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Hyperpigmentation has a multitude of causes, including hormones, sun exposure, genetics, and certain medications, which means there isn’t just one way to prevent and treat the condition (if you want to), board-certified dermatologist Rachel Maiman explains to Elite Daily. However, she says that if you do want to fade dark spots or patches, there are over-the-counter options that can help. As far as the best products for hyperpigmentation go, “Sunscreen is the first thing I recommend to and the number one component in every regimen I create for patients with hyperpigmentation of all kinds,” Dr. Maiman says. “Photodamage from both chronic and intermittent bursts of UV radiation is what leads pigment-producing cells to respond by becoming more active and/or increasing in number. Daily SPF use is the absolute best way to prevent the development of hyperpigmentation and to improve how fast it resolves.”
In addition to sunscreen, Dr. Maiman suggests treating your skin with products that contain retinol, glycolic acid, vitamin C, tranexamic acid, or niacinamide. Dr. Karyn Grossman, a dermatologist and cosmetic surgeon, tells Elite Daily that in addition to the ingredients listed above, cyspera, arbutin, licorice extract, kojic acid, and azelaic acid can also aid in the management of hyperpigmentation. Since treatment depends on the patient’s medical history and lifestyle, Dr. Grossman says it’s important to consult with a dermatologist regarding your specific case of hyperpigmentation. “For example, patients who are pregnant or breastfeeding would be on a different regimen than a teenager or other person,” she says. One other ingredient you’ll hear mentioned is hydroquinone, an admittedly controversial skin-bleaching agent that’s banned in Europe, but many experts, including Dr. Maiman, say it is highly effective for fading hyperpigmentation.
Sun spots, melasma, freckles, and other forms of hyperpigmentation are nothing that require treating — not only are they common, but they’re also what makes your skin unique to you. But if you do want to fade hyperpigmentation, here are the best products to get the job done.
1. Best Vitamin C Serum
Elite Daily also spoke with dermatologist Dr. Kathleen Viscusi for this article, who says: “To treat discoloration and uneven skin tone, I recommend ISDIN Melatonik — a staple to add to your nightly routine. Melatonik contains key ingredients such as vitamin C, melatonin, and bakuchiol. Vitamin C and melatonin are both powerful antioxidants that defend against UV damage, reduce dark spots, and provide an overall brighter complexion. Bakuchiol is a natural ingredient derived from the psoralea corylifolia plant. It provides the same key benefits of a retinol without the irritation, helping to repair, revitalize, and replenish the skin over the long term.”
2. Best TXA Serum
Tranexamic Acid (TXA) is the active ingredient in Karyng Bright TXA Serum, Dr. Grossman’s own topical product. She says this gentle serum can help minimize unwanted skin discoloration and dark spots “without any HALO effect found in more traditional” products intended to treat hyperpigmentation. This also contains moisturizing ingredients and antioxidants to keep your skin glowy, protected, and strong.
3. Best Hydroquinone Cream
Though controversial, hydroquinone is a compound that has long been the standard for fading hyperpigmentation, Dr. Ben Lee explains to Elite Daily. “Hydroquinone skin preparations available at doctors offices contain a 4% solution, while commercially available products are limited to 2%,” such as is the case with this classic product, Ambi, which Dr. Lee says “continues to be the over-the-counter standard, and [has] long been used by [people with melasma].”
While hydroquinone is extremely effective, you can overuse it, warns Dr. Grossman. “Prolonged use of hydroquinone (anything more than three months at a time) can actually cause hyperpigmentation which is difficult to treat, called pseudo-ochronosis,” so she suggests working with a dermatologist before incorporating the ingredients into your routine. Just like retinol, hydroquinone should not be used when pregnant or nursing.
4. Best Body Scrub
“I recommend [Isa Lazo Body Scrub] for hyperpigmentation because it contains essential oils like evening primrose oil and tea tree oil,” Dr. Konstantin Vasyukevich tells Elite Daily. “Evening primrose works to lighten hyperpigmentation and acne scars over time, and tea tree oil's antiseptic properties can fight acne lesions that may have scarred otherwise,” he explains. Other elegant ingredients in this scrub include crushed cranberry seeds for physical exfoliation, as well as sweet almond, coconut, jasmine, and jojoba oils to leave your skin feeling moisturized and soft.
5. Tie: Best Sunscreen
Dr. Grossman is a fan of ISDIN Mineral Sunscreen, explaining, “The number-one way to prevent hyperpigmentation is to avoid sun exposure as much as possible and to wear broad-spectrum SPF daily. I recommend a physical sunblock with at least 50 SPF, which should be reapplied frequently if you are spending time in the sun.”
6. Tie: Best Sunscreen
“A product that I like for pigment control is Elta MD sunscreen,” says Dr. Lee. “Elta MD’s line of sun-blocking products is popular with dermatology and plastic surgery offices and should be the foundation of any regimen to control hyperpigmentation.” This oil- and fragrance-free sunscreen glides on clear and has a nice, silky feel. It addition to the sun protection it offers, the formula contains niacinamide, which is not only effective at treating hyperpigmentation, but can also minimize redness and blotchiness, regulate oil production, and help prevent free radical damage, Dr. Maiman explains.
7. Best Foundation
“Hyperpigmentation can often be the result of excess sun exposure. [This] foundation offers UV protection and encourages healthy collagen growth which can minimize the appearance of dark spots,” Dr. Vasyukevich says. What’s more, this lightweight, breathable foundation is formulated with 2% salicylic acid, which is known for its pore-clearing abilities, so it’s a great choice for anyone with oily skin, congested pores, or acne. Choose from 13 shades.
8. Best Exfoliating Pads
These alcohol-free pads contain the brightening AHAs glycolic and lactic acids, as well as licorice root, to promote a clearer, more even complexion. (They’re a useful way to target body acne or bumpy skin, too.) Use these a few times a week after cleansing and before applying any other products, like serums or creams, for best results.
9. Best Cleanser
For a cleanser that may be able to help with hyperpigmentation, try this face wash from Murad. It contains a blend of BHAs and AHAs — salicylic, lactic, and glycolic acids, which work together to exfoliate, resurface, and smooth out skin — so you may notice a more even-looking complexion over time. Along with the chemical exfoliation provided by these ingredients, this cleanser is made with biodegradable jojoba beads for a kick of physical exfoliation as well.
10. Best Retinol Serum
Retinol is one of the most popular and effective treatments for fading hyperpigmentation, says Dr. Maiman, who explains that retinols and retinoids “stimulate [skin] cell turnover, which begins the process of removing the pigmented cells sitting on the surface.” CeraVe’s Resurfacing Retinol Serum is a budget-friendly way to treat unwanted hyperpigmentation — and congested pores — nightly, and it’ll help make your skin look and feel generally smoother, firmer, and clearer. Note that retinol does make your skin more sensitive to the sun, so use it only at night and always wear SPF during the day, cloudy weather or not.
11. Best Exfoliating Peel
This set of 16 facial peels from celebrity dermatologist Dr. Dennis Gross contains retinol and the antioxidant ferulic acid, a winning combination when it comes to promoting a brighter, more even-looking skin tone. Other ingredients in here include the AHAs lactic and mandelic acid for more exfoliating benefits, as well as skin-soothers and hydrators like centella asiatica, aloe, and cucumber. After you do an at-home peel like this, make sure you use a gentle, calming moisturizer to keep your skin hydrated, and don’t pair it with any other exfoliants.
12. Best Mask
Glow up your skin with the Caudalie Vinoperfect Dark Spot Glycolic Peel Mask, which is designed to be used twice a week. It’s made with glycolic acid and other AHAs, as well as vine sap, a natural skin brightener and toner, which are all ingredients that can help fade hyperpigmentation over time. A lovely treat for at-home spa days.
13. Honorable Mention
This affordable, two-step treatment from Olay is another great product for hyperpigmentation. It comprises a vitamin C mask — vitamin C is an antioxidant that combats free radical damage, boosts collagen production, and inhibits tyrosinase, an enzyme involved in the production of melanin, says Dr. Maiman, hence why it can help with hyperpigmentation — and an AHA peel that is then applied over the mask. When combined, these products will create a warm foam that should be rinsed off once the “resurfacing crystals” in the formula have been dissolved. It’s a fun, satisfying way to pamper your skin on occasion.
Rachel Maiman, a board-certified cosmetic and general dermatologist
Dr. Karyn Grossman, a dermatologist and cosmetic surgeon
Dr. Ben Lee, board-certified plastic surgeon, Wave Plastic Surgery
Dr. Konstantin Vasyukevich, a double board-certified facial plastic surgeon at New York Facial Plastic Surgery
Dr. Kathleen S. Viscusi, M.D., F.A.A.D., F.A.C.M.S., co-founder/partner at Dermatology and Surgery Specialists of North Atlanta