The Best Retinols For Hyperpigmentation

We only recommend products we love and that we think you will, too. We may receive a portion of sales from products purchased from this article, which was written by our Commerce team.

Elite Daily/Amazon

Retinol is a pretty impressive skin care ingredient. Its many delivery methods and multi-tasking abilities have made it a dermatologist favorite for helping with everything from acne to blackheads. It's also effective at fading those dark spots and patches known as hyperpigmentation, which can pop up as a result of sun damage and scarring. Dermatologist Dr. Rachel Nazarian of Schweiger Dermatology Group tells Elite Daily that the best retinols for hyperpigmentation come down to the potency of the formula. "All retinols have the ability to improve hyperpigmentation," she says of the vitamin A derivative, which works to slough away dead skin cells while speeding up the production of new ones. "More potent formulations may show improvement more rapidly, and serums are often more concentrated than creams and lotions," Dr. Nazarian explains. You can also look for retinol products that are paired with other effective ingredients for fading hyperpigmentation. "My favorite ingredients for targeting hyperpigmentation include niacinamide (a powerful form of vitamin B3), centella asiatica, licorice root extract, and vitamin C," says Dr. Nazarian.

It’s important to note that a more potent formula can also mean a higher risk of irritation, Dr. Nazarian points out. "It's a delicate risk-benefit ratio that needs to be weighed," she says, noting that different skin types tolerate higher concentrations of retinol, and frequency of application, differently. "No matter who you are, when you start using a retinol in your regimen, you should start conservatively. I usually recommend that everyone begins once a week, mixing [the retinol product] with moisturizer to make it more tolerable, then increasing frequency as tolerated," she says. "Keep a close eye [out] for redness, irritation, and dryness, as these are signs that your skin has not quite adjusted and you should decrease [your] frequency of use," adds Dr. Nazarian.

That said, if you’re planning to use retinol to treat unwanted hyperpigmentation, Dr. Nazarian encourages everyone to check in with their dermatologist first (especially because retinol shouldn't be used by those who are pregnant or nursing). "Hyperpigmentation has many etiologies — heat, sun, pollution, and inflammation are all possible triggers," she says, explaining that a board-certified dermatologist will make sure you're addressing the root source. "And be patient [...] Stay regimented with your skin care, it'll pay off with time,” she adds.

Scroll on to shop the best over-the-counter retinols for hyperpigmentation — and don’t forget to pick up one of the best sunscreens for hyperpigmentation, too.

1. Expert’s Pick: Best Retinol Eye Cream

The skin under your eyes is delicate, which may give you some reservations about using a potentially irritating retinol on that area. But Dr. Nazarian says the under-eye area is also prone to hyperpigmentation. "Many people have [a] genetic predisposition to increased pigment around the eyes, [but] most people will experience darkening of this area in response to irritation, inflammation, and even rubbing or scratching," she says. To effectively treat unwanted hyperpigmentation under the eyes, Dr. Nazarian suggests Pond's Rejuveness Lifting & Brightening Eye Cream. "What's so great about this product is that although it contains retinol, it combines it with a form of vitamin B3, which is anti-inflammatory and calming. [This makes] it more tolerable, but also, vitamin B3 addresses pigmentary [concerns], so it's using multiple pathways to address [unwanted] pigment," she shares. Like with any retinol product, Dr. Nazarian advises applying this only once a week at first, until your skin adjusts.

2. Best Drugstore Retinol Serum

With more than 6,000 five-star ratings, this L'Oréal Paris Revitalift Night Serum is one of the top-rated retinol products on Amazon. It contains 0.3% pure retinol, which the brand notes is recommended by dermatologists as the most optimal concentration and potent form of retinol. To help counteract some of the drying effects of retinol, the brand incorporated glycerin and hyaluronic acid into the formula. Another cool thing about this serum is that L'Oréal developed its own patent-pending Retinol Guard technology, which helps keep the retinol protected from the destabilizing effects that air and light typically have on it (FYI, because of this, it's always a good idea to look for a retinol product in dark, opaque packaging).

3. Best Prestige Retinol Serum

This luxury serum — and its 5% retinoid ester blend — isn't for the faint of heart. But if you're already accustomed to using retinol, the higher concentration of Sunday Riley’s A+ High-Dose Retinoid Serum can more aggressively target unwanted hyperpigmentation. Additionally, the serum contains 1% of an encapsulated retinol blend and 0.5% blue-green algae, which the brand says is a botanical alternative to retinol. Meanwhile, ingredients like CoQ10, bisabolol extract, shea butter, hyaluronic acid, and Hawaiian white honey work to calm and nourish your skin. If you’ve settled on this serum, you get to choose between a 1-ounce or 1.7-ounce size, both housed in dark-blue, airtight bottles. Consider one pump = one application.

4. Best Retinol Serum With Niacinamide

As previously mentioned, niacinamide (aka vitamin B3) is one of Dr. Nazarian's favorite ingredients to pair with retinol when treating hyperpigmentation because of its ability to even out skin tone and reduce signs of inflammation. La Roche-Posay’s Retinol B3 Face Serum combines niacinamide with a form of pure, gradual-release retinol that further helps to make it more tolerable for sensitive skin (and those still acclimating to a retinol). To prevent dryness, moisturizing favorites like glycerin and hyaluronic acid have been included in the formula, as has La Roche-Posay's soothing thermal spring water, which is full of antioxidant-rich minerals.

5. Best Retinol Treatment With Vitamin C

This Paula's Choice 1% Retinol Treatment falls somewhere between a concentrated retinol serum and a richer moisturizer. The lightweight lotion isn't quite as thick as a night cream, but it does help keep skin soft and moisturized with ingredients like glycerin, hyaluronic acid, and shea butter. It also works overtime when it comes to reducing hyperpigmentation, thanks to a combination of 1% retinol, licorice extract, and vitamin C (all of which Dr. Nazarian recommended). To prevent the high-strength formula from irritating skin, the brand uses controlled-release retinol and multiple skin-soothing ingredients, including oat extract and allantoin. If you want to try out the product before committing to it, you can buy a 0.16-ounce bottle for just $13.


Dr. Rachel Nazarian, M.D., board-certified dermatologist practicing at Schweiger Dermatology Group, and assistant clinical professor at Mount Sinai Hospital