how to get rid of hyperpigmentation

Everything you need to know about hyperpigmentation – plus the best pigmentation treatments and creams

6th September 2023 | Author: Victoria Woollaston-Webber

Skin pigmentation and hyperpigmentation can be embarrassing and make you look old before your time. Here’s how to prevent dark spots from appearing and the best pigmentation treatment options and creams

As you get older, you may start noticing what looks like new freckles appearing on your hands and face. They start off as very pale brown spots and over time, they get darker and more widespread.

These are called dark spots, or age spots, and are caused by what’s known as hyperpigmentation – a condition that is largely a result of too much sun.

To find out what causes hyperpigmentation, the difference between pigmentation and hyperpigmentation, and which hyperpigmentation treatments and creams actually work, we spoke to expert aesthetician and Lumenis practitioner, Dr. Saleena Zimri.

We also round up what we consider to be the best products for hyperpigmentation at the bottom of this page. Click here to jump straight to that section.

What is hyperpigmentation?

Before we get into the causes of skin pigmentation, and the various hyperpigmentation treatment options, we should qualify the difference between pigmentation and hyperpigmentation.

Pigmentation is the natural process by which your skin produces melanin. Melanin is the pigment that gives your skin its colour and is what determines your unique skin tone and variations, as well as being linked to how well you tan (or not).

Hyperpigmentation is a condition in which your skin produces too much melanin, resulting in spots or patches on your skin that look darker than the rest.

While pigmentation is a natural and normal characteristic of the skin, hyperpigmentation is an abnormal condition where there is an overproduction or uneven distribution of melanin. Hyperpigmentation can occur in specific areas of the skin, such as the face, hands, and arms.

It’s most commonly caused by sun exposure, as Dr. Zimri explains: “Essentially, excess sun exposure triggers an overproduction of melanin. Your skin produces melanin to help protect you from the sun’s rays, but if you’re exposing your skin to the sun excessively, the process is disrupted, and your skin produces an excess of melanin, which leads to hyperpigmentation.”


What causes hyperpigmentation?

SPF-to-help-beat-boob-drop-and-saggy-boobsGetty Images/iStockphoto

There are a number of causes of hyperpigmentation, including:

  • Sun exposure: The most common cause of hyperpigmentation is sun exposure. When your skin is exposed to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays, it produces more melanin, which is the pigment that gives your skin its colour. Over time, this can lead to the formation of dark spots and patches that most commonly appear on parts of the body that are more exposed to the sun. Such as your hands, and face.
  • Hormones: Hormonal changes, such as those that occur during pregnancy or menopause, can also cause hyperpigmentation.
  • Inflammation: Inflammation of the skin, such as acne or eczema, can also lead to hyperpigmentation.
  • Skin conditions: Some skin conditions, such as melasma and vitiligo, can also cause hyperpigmentation. Melasma is a common type of hyperpigmentation that occurs during pregnancy or in women who take oral contraceptives. It is characterised by brown or reddish-brown patches on the face, especially the cheeks, forehead, and upper lip. Vitiligo is a skin condition in which localised areas of the skin lose their pigment, meaning they appear pale or white.

How to get rid of hyperpigmentation

There are a couple of ways to get rid of hyperpigmentation. Laser treatments are the fastest and most effective, but they’re also expensive. Chemical peels can be effective at getting rid of skin pigmentation, as can hyperpigmentation creams and serums. However, it can take a lot longer for the benefits of these latter hyperpigmentation treatments to appear.

Hyperpigmentation treatment 1: Lasers

For individuals with pre-existing hyperpigmentation, Dr. Saleena Zimri suggests a hyperpigmentation treatment using the Stellar M22 IPL laser because it’s non-invasive and doesn’t use needles. Instead, it uses so-called IPL lasers known for their effectiveness in targeting pigmentation.

We explain more about IPL in our guide to hair removal, but in summary, IPL stands for “intense pulsed light.” It uses light to penetrate the pigment in the skin, or hair. This light turns to heat which then kills the cells containing the excess melanin.

The Stellar M22 IPL laser, in particular, uses something called Optimal Pulse Technology, which delivers high-power pulses to help the skin rejuvenate. “It also incorporates Multiple-Sequential Pulse Technology,” Dr. Zimri adds, “to cool the skin between pulses, ensuring a comfortable experience for patients.”

Hyperpigmentation treatment 2: Chemical peels

Chemical peels for hyperpigmentation treatmentShutterstock

A chemical peel uses a chemical solution to remove the top layer of the skin. It can help to lighten dark spots and patches, as well as improve the overall appearance of your complexion.

There are different types of chemical peels, and the strength of the peel depends on the severity of your hyperpigmentation. For example, a light chemical peel may be used to treat mild hyperpigmentation, while a deep chemical peel may be used to treat more severe hyperpigmentation.

Chemical peels work by breaking down the bonds that hold the top layer of skin together. This allows the dead skin cells to be shed, revealing the new, lighter skin underneath.

They’re effective in treating hyperpigmentation, but they are not a permanent solution. The results of a chemical peel typically last for several months, but the hyperpigmentation may return if you don’t take steps to prevent it.

Conversely, they can make your skin more sensitive to the sun so you need to be careful with sun exposure after the peel. Especially as it’s healing. Peels can cause redness, peeling, and scabbing too, so if you have sensitive skin, speak to an expert before opting for a chemical peel.

Hyperpigmentation treatment 3: Microneedling

Microneedling is another hyperpigmentation treatment. It uses tiny needles to create tiny holes in the skin. This can help to stimulate the production of new collagen and elastin, which can help to improve the appearance of hyperpigmentation, as well as tackle other signs of ageing.

Collagen and elastin are the proteins that give skin strength and elasticity. When these proteins are produced at higher levels, the skin can appear smoother, firmer, and more youthful.

Microneedling can also help to improve the appearance of hyperpigmentation by breaking up the pigment that causes the dark spots. The holes created by microneedling allow the topical creams that are used to treat hyperpigmentation to penetrate the skin more deeply, which can make them more effective.

Hyperpigmentation treatment 4: Topical creams and serums

Amino acids and bakuchiol for retinol alternatives for sensitive skinGetty Images/iStockphoto

There are a number of topical creams that can help to lighten dark spots and patches and get rid of hyperpigmentation. These creams typically contain ingredients such as hydroquinone, azelaic acid, or retinoids.

  • Hydroquinone: Hydroquinone is a cream that works by inhibiting the production of melanin. It does this by blocking the enzyme tyrosinase, which is what converts the amino acid tyrosine into melanin. Hydroquinone is a very effective treatment for hyperpigmentation, but it can also be irritating to the skin.
  • Azelaic acid: Azelaic acid is naturally found in grains such as wheat, barley, and rye. It works by inhibiting the production of melanin and by exfoliating the skin. Azelaic acid is a less irritating alternative to hydroquinone, and it is also effective for treating acne. You can read more in our Azelaic Acid Ingredient Spotlight.
  • Retinoids: Retinoids including retinol and come from Vitamin A. Retinoids are good for hyperpigmentation because they help increase the turnover of skin cells, which can help to lighten dark spots and patches. Retinoids can also be irritating to the skin, so it is important to start with a low concentration and gradually increase the strength as your skin tolerates it. You can read more in our retinol for beginners guide.

How to prevent hyperpigmentation

What is SPFShutterstock

It is important to note that all of the hyperpigmentation treatments we list above are not permanent solutions. The results of each treatment typically last for several months, but the hyperpigmentation may return if you do not take steps to prevent it.

The best way to do that, particularly if the hyperpigmentation is caused by sun exposure is:

  • Protect your skin from the sun: This is the most important thing you can do to prevent hyperpigmentation. Wear sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher every day, even on cloudy days.
  • Exfoliate regularly: Exfoliating helps to remove dead skin cells, which can help to prevent the formation of new dark spots and patches. Check out our recommendations on our best face exfoliator page.
  • Use a moisturizer with SPF: A moisturiser with SPF will help to protect your skin from the sun and prevent further hyperpigmentation.
  • Be patient: It takes time for hyperpigmentation to fade. Be patient and consistent with your care, and you will eventually see results.

In addition to sunscreen, Dr. Zimri recommends wearing protective clothing such as sunglasses and sunhats for added defense against UV rays. She also highlights that post-sun hyperpigmentation can occur throughout the year, even during colder months. “You should be taking preventative measures, such as applying sunscreen, all year round,” Dr. Zimri recommends.

Best products for hyperpigmentation

These recommendations have been taken from our best dark spot correctors list.

Editor’s Pick

  • Product: Caudalie Vinoperfect Radiant Serum Complexion Correcting
  • Price: £50
  • Why we love it: This serum is a cult favourite and has been a bestseller for 15 years. It is enriched with Viniferine, which is said to be 62 times more effective than Vitamin C in correcting dark spots and boosting radiance. The serum is also non-irritating and free of parabens, sulfates, and phthalates.

Bargain Buy

  • Product: The Ordinary Alpha Arbutin 2% + HA
  • Price: £8.60
  • Why we love it: This serum is a great option for those on a budget. It contains 2% alpha-arbutin, which is a higher concentration than the standard 1% used by other brands. The serum is also fragrance-free and vegan.

Luxury Buy

  • Product: Dr. Dennis Gross Professional Grade IPL Dark Spot Concentrated Serum
  • Price: £99
  • Why we love it: This serum is one of the most effective dark spot correctors on the market. It is formulated with 10% L-ascorbic acid, lactic acid, kojic acid, and arbutin. The serum has been clinically proven to lighten sun spots, age spots, and dark patches in a matter of weeks.

Other products for hyperpigmentation

  • Dr. Dennis Gross Alpha Beta Universal Daily Peel Pads
  • Korres Wild Rose 24-hour Moisturising & Brightening cream
  • Ole Henriksen Glow 2OH dark spot toner

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