Skin treatments

8 treatment options for hyperpigmentation

What you can do

Hyperpigmentation is a medical term used to describe darker patches of skin. These patches result from excess melanin production, which can be caused by everything from acne scars and sun damage to hormone fluctuations.

If you’re dealing with hyperpigmentation, know that you aren’t alone. Hyperpigmentation is a common skin condition, and there are a number of different treatment options available.

Keep reading to learn more about your options, including products you can try at home, what to expect from procedures like microdermabrasion, and more.

1. Lightening creams

Lightening creams are over-the-counter (OTC) treatments that work with select ingredients to help decrease pigmentation. Many of these creams are available in stronger prescription forms. They’re usually applied once or twice a day to help lighten the skin over time. Topical treatments for lightening also come in gel form.

Common ingredients found in OTC lightening products include:

  • hydroquinone
  • licorice extract
  • N-acetylglucosamine
  • vitamin B-3 (niacinamide)

Who should try this?

Lightening creams or gels work best for flat spots, such as melasma or age spots. They’re effective for patches of discoloration on most skin types.

OTC products are accessible (and sometimes more affordable) options for hyperpigmentation, but these can take longer than professional treatments.

What products can you try?

Popular options include:

  • Murad Post-Acne Spot Lightening Gel. With 2 percent hydroquinone, this fades even old acne scars. It also helps prevent future scars from acne.

  • ProActiv Complexion Perfecting Hydrator. Best for oily skin, this lightening cream reduces redness and hyperpigmentation all in one product.

Online retailers make it easy to access beauty and skin care products that you wouldn’t otherwise be able to access. You should only purchase products from retailers and manufacturers that you trust.

2. Face acids

Face acids, or skin acids, work by exfoliating, or shedding, the top layer of your skin. Whenever you exfoliate your skin, new skin cells emerge to take the place of the old ones. The process helps even out your skin tone and makes it smoother overall.

Many face acids are available OTC at beauty stores and drugstores. Popular options include:

  • alpha-hydroxy acids, such as glycolic, lactic, citric, malic, or tartaric acid
  • azelaic acid
  • kojic acid
  • salicylic acid
  • vitamin C (in the form of l-ascorbic acid)

Who should try this?

Face acids work well for mild hyperpigmentation on fairer skin tones.

What products can you try?

Look for an acid content of 10 percent or lessTrusted Source. Higher concentrations can increase your risk of side effects and are best left to professional peels performed in-office.

Popular options include:

  • FAB Skin Lab Resurfacing Liquid 10% AHA. This daily serum uses malic acid to help improve overall skin tone while also reducing the appearance of your pores.
  • ProActiv Mark Correcting Pads. Powered by a combination of glycolic and salicylic acids, these pads exfoliate your skin while reducing the appearance of acne scars.

3. Retinoids

Derived from vitamin A, retinoids are among some of the oldest OTC skincare ingredients used. Their small molecular structure allows them to penetrate deep into the skin and treat the layers below your epidermis.

Retinoids can come in either a prescription or OTC formula. However, OTC versions tend to be weaker. If you don’t see any results after a couple of months, talk to your dermatologist about the prescription retinoid tretinoin (Retin-A).

Who should try this?

OTC retinoids may be safe for all skin tones, but you should double-check with your dermatologist if you have darker skin and plan on using these products long term.

It’s also important to note that retinoids are more often used to treat wrinkles than hyperpigmentation. This means that retinoids may not be the best first-line treatment.

What products can you try?

If you have multiple skin concerns, you may be interested in trying:

  • Differin Gel. Previously available by prescription only, this retinoid helps address both acne and hyperpigmentation.
  • Pure Biology Anti-Aging Night Cream. For more mature skin, consider this combination of retinoids and hyaluronic acid to combat age spots, dryness, and wrinkles.

4. Chemical peel

A chemical peel uses acids at stronger concentrations to treat the desired area of skin. They reduce the appearance of hyperpigmentation by removing the epidermis. Deeper versions may also penetrate the middle layer of your skin (dermis) to produce more dramatic results.

Although many chemical peels are available OTC, you might consider getting a professional-grade peel at your dermatologist’s office. These are more powerful, and they yield quicker results.

Due to their strength, in-office peels may also increase your risk for side effects. Talk to your dermatologist about your individual risks.

Possible risks with both at-home and in-office chemical peels include redness, irritation, and blistering. When used improperly, blisters or scars may also develop.

If you’re out in the sun on a regular basis, chemical peels may not be the best treatment option for you. Chemical peels cause your skin to be more sensitive to the sun’s rays. If you don’t adequately apply sunscreen and use other UV protection, the sun may worsen your hyperpigmentation. You’ll need to take extra precautions for at least one week after your last chemical peel.

Who should try this?

Chemical peels may work if you have:

  • age spots
  • sun damage
  • melasma
  • blotchy skin

They also work best for fairer skin tones, and they may provide faster results than face acid products.

What products can you try?

If you’re looking for a professional-grade peel to use at home, consider a glycolic acid peel from Exuviance. This product may be used up to twice a week. It can also help reduce the appearance of wrinkles.

Juice Beauty also has a few types of chemical peels to ease uneven skin tones. If you have sensitive skin, try their Green Apple Peel Sensitive. As a bonus, all ingredients are organic.

If you have a darker skin tone or want a stronger peel, talk to your dermatologist. They can discuss the professional peels that they have available and help you decide on the right peel for you.

5. Laser peel (skin resurfacing)

A laser peel (resurfacing) treatment uses targeted beams of light to reduce hyperpigmentation.

There are two types of lasers: ablative and non-ablative. Ablative lasers are the most intense, and they involve removing layers of your skin. Non-ablative procedures, on the other hand, target the dermis to promote collagen growth and tightening effects.

Ablative lasers are stronger, but they may cause more side effects. Both destroy elements in your skin to ensure that new skin cells grow back tighter and more toned.

Who should try this?

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to skin resurfacing. Ablative lasers may work better for people with fair skin. For some people, non-ablative versions may cause the skin to darken instead of lighten. Your dermatologist will work with you to assess your discoloration and overall skin tone to select the best option for your skin.

6. Intense pulse light therapy (IPL)

IPL therapy is a type of non-ablative (fractional) laser treatment. Also known as a photofacial, IPL therapy stimulates collagen growth within the dermis. It usually requires multiple sessions.

IPL is used for overall pigmentation issues, but flat spots especially respond to this treatment. It may also help reduce the appearance of wrinkles, spider veins, and enlarged pores.

7. Microdermabrasion

Microdermabrasion is an in-office procedure used to treat hyperpigmentation that affects the epidermis only (superficial scarring).

During the procedure, your dermatologist will use a drill-like handheld tool with a wire brush or other abrasive attachment. The tool is then swiped across your skin to rapidly — but gently — to remove the epidermis. You may need multiple sessions to achieve your ideal result.

8. Dermabrasion

Dermabrasion also involves the removal of your epidermis, but its effects continue down to part of your dermis.

While dermabrasion is sometimes used to smooth out wrinkles, the procedure has been historically used to address texture concerns. These include:

    acne scars

    age spots

    chickenpox scars

    injury scars

    sun damage

    As with microdermabrasion, your dermatologist will use a drill-like handheld tool with a wire brush or other abrasive attachment. They’ll move the tool across your skin to rapidly — but gently — to remove your entire epidermis and the top part of your dermis.

    Who should try this?

    Dermabrasion may be a good option if you’re looking to decrease pigmentation at a faster rate than microdermabrasion.It works best for fairer skin. People with medium skin tones may go on to develop further hyperpigmentation as a result of the procedure. The new patches of hyperpigmentation may lighten after about eight weeks.

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