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Though dark spots and discoloration caused by acne scars, inflammation, or sun damage is no big deal, if you do wish to reduce their appearance, the right moisturizer can certainly help. According to dermatologist Dr. Brandith Irwin, who spoke to Elite Daily for this article, the best moisturizers for hyperpigmentation contain low-strength alpha-hydroxy acids (like glycolic or lactic acid), salicylic acid, or retinol. Other helpful ingredients include vitamin C, niacinamide, azelaic acid, tranexamic acid, licorice extract, kojic acid, and bakuchiol.
Dr. Irwin explains that the best way to treat hyperpigmentation is to layer products with good concentrations of ‘actives’ both morning and night. For example, in the morning, the expert suggests starting with a gentle cleanser, then layering on a skin-evening or antioxidant serum — such as a vitamin C serum — followed by moisturizer and sunscreen. She says to choose a mineral-based sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher that contains iron oxides, which block visible light (also, being diligent about SPF application will ensure your hyperpigmentation isn’t exacerbated). At night, after washing with a gentle cleanser, apply an azelaic acid cream or gel, then moisturizer and retinol — though at the end of the day, you’ll want to create a regimen that works best for you depending on the amount of steps you’re willing to take (and be sure to add in new products one at a time to avoid overwhelming your skin all at once.) Overall, prevention — by using sunscreen daily — and consistency with your routine are the two most important factors when it comes to treating unwanted hyperpigmentation.
Keep scrolling to shop the best face creams for hyperpigmentation, including a pick from the expert and a few other great products to use with your moisturizer.
1. Doctor’s Pick: Best Tinted Sunscreen For Hyperpigmentation
“Hot off the presses, more research shows that UV is not the only problem with hyperpigmentation,” Dr. Irwin says. “Visible light is also an issue. Iron oxides block visible light, while zinc protects the best against UVA. All current sunscreens [with] SPF 30 or greater block UVB effectively. For iron oxides, look for sunscreens like Supergoop CC Screen 100% Mineral CC Cream SPF 50,” she advises.
This oil-free CC cream is an all-mineral tinted sunscreen made with titanium dioxide, non-nano zinc oxide, and iron oxide, and it provides light, buildable coverage, making it the perfect one-and-done product for a.m. routines. The skin-evening formula also contains nutrient-rich botanicals like apple and red seaweed (aka Irish moss) extracts, as well as glycerin and dimethicone to smooth and nourish your skin. It’s nice and hydrating, too, and leaves behind a slightly glowy, luminous finish.
2. Best Moisturizing Sunscreen For Hyperpigmentation
Sunscreen is the most important step in your morning skin care routine. Not only does it prevent future sun damage, but it can even speed up the pace at which your hyperpigmentation resolves. With MDSolarSciences Mineral Crème SPF 50, you not only get sun-blocking benefits (thanks to non-nano zinc oxide and iron oxides) and 80 minutes of water resistance, but also, a boost of antioxidants from ingredients like vitamin C, green tea, and pomegranate. And happily, the noncomedogenic, oil- and fragrance-free sunscreen doesn’t leave behind much of a white cast (though as with most non-tinted mineral sunscreens, a slight white cast is to be expected) — just a soft, matte finish.
3. Best Retinol Moisturizer For Hyperpigmentation
If you’re on the hunt for a great night cream to help with your hyperpigmentation, try StriVectin’s Advanced Retinol Intensive Night Moisturizer. Retinol has a proven track record for basically solving every skin concern imaginable, from clearing out clogged pores and reducing breakouts to brightening uneven skin and fading hyperpigmentation, all due to its ability to stimulate skin cell turnover. Retinol can sometimes cause redness and dryness, especially when you first start using it, but what makes StriVectin’s formula so special is that it alleviates these side effects, thanks to several nourishing ingredients like aloe, glycerin, shea butter, and the brand's patented form of niacin.
StriVectin’s night moisturizer is on the pricy side, and though it’s certainly well worth it, there are lots of great, drugstore retinols you can try instead.
4. Best BHA Moisturizer For Hyperpigmentation
KORRES Pomegranate Pore Blurring Gel Moisturizer is made with the BHA salicylic acid, an anti-inflammatory ingredient that can help reduce the appearance of hyperpigmentation. Salicylic acid also helps reduce breakouts and excess shine, and coupled with a lightweight, non-greasy, gel-cream formula, the combination makes this an excellent moisturizer for those with oily, acne-prone skin.
5. Best Budget AHA Moisturizer For Hyperpigmentation
Another refreshing, sink-into-your-skin gel cream, Neutrogena Bright Boost contains the AHA mandelic acid, which has been shown to improve an uneven skin tone (aka hyperpigmentation), as well as a poly-hydroxy acid that also has brightening and glow-boosting properties. This gel cream gets its moisturizing abilities from glycerin and squalane, and the airy, oil-free formula is ideal for oily skin (though note that people with dry skin can absolutely use gel creams, too).
6. Best Luxury AHA Moisturizer For Hyperpigmentation
Caudalie’s Vinoperfect Dark Spot Glycolic Night Cream works its magic overnight, with its balanced blend of glycolic acid, another skin-resurfacing AHA, the brand’s patented Viniferine, which is a radiance-boosting sap derived from vine stalks, and papaya enzymes to gently exfoliate and reduce hyperpigmentation. Though the cream is oil-free, it has a rich feel to it and keeps your skin hydrated all night long. With this moisturizer, you’ll wake up to skin that looks glowy, plump, and more even.
7. Best Vitamin C Moisturizer For Hyperpigmentation
Cult-favorite brand Sunday Riley builds their C.E.O. Vitamin C Rich Hydration Cream around 5% vitamin C, an antioxidant that’s one of the best ways to treat hyperpigmentation, thanks to its ability to help even out your skin tone, prevent environmental damage, and promote generally bright, glowy skin. This also contains pollution-shielding exopolysaccharides, an AHA derived from caviar lime, as well as calming bisabolol, antioxidant-rich kakadu plum, and moisturizing ingredients like sweet almond oil and shea butter. This is a rich, yet non-sticky moisturizer that works nicely as both a day and night cream.
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An Azelaic Acid Emulsion From A Buzzy New Brand
To calm and promote more even-looking skin, Dr. Irwin is a fan of the antibacterial azelaic acid, the key ingredient in Naturium Azelaic Acid Emulsion 10%. In here, it works alongside bio-retinol and niacinamide, which can be helpful for treating hyperpigmentation when paired with other effective skin-brightening topicals. Designed to be used by all skin types, including sensitive skin — azelaic acid is commonly used to treat rosacea — this emulsion is a lightweight, fluid lotion that’s best applied before moisturizer, as it isn’t going to provide enough moisture on its own.
A Moisturizing Serum For Hyperpigmentation
This brand-new LiftActiv B3 Serum from French pharmaceutical brand Vichy is an excellent product to add to your hyperpigmentation-focused routine. Made with three key ingredients that work to fade unwanted sun spots and support a more even complexion — glycolic acid, niacinamide, and tranexamic acid — this fragrance-free serum also contains peptides to encourage collagen production and give skin a smoother, bouncier appearance. Last but not least, it’s housed in an airtight bottle with a dropper dispenser to prevent air from entering and degrading the serum.
As Dr. Irwin suggests, layering concentrated products is going to be the most helpful way to fade your hyperpigmentation, so this serum should be applied under another moisturizer from this list (like the Sunday Riley vitamin C cream, for example).
Comparative Study of 35% Glycolic Acid, 20% Salicylic–10% Mandelic Acid, and Phytic Acid Combination Peels in the Treatment of Active Acne and Postacne Pigmentation by Rashmi Sarkar, Sneha Ghunawat, and Vijay Kumar Garg; https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6785964/