Sunspots, acne scars, and big brown patches are all signs of hyperpigmentation on the skin. Try these hacks for a more even skin tone.
ByJennifer Benjamin and Kristeen Cherney, PhDMedically Reviewed byRoss Radusky, MD
Overproduction of melanin, a brown pigment, leads to hyperpigmentation.
If you’re bothered by dark spots due to hyperpigmentation on your skin, one thing is clear: Today there are more options for erasing that harmless but irksome discoloration than ever before.
What exactly is hyperpigmentation? It’s any patch of skin that looks darker than your natural skin tone because the brown pigment melanin is being overproduced. Hyperpigmentation can be seen in liver spots (or age spots) and sunspots, as theCleveland Clinic notes.
4 Factors That Can Cause Hyperpigmentation
According to the Cleveland Clinic, these are the most common causes of hyperpigmentation — and they can affect people of all skin tones to varying degrees.
Skin trauma — such asacne, eczema, bug bites, cuts, scrapes, even scratching or friction from, say, vigorous rubbing — can set off inflammation. Inflammation, in turn, can send pigment-producing cells into high gear, leaving behind a dark spot after the injury has healed. When inflammation is the cause of discoloration it is often referred to as post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation.
2. Sun Exposure
According to the Mayo Clinic, the sun’s UV rays trigger extra melanin production as a way to defend your skin from damage. That extra melanin is what gives you a tan. But when sun exposure is frequent or excessive it can make dark sunspots appear. Although sunspots are not cancerous, according to theAmerican Society for Dermatologic Surgery, sun-exposed skin may develop precancerous blemishes that look similar to sunspots. For this reason, it’s important to have your skin checked yearly by a dermatologist.
Often referred to as the “mask of pregnancy,” melasma is characterized by brown patches that commonly form in women with fluctuating hormone levels, such as during pregnancy. This type of hyperpigmentation most often occurs in women, but can also occur in men. It is thought to be triggered by a combination of sun exposure, genetics, and hormonal changes, since it has also been linked to the use of oral contraceptives, per experts at theAmerican Osteopathic College of Dermatology (AOCD). Additionally, according to theCleveland Clinic, other hormonal medications used for birth control and menopause symptoms may cause melasma, as well as other types of medications discussed below.
4. Medical Conditions or Medication
Hyperpigmentation can be caused by Addison’s disease, an adrenal gland disorder that can increase melanin production. Certain drugs, including antibiotics, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and antimalarials may all increase the risk of hyperpigmentation, according to abook published by StatPearls in July 2022. Some chemotherapy drugs can also cause temporary hyperpigmentation, per the advocacy groupCancer Connect. In the case of chemotherapy drugs, associated dark spots usually resolve 10 to 12 weeks after treatment ends as new skin cells replace dead ones.
The Best Ways to Treat and Prevent Future Hyperpigmentation
Today, there are plenty of dark-spot correctors to choose from — but it’s just as essential to tackle them preventively. The following scientifically proven steps can help.
Keep Skin Moist to Boost Cell Turnover
While your primary goal with hyperpigmentation is to lighten the dark spots, an effective over-the-counter (OTC) moisturizer should contain ingredients that benefit the skin in other ways. "In addition to addressing the pigment issues, a good product will have moisturizing agents like glycerin or hyaluronic acid, and maybe even aretinol to boost cell turnover," says Doris J. Day, MD, a clinical assistant professor of dermatology at NYU Medical School in New York City and the author ofBeyond Beautiful: Using the Power of Your Mind and Aesthetic Breakthroughs to Look Naturally Young and Radiant. "These inactive ingredients allow the active brighteners to work more effectively."
A good moisturizer can also restore the skin’s lipid, or fat, barrier, helping new skin cells stay healthy as they rise to the surface in place of old ones, notes theUniversity of Tennessee Medical Center.
Keep Hands Off Bug Bites, Blackheads, and Other Injuries
As tempting as it may be to scratch a mosquito bite or squeeze a stubborn blackhead, remember your mother's warning — "Don't pick!" — and follow that advice. "Scratching and picking at a spot will only increase the inflammation that's responsible for skin discoloration," says Jeanine Downie, MD, a dermatologist and the director of Image Dermatology in Montclair, New Jersey. "The more you mess with it now, the worse it'll look later."
Explore OTC Whitening Options
The sooner you treat hyperpigmentation, the easier it will be to erase. “The pigment in brown spots can move deeper into the skin over time,” Dr. Downie explains.
Spot-eradicating ingredients to look for in OTC treatments include azelaic and glycolic acids, vitamin C, and retinoids, says theAmerican Academy of Dermatology Association (AAD).
“Treatments containing ingredients like vitamin C, licorice root, and kojic acid help reduce hyperpigmentation by inhibiting tyrosinase, an enzyme responsible for the formation of skin-darkening melanin," saysNi'Kita Wilson, a cosmetic chemist in New York City. Research published in 2017 in the Journal of Enzyme Inhibition and Medicinal Chemistry supports Wilson’s advice, noting that the knowledge of the link between tyrosinase and excess melanin development has led to the rise of multiple OTC products with the aforementioned ingredients.
While many of these OTC ingredients have “bleaching” effects on dark spots, the AAD strongly cautions against applying liquid bleach to your skin. The group recommends sticking with products made in the United States, as some imported skin lightening products have been found to be contaminated with mercury, steroids, and other harmful ingredients.
Consider an Rx for Stubborn Skin Discoloration
If OTC remedies aren't helping, it's time to call in the pros. Dermatologists consider products with hydroquinone, alone or combined with other lighteners, to be the gold standard for fading dark spots because it slows the production of pigment. These are available by prescription, per the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). “It's our go-to,” says Downie, “because unlike many of the ingredients in OTC products, it almost always works at eliminating hyperpigmentation.” Have your dermatologist closely monitor hydroquinone treatment, she adds, because in high concentrations hydroquinone can cause sun sensitivity and may bleach the skin.
In addition to hydroquinone, the AOCD notes that your dermatologist may prescribe other treatments, such as topical cortisone cream or tretinoin, a type of synthetic vitamin A.
Protect Your Skin From the Sun
The most effective way to prevent sun-induced discoloration is to diligently apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or greater, every day, even on cloudy or cool days. "UV rays just send the pigment into overdrive, turning dark spots darker," says Dr. Day. "You must wear sunblock daily on exposed areas."
SPF refers to protection from UVB short-wave rays only. To also protect against UVA long-wave rays, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) adviseschoosing a product that contains Mexoryl, Parsol 1789, titanium dioxide, zinc oxide, or avobenzone.
Additionally, the AAD recommends avoiding the outdoors between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., when the sun is strongest. You can also wear a wide-brimmed hat to protect your head, as well as your face, ears, and neck.
Ask a Dermatologist About High-Tech Options
If topical solutions aren't fixing the problem, you may want to talk to your dermatologist about more aggressive ways to banish discoloration, such as chemical peels, microdermabrasion, or dermabrasion, or, per theInternational Association for Physicians in Aesthetic Medicine, a laser resurfacing procedure. (Important note: If you have melasma, lasers are considered third-line treatments, as they have not been found to get rid of excess melanin production, according to a review published in March 2017 in the International Journal of Women's Dermatology.
Other Steps to Prevent or Minimize Future Damage
Besides treatment and sun protection, there are other preventive measures you can take to minimize the onset of future dark spots. Stick to gentle skin-care products that don’t sting or burn, as irritation can worsen or trigger hyperpigmentation. Also, protect yourself against other common skin-darkening triggers by using acne medication to fight off pimples, as well as bug spray to prevent bites.
Dermatologists consider products with hydroquinone, alone or combined with other lighteners, to be the gold standard for fading dark spots because it slows the production of pigment. These are available by prescription, per the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).What removes hyperpigmentation naturally? ›
Aloe vera contains aloin, a natural depigmenting compound that has been shown to lighten skin and work effectively as a nontoxic hyperpigmentation treatment, according to a 2012 study. To use: Apply pure aloe vera gel to pigmented areas before bedtime. Rinse using warm water the next morning.What helps heal hyperpigmentation? ›
- Retinols. Retinols chemically exfoliate your skin and help block the receptors that regulate how much pigment comes out of the skin. ...
- Chemical peel. Chemical peels can help over time if the hyperpigmentation is related to sun exposure. ...
- Prescription medications. ...
- Laser therapies.
Most dark spots will then fade on their own over time, but it may take a long time. Skin injury: As the wound heals, you may see a dark spot or patch. In time, the hyperpigmentation will fade if you don't re-injure your skin.How can I remove dark spots in 7 days? ›
- Drink Plenty Of Water. Drinking plenty of water can do wonders to your skin. ...
- Lemon Juice And Yogurt Face Mask. We all know that lemons have a number of benefits. ...
- Buttermilk. ...
- Aloe Vera. ...
- Tomatoes. ...
- Papaya. ...
How long hyperpigmentation lasts will vary from case to case. For post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH), without any treatment at all it can take anywhere from three months to two years for the discoloration to fade, depending on how dark the patches are, and even then it may not disappear completely.Does hyperpigmentation get darker before it fades? ›
“People think it's going to fade—which it will do—but it won't do that without scrubbing away the cells and working on it. And sometimes it'll get darker before it gets lighter,” As with the night, it seems. When thinking about hyperpigmentation, it's best to break it down into two categories: prevention and treatment.Which cream is best for hyperpigmentation? ›
- Mamaearth Bye Bye Blemishes Face Cream. ...
- The Derma Co 2% Kojic Acid Face Cream for Pigmentation. ...
- DERMATOUCH Bye Bye Pigmentation Cream.
- O3+ Whitening Face Emulsion Pigmentation Removal Cream.
As well as treating acne, azelaic acid is also a skin-lightening agent that's useful for fading post-acne marks, or post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation.What does hyperpigmentation look like? ›
Hyperpigmentation can appear as brown, black, gray, red or pink spots or patches. The spots are sometimes called age spots, sun spots or liver spots. The spots can occur in just one area of the body or all over.
What triggers hyperpigmentation? Triggers include sun exposure, hormonal changes, and trauma to the skin, for example, due to acne or an injury. Picking at scabs and spots may make it worse. Some face creams can irritate the skin, leading to further hyperpigmentation.What fades dark spots? ›
- 2% hydroquinone.
- azelaic acid.
- glycolic acid.
- kojic acid.
- retinoids, such as retinol, tretinoin, adapalene gel, or tazarotene.
- vitamin C.
Kojic Acid Soap Is A Formulated Soap Which Contains Kojic Acid Which Is Used For Skin Lightening Of Hyperpigmentation, Fading Of Dark Spots Which Results From Blemishes Of The Skin. Direction For Use Apply The Soap On Wet Skin; Softly Massage Soap Throughout Your Whole Skin Especially On The Most Affected Parts.What is the fastest dark spot remover? ›
- Best Overall: Murad Rapid Dark Spot Correcting Serum. ...
- Best Value: Neutrogena Rapid Tone Repair Dark Spot Corrector Serum. ...
- Best Splurge: Skinceuticals C E Ferulic. ...
- Best Peel Pads: Dr. ...
- Best Exfoliator: Drunk Elephant T.L.C. ...
- Best With Retinol: Shani Darden Skin Care Retinol Reform.
So to answer if vaseline removes dark spots - No, regular Vaseline is just petroleum jelly that seals in moisture and doesn't contain any ingredient that would remove dark spots.How does Colgate remove dark spots? ›
This is a very simple remedy, for this you will need just 2 things – Toothpaste + Vaseline petroleum jelly...Which ingredient is best for hyperpigmentation? ›
Here are the best ingredients in skincare products if you want to brighten an uneven complexion.
- Vitamin C. ...
- Kojic Acid. ...
- Retinol. ...
- Niacinamide. ...
- Azelaic Acid. ...
- Mandelic Acid. ...
Why do they take forever to go away? Chances are you aren't wearing proper sunblock. Bowes recommends a minimum of SPF 30 not only with zinc and titanium dioxide, but also iron oxide (usually in tinted sunscreens) to block out visible light (think the flash on your cellphone camera and even your computer screen).Does exfoliating get rid of hyperpigmentation? ›
Dark spots, hyperpigmentation, melasma, even discoloration left by acne are all forms of excess melanin. Exfoliation helps to reduce the excess melanin by breaking up the pigmented cells and sloughing them off.How do you fade deep hyperpigmentation? ›
using a topical cream that contains zinc oxide, titanium dioxide, or iron oxide. using another medication for other types of hyperpigmentation, such as hydroquinone. using camouflage makeup until melasma fades. having a procedure such as a chemical peel, microneedling, or laser or light treatment.
Purple and blue concealers help neutralize yellow and orange hues, as well as correct dark spots and hyperpigmentation and help tone down overly orange skin. (Think about those times you might have gone overboard with self tanner.)How do people live with hyperpigmentation? ›
- exfoliate to increase cell turnover.
- protect skin from inflammation.
- protect skin from the sun.
- inhibit melanin production with skin-brightening products.
Typically, these hyperpigmentation spots caused by a skin trauma go away on their own within a couple of months.What food causes skin pigmentation? ›
The orangish yellow discoloration is a result of excess beta-carotene in the blood from consuming foods like carrots, says Dr. Dy. Other foods that can cause the orangish yellow pigmentation include squash, sweet potatoes, cantaloupe and even dried apricots. All these foods are also high in beta-carotene.How do u know if u have hyperpigmentation? ›
Darkened areas on the skin are the main symptoms of hyperpigmentation. Patches can vary in size and develop anywhere on the body. The biggest risk factors for general hyperpigmentation are sun exposure and inflammation, as both situations can increase melanin production.What type of hyperpigmentation is hardest to treat? ›
Melasma is presented as larger, blotchy patches of darkened skin that is typically symmetrical. It's a protective response to inflammation caused by hormonal fluctuations and can be intensified by heat and UV rays. It is the most difficult to treat type of pigmentation because it requires a three-pronged approach.How can I remove pigmentation permanently from my face naturally? ›
- Apple cider vinegar. Apple cider vinegar contains acetic acid, which may help in lightening the pigmentation on your skin. ...
- Aloe vera. ...
- Red onion. ...
- Green tea extract. ...
- Black tea water. ...
- Milk. ...
- Tomato paste. ...
- Masoor dal (red lentils)
Hyperpigmentation can be a frustrating skin concern to target. It's important to target hyperpigmentation daily with professional formulas designed specifically to lighten pigmented spots and even overall skin tone. The good news is that fast results can be achieved in just two weeks!What is the reason for pigmentation on face? ›
What causes hyperpigmentation? Skin gets its color from a substance called melanin, which is made by skin cells. When those skin cells are damaged or unhealthy, they can produce too much melanin. The melanin can clump, causing that area to appear darker.