topical kojic acid is allergic dermatitis, and that is why it is primarily found in relatively low concentrations.” Those with sensitive skin should opt for small doses during nighttime only since inflammation and irritation can be side effects. Also, don’t expect speedy results—it can take several months to see improvement of hyperpigmentation with the use of topical kojic acid.

Editor’s pick: Arcona Brightening Drops ($44,

How to use it: At nighttime, only on dark spots or areas of concern.

4. Soy

Soy extract, which is derived from the soybean plant, has been shown to help brighten the skin, Joshua Zeichner, M.D., director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City tells SELF. That’s why you’ll find it in tons of skin-lightening products. Soy works as a dark spot treatment by preventing melanin from entering the top layer of skin, according to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD).

Editor’s pick: Aveeno Positively Radiant Targeted Tone Corrector ($9,

How to use it: Apply to dark spots in the morning and at night, before using your usual moisturizer.

5. Azelaic acid

This lesser-known ingredient is a dermatologist-recommended treatment for dark spots on the face. So, what is it exactly? “Azelaic acid is a naturally occurring extract from oat, wheat, or rye that interferes with production of abnormal pigmentation,” Dr. Zeichner explains. Bonus: it has antibacterial properties that can help banish acne and the scars pimples leave behind.

Editor’s pick: Paula’s Choice 10% Azelaic Acid Booster ($34,

How to use it: Apply it all over your face once or twice a day; you can use it alone or with your favorite moisturizer. When using it during the day, be sure to follow it with sunscreen.

6. Lasers

Lasers are the most expensive, yet most impactful treatment to reduce dark spots. “These use a focused beam of light that has a specific target or chromophore (pigment) to break up and eliminate the pigment particles in the skin,” Dr. Cook-Bolden says. “IPL (intense pulsed light) can treat unwanted pigmentation. However, it delivers less focused light and may have an unwanted effect on the surrounding skin, especially in darker or tanned skin.”

The ideal laser treatment for hyperpigmentation will provide a cooling blast (or at least limit the amount of heat generated). Ask your dermatologist or laser technician if the laser they’re using treats at a rapid rate with a focused beam, like the The Lightpod Neolaser by Aerolase. This type of laser will help avoid an inflammatory response, burns, or collateral damage, Dr. Cook-Bolden says.

Cost: $250-$2,500

Derm tip: Anticipate as many as six treatments (possibly even more) with three to four weeks in between, in-office only.

7. Chemical Peels

Exfoliating treatments like chemical peels remove the upper layers of dead skin helping to reduce the dull appearance of the skin so that it reflects light better and appears to glow, Dr. Jamal says. “Over time, these treatments can stimulate collagen production, enhance cellular turnover, and reduce the appearance of dark spots,” he says, but beware a chemical peel that is too powerful, which can burn the skin. Common active ingredients in pro-grade peels include glycolic, mandelic, salicylic, and lactic acids, along with trichloroacetic acid. While at-home peels are available, they are more likely to slough off dead skin rather than get deep enough to lighten dark spots, Dr. Jamal adds.

For about a decade, I had acne, on and off. And while I rarely get breakouts anymore, I still have post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, a.k.a. dark spots on my face. They are the bane of my existence. Even though I don’t need to cover up pimples anymore, I slather on a full-coverage foundation to hide all those little red and brown dots.

What You Need to Know About Hyperpigmentation

Of course, non acne-suffers get hyperpigmentation too. They’re typically in the form of sun spots, dark spots, or age spots, and they’re brought on by the usual suspects—too much sun exposure, hormones, and/or aging.

It works like this: When there’s inflammation, the first or second layer of the skin cells produce extra pigment during the healing process.

There’s no other way to put it: Trying to lighten the appearance of these is time-consuming, tedious, and annoying. In trying to get rid of mine, I’ve used a ton of products including drugstore brightening creams, hardcore spot treatments, and prescription products. I’m still holding out on the in-office procedures (because I’m hoping the topicals will work, and also, $$).

In short: I know a bit about what works and what doesn’t. Plus, I spoke with a slew of top dermatologists for their expertise. Here’s a rundown of your best options, ranging from mild cases to severe on how to treat your hyperpigmentation in the best way.


The easiest way to avoid pigmentation issues? Keep them at bay with sun protection. If you already have spots, a sunscreen will keep them from darkening. “If you are not using sunscreen every day all year long, you are wasting your time on other products,” says New Jersey-based dermatologist Jeanine Downie, M.D., director of Image Dermatology.

Shop the Best Sunscreens for Hyperpigmentation

Urban Environment Oil-Free UV Protector Broad Spectrum Face Sunscreen SPF 42 Shiseido $35.00 Super Fluid Daily UV Defense Sunscreen Broad Spectrum SPF 50+ Kiehl’s Since 1851 $38.00 Everyday Sunscreen Broad Spectrum SPF 50 Supergoop! $48.00 Anthelios 60 Face Sunscreen for Combination Skin SPF 60 La Roche-Posay $29.99

Vitamin C Serum

Use an antioxidant-rich daily serum to help brighten skin’s appearance all over, including those pesky marks. “Antioxidant serums help stabilize the skin after injury from UV and inferred light,” says San Diego-based dermatologist Melanie Palm, M.D., director of Art OF Skin MD. “I make sure my patients put this on every morning.” Also great: Vitamin C helps fight fine lines and smooths texture.

Shop the Best Vitamin C Serums for Hyperpigmentation

Truth Serum Olehenriksen $50.00 Vitamin C Ester Brightening Serum Perricone MD $69.00 Violet-C Brightening Serum 20% Vitamin C + 10% AHA Tatcha $88.00 C+ Collagen Brighten & Firm Vitamin C Serum Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare $78.00

BHA and AHA Cleansers

Typically, cleansers with beta hydroxy acids, like salicylic, and alpha hydroxyl acids, like glycolic and lactic, are marketed to teens and those who suffer from acne (so perfect if your discoloration comes from pimples). But it can also help other skin types by gently exfoliating the surface and unclogging pores, which could be causing unwanted acne. Unless you have really dry and sensitive skin, consider using one with either, or both, to help fade marks.

The Best AHA/BHA Cleansers for Hyperpigmentation

AHA/BHA Exfoliating Cleanser SkinMedica $39.95 AHA/BHA Exfoliating Cleanser Murad $39.00 Clearly Corrective Brightening & Exfoliating Daily Cleanser Kiehl’s Since 1851 $30.00 AHA/BHA Acne Clearing Gel Peter Thomas Roth $54.00

Spot Treatments

Target marks more effectively with a concentrated dose. There are a ton of brightening ingredients to look for, but some of the more effective ones on the market right now are peony and licorice root extract, kojic acid, vitamin C and E, niacinamide, and alpha arbutin.

The Best Spot Treatments for Hyperpigmentation

Drying Lotion Mario Badescu $17.00 Acne Solutions Clinical Clearing Gel Mini Clinique $18.00 EradiKate™ Acne Treatment Kate Somerville $26.00 Super Spot Remover Acne Treatment Gel Origins $19.00


The Patchology nightly patches have some pretty cool technology behind them: Basically you stick a circular patch over a dark spot, and this will send microcurrents down into your skin. The microcurrents diminish discoloration with the help of retinol, peptides, and niacinamides, which are all fused into the cloth sticker. There are lots of options on the market for acne patches that will de-clog your pores and fade your marks overtime.

Shop the Best Acne Patches for Hyperpigmentation

Breakout Box Blemish Treatment Patchology $20.00 Acne Pimple Master Patch COSRX $8.59 The Original, 36 Patches Hero Cosmetics $13.00 Acne Healing Dots Peace Out $19.00

All-Over Brightening Serum

When spot treatments and vitamin C isn’t enough, reach for an intense formula. The most exciting one I’ve used is SkinMedica Lytera 2.0 Correcting Serum ($154). The four hero ingredients (with super science-y names like tranexamic acid, phenylethyl resorcinol, niacinamide, and tetrapeptide-30) are major correctors that are safe for all skin types and tones. “It’s a global product so it evens out the entire face, not just the dark spots,” says Downie.

OTC Retinol or Retinoid

Of course this do-everything ingredient also helps with pigmentation. “Not only does it speed up cell turnover, it penetrates really deep into the skin and interferes with pigment production,” says Palm, so it can treat dark spots that aren’t just on the surface level.

Shop the Best Retinol/Retinoid Products for Hyperpigmentation

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The last step in the product line—before we get to in-office procedures—is a prescription hydroquinone. It reduces the production of melanin in your skin. However this hardcore topical has some side effects—increased exposure to UV radiation, sensitivity to sunlight, and irritation—so it’s best to proceed with caution and be extra protective of the skin while using it. If you don’t want to go all the way with a prescription, the Murad Rapid Age Spot and Pigment Lightening Serum ($53) is a great OTC (and more gentle) option.


As long as the microdermabrasion is gentle enough (it’s important not to be too irritating says Palm), this is a great option to buff away the top layer of the skin revealing the new (and less pigmented) layers underneath.

Salicylic Acid Peel

Another in-office procedure that can vastly speed up treatments, this is ideal especially for acne sufferers. The salicylic acid is typically applied in the 20-30 percent range. “It has the ability to penetrated down into the oil glands, but it also has this great ability to lift that stain left behind from the inflammation,” says Palm. She recommends getting one once every month.


When pigmentation occurs in the second layer of the skin, it acts almost like a tattoo—a.k.a. it’s really hard to get rid of. So dermatologists have turned to the Q-Switch Laser, which is actually originally used to remove tattoos. “It uses low heat and energy, so it won’t make pigmentation or inflammation worse,” says Palm. And, because it’s a longer wavelength, it’s safe for all skin tones too.

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Maya Allen Digital Beauty Editor Maya Allen is the Digital Beauty Editor at where she covers makeup, skincare, haircare, wellness, you name it!


Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation

What causes post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation?

Inflammation (such as after acne, eczema, lichen planus, allergic reactions) or trauma to the skin (such as surgery, incorrect use of microdermabrasion, lasers or chemical peels) causes the release of inflammatory cells that cause melanocytes (pigment cells) to produce more pigment in the skin. Severe inflammation or trauma can disrupt the bottom layer of the epidermis (first layer of the skin) causing the pigment to leak into and become trapped in the dermis (second layer of the skin). This results in a deeper and more treatment resistant pigmentation.

Ultraviolet light exposure and certain medications (such as tetracycline antibiotics, antimalarial drugs and chemotherapeutic agents) can make the condition worse.

What does post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation look like?

Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation is characterised by flat, tan, brown or black spots on the skin. This condition can occur on any area of the body, including in the mouth, the genital areas and on the nails.

What other problems can occur with post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation?

Although this condition affects men and women equally, it is more common in those with skin of colour (pigmented skin).

How is post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation diagnosed?

The condition is usually diagnosed by a physical examination performed by your dermatologist.

In some cases a skin biopsy may be needed to distinguish this condition from other skin conditions that may have a similar appearance. Examples of other conditions that can look like post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation include melasma, hyperpigmented pityriasis versicolor, lichen planus (macular variant), amyloidosis (macular variant) and hyperpigmented mycosis fungoides. A Wood’s lamp (a special light used to examine skin) can be useful in determining the depth of the pigment change.

How is post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation treated?

Most cases resolve spontaneously without any treatment.

Cosmetic camouflage (such as cosmetic foundations and concealers) can be helpful in disguising the difference in skin colour until recovery is complete.

Speed of recovery can be improved with:

  • Strict sun protection including the application of a broad-spectrum sunscreen containing zinc and titanium dioxide
  • Topical bleaching agents (such as hydroquinone, azelaic acid, tretinoin and corticosteroid creams)
  • Chemical peels and laser therapy. Specific lasers with specific settings need to be used by a trained dermatologist to avoid further complications or worsening of the condition.

What is the prognosis/likely outcome of post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation?

Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation is a benign process but may have significant cosmetic and psychosocial implications.

The condition may take weeks or years to resolve depending on the initial cause, the colour of the person’s skin and if medical treatments are used to hasten recovery.

This information has been written by Dr Michelle Rodrigues

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