Hyperpigmentation is both harmless and common, says the American Osteopathic College of Dermatology (AOCD). Generally speaking, hyperpigmentation occurs when parts of your skin turn darker due to excessive amounts of melanin (the pigment that gives your skin its hue) that collect in a certain area. Hyperpigmentation has numerous causes, including melasma caused by hormonal fluctuations during pregnancy, post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation due to acne, or age or sun spots that form as a result of sun damage. Skincare expert Paula Begoun states, “Regardless of your ethnic background or skin color, eventually most of us will struggle with some kind of brown or ashen pigmentation problem.” Getting rid of hyperpigmentation may be accomplished through trial and error, and you may have to see a dermatologist to get the most thorough treatment.
Use sun protection. While sun protection won’t get rid of existing hyperpigmentation right away, it reduces skin discoloration and prevents dark blotches and spots from getting worse, says Begoun. Apply a sunscreen with a sun protection factor of at least 15, she advises. The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) suggests a minimum SPF of 30. Look for the following ingredients on your product’s label that will protect you against ultraviolet rays: titanium dioxide, zinc oxide, avobenzone, Mexoryl SX or Tinosorb. Without the daily use of sunscreen and exercising sun avoidance, hyperpigmentation treatments are far less effective.
Try a fading/bleaching cream. Products that contain hydroquinone are available at many department stores and drugstores. Depending on hyperpigmentation darkness and how frequently you use this treatment, the Mayo Clinic states that consumer products can be “good options.” However, you won’t get rid of hyperpigmentation overnight; it may take several weeks or even months before you notice a difference. (By law, over-the-counter cosmetic products may contain no more than 2 percent hydroquinone.)
Use an over-the-counter treatment that contains alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs), specifically lactid and glycolic acid, Begoun advises. She notes that there is discord as to whether AHAs actually inhibit melanin production, but generally speaking, these products work as gentle exfoliants that penetrate the outer layer of the skin and aid in the turnover of superficial skin cells. Mayo Clinic experts also list hydroxy acids on the list of ingredients to look for in consumer products that can help hyperpigmentation.
See your dermatologist. Over-the-counter remedies may not give you the best results. Begoun states that the perfect combination of topical treatment to address hyperpigmentation involves prescription tretinoin cream (such as Retin-A and Renova). AOCD states that prescription bleaching creams, which contain twice the amount of hydroquinone found in drugstore products, may also be of help. Other treatments for stubborn cases of hyperpigmentation may involve a series of laser or light treatments, Begoun says.
Tips and Warnings
- Avoiding sun exposure is the key ingredient to avoiding hyperpigmentation, says the AAD. For more tips on how to stay “sun smart,” see Resources.
- Hydroquinone can irritate the skin after a prolonged period of use, cautions the Mayo Clinic.
If your dermatologist prescribes a topical tretinoin, such as Retin-A or Renova, these medications increase your sensitivity to the sun. Using sunscreen and exercising good sun protection is particularly important during this treatment.
Laser treatments are generally not used on skin of color.