Facts Checked By Freewill Beauty Experts - Written by Nancy Agrahari (Journalist) on 26th Sep 2020

Hyperpigmentation - Causes, Treatment
& Some Useful Products 

Hyperpigmentation - Causes, Treatment

Many of us dream of having beautiful, clear skin. But for some, it’s just a far-fetched dream, more so when you have to deal with hyperpigmentation.

Hyperpigmentation is a phase where our skin decides to grace us with pigment (melanin) production overdrive, often caused by pimples, acne, or sunburn. These dark spots are relatively common among dark skin tones or Asian-American genes. Read along if you, too, are dealing with hyperpigmentation and want to get rid of them.

Our skin is like a sensitive mattress where every layer has a job. One of these is melanin production. Melanin gives our skin its color and protects it from the sun’s harmful UV rays. It is produced as a defense mechanism but can cause harm to our bodies in specific ways. Overproduction of melanin is one of the reasons skin experiences dark spots after inflammation.

Though hyperpigmentation can be a common problem, discussing it over coffee breaks is rather dull. Amp up your skincare game and coffee conversations with the treatment and prevention of these little bogglers. 

What is Hyperpigmentation?

While there is no exact definition, hyperpigmentation refers to a condition where the skin patches become darker in color than the skin’s surrounding areas.

It usually occurs when the skin produces more melanin, leaving the area appear darker than the rest of the skin. It can: 

  • Occur in small areas like cheekbones or neckline 
  • Cover large areas like shoulder or neck 
  • Affect the entire body 

Types & Causes of Hyperpigmentation

Though hyperpigmentation can be of several types, people often deal with three of them. They are post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH), melasma, or sunspots. 

  • Post-Inflammatory Hyperpigmentation(PIH): PIH is when our skin responds to melanin overdrive after inflammation like wounds, pimples, or sunburn. It can refer to red marks or brown marks. 
  • Melasma: Typically, a result of hormonal changes, melasma often occurs in pregnant women - usually around their face or stomach.  
  • Sunspots: These are caused by being exposed to the sun for a long time. People often have sunspots on their faces, hands, or other exposed areas to the sun. 

How Can I Treat Hyperpigmentation? 

Hyperpigmentation can be treated with lasers, over-the-counter products containing lightening ingredients, retinoid, chemical peels, or face acids. A study conducted in 2013 by the British Journal of Dermatology notes that “Topical treatments such as depigmenting agents, a combination of Alpha-hydroxy acid, antioxidants, peels, phenol peels, are believed to be effective.”

If you feel overwhelmed with the topical treatments, let us break it down for you.

Here is a quick explanation of all the treatments, face acids, antioxidants, and peels that you can try at home, their effects, and how to find them. 

Skin Lightening Products 

Skin lightening creams or serums are formulated with active ingredients that exfoliate the epidermis and reach the dermis to reduce the acne. As our skin consists of epidermis, dermis, and hypodermis, it is crucial to know how to select the right skin lightening products that sink to the layers to shrink the inflammation. 

Did You Know?

Many over-the-counter products offer ingredients that effectively help decrease pigmentation. These products are recommended to be applied twice a day (both AM, PM) to help lighten the skin over time. 

Popular Skin Lightening Ingredients  

When selecting a skin lightening ingredient for hyperpigmentation, look for words like ‘skin-lightening’, ‘lighter skin’ or ingredients like: 

  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin B3 (Niacinamide)
  • Hydroquinone 
  • Licorice extract 
  • N-acetylglucosamine 

Who Should Try Them?

Lightening ingredients work best when dealing with dark spots, melasma, or age spots. Antioxidants like Vitamin C reduces dark spots and restores smooth, plump looking skin. All skin types can apply ingredients such as Vit C, Vit B, and Hydroquinone.  

Products You Can Try 

Minimalist Vitamin C 20% serum - Vitamin C Serums are an organic glow-boosting serum that reduces hyperpigmentation and gives you a smoother, radiant complexion.

Niacinamide 10%+1% Zinc - A nourishing daily serum with benefits of Niacinamide Serum (Vitamin B3) that reduces blemishes and redness. It visibly reduces hyperpigmentation and dark spots.  

Face Acids 

In a world full of blemishes and acne, face acids are nothing short of a blessing. Our skin is naturally acidic, and acids released from sweat and sebum keep the right balance of bacteria and other microorganisms on the skin.

Direct acids or face acids act as exfoliators peeling/shedding the dead skin cells. This, in turn, surfaces new skin cells and helps even out skin tone for brighter skin. There has always been a debate on home remedies vs. active acids for removing dark spots. To deal with hyperpigmentation effectively, follow a customized skincare routine. 

Minimalist Experts Say

Look for a well-formulated, organic, stable concentration of direct acids to fight skin acne and pigmentation.

Popular Face Acids To Fight Hyperpigmentation

Lactic Acid

Lactic acid is an alpha-hydroxy acid that is generally larger than glycolic acid. Being a bit larger in concentration gives this acid the benefit of being gentler than other exfoliators.

Lactic acid works by exfoliating the top layer of your skin and then sinking deep to break down all your dead skin cells, oils, bacterias that clog your pores.

Regular use of lactic acid serums can treat pigmentation, decrease dark spots, and acne. 

Azelaic Acid

Another popular face acid amongst the over-the-counter products is azelaic acid. This direct acid is suitable for any skin type unless you have extra sensitive skin. (We recommend a patch test if you are in the zone).

Azelaic acid has anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties that effectively treat acne, dark spots, and sunspots. 

Kojic Acid

Take a look at the ingredients list on some of your face products, and you might find kojic acid in most of them. It is a chemical compound derived from various fungi including mushrooms, and types of fermented food.

Kojic acid works excellently to treat hyperpigmentation as it prohibits melanin production, thus removing any dark spots or spots caused due to inflammation. 

Salicylic Acid

 Salicylic acid or beta-hydroxy acid (BHA) is an incredible exfoliant that sheds off dead skin cells by penetrating deep into the pore lining and inhibiting sebum production. It is an oil-soluble exfoliator and is often considered better than Alpha Hydroxy Acid (AHA) for pore cleaning.

When it comes to face wash or cleansers, 2% Salicylic acid cleansers are clinically proven to perform better than 10 % benzoyl peroxide (hero ingredient for acne) cleanser or soap for reducing acne. For oily skin, acne-prone skin salicylic acid face cleansers are a must.  

Vitamin C or L-ascorbic acid

Vitamin C (L-ascorbic acid) is a powerful antioxidant that neutralizes oxidative stress by electron transfer/donation.

Regular use of Vitamin C serums can reduce sun damage while boosting collagen formation. It inhibits tyrosinase (an enzyme) that acts on the melanin formation process, thus
reducing tan lines and dark spots. 

Who Should Try Them? 

Dry or normal skin people can apply alpha-hydroxy acids like glycolic acid, lactic acid, and mandelic acid. People prone to oily skin or acne-prone can easily use cleansers with salicylic acid and glycolic acid. For fading hyperpigmentation, alpha-hydroxy acids can be used once a day, preferably at night as they can make your skin sensitive to the sun. It is always advised to use sunscreen with SPF 30 or more in the day, if you are using these acids.

Products You Can Try

Niacinamide 10%+zinc can be used to treat hyperpigmentation.

Kojic Acid 2% works great to reduce dark spots and blemishes. 

Retinoids

Retinoids are one of the most commonly used science-based skincare ingredients but pretty tricky to start on. They are the derivatives of Vitamin A, for example, Tretinoin, which is a dappling or a teaser.

Being fat-soluble and a powerful antioxidant, Retinoids are effective in anti-aging, anti-acne, and anti-pigmentation treatments.  

Minimalist Experts Say

When starting with retinoids, look for gentle formulas for your skin and brands that use organic products. Minimalist Retinoids are highly useful to combat acne and anti-aging. Plus, all the products are 100% organic and tested. 

Who Should Try This?

Retinoids can be safe for all skin-tones, but people with darker skin tones should do a patch test. It works well with wrinkles and hyperpigmentation.  

Chemical Peel Is Effective

What Are Chemical Peels

When your skin has blackheads, whiteheads, or post-inflammatory dark spots, even the prettiest outfit may not make you feel great. This is where a chemical peel might help. It can change your skin dramatically, keeping it radiant and smooth.

A chemical peel is filled with a higher concentration of face acids to treat the skin’s desired area. It works by peeling the darker area of the epidermis to reduce the appearance of hyperpigmentation. A few chemical peels with glycolic acid sink deeper into the dermis to reduce acne and blemishes. This results in a more visible depigmentation of the skin.

Although it is safe to use a chemical peel if you have sensitive skin, consider talking to a dermatologist first. Talking to a professional would highlight your risks and help you find effective measures to control them.

Few over-the-counter products have direct acids for chemical peels. For quicker results, you can get a professional-grade peel as well.  

Pro Tip

Usually, there are no side effects to chemical peels other than light skin reddening that can be treated by applying ice or a soothing gel. Other side effects of both in-home and professional chemical peels could be skin irritation, scars, pimples, or blistering. 

Who Should Try Them?

Chemical peels work best on medium to fair skin tone when applied regularly. People experiencing sun spots, age spots, melasma, or acne-prone skin can also use them. 

Minimalist Experts Say

If you love sunlight or have to step out of the sun often, using chemical peels may not be effective. Ingredients used in chemical peels make it sensitive to the harmful UV rays. If you don’t generously apply the right sunscreen or cover your face, it may aggravate hyperpigmentation.  

Once you have used the chemical peel, take the right precautions for a week or so before stepping out in the sun.

Products To Try:

For professional results at home, use Minimalist’s AHA 30%+BHA 2% Peeling Solution or Minimalist’s Apple Cider Vinegar 2%+Glycolic Acid 10% Peeling Solution.

Both the products can be used once a week to alleviate hyperpigmentation, uneven skin tone, or wrinkles. They suit almost every skin type, so you can easily give them a try.  

Laser Peel

According to the British Journal of Dermatology, lasers, and light devices such as intense pulsed light, QS lasers, and fractionated carbon dioxide lasers can effectively treat hyperpigmentation.

A laser peel treatment is considered useful as it uses targeted beams of light to treat hyperpigmentation. Ablative lasers remove the skin’s layers, whereas non-ablative procedures target the dermis to promote collagen. Both ablative and non-ablative laser treatments destroy certain elements of the skin to boost collagen production.

However, since ablative laser treatment uses much stronger procedures, it is prone to side effects.

Who Should Try This?

Always consider a professional before getting a laser peel. As laser peel works on the skin’s discoloration, it should be approached with utmost caution. 

Select What Works Best For Your Skin Tone

Before booking a treatment or using depigmenting products, relax and choose what works best for your skin tone. It is believed that people with fair, medium skin tone respond best with most of the hyperpigmented treatments. Dark or tan skins need to be careful while selecting the treatments.  

Tan or dark skin tone can use:

  • Direct acids (kojic acid, glycolic acid)
  • Chemical peels
  • Lightening Creams
  • Lower intensity laser treatment

Pro Tip:

If you have dark or tan skin, try not to go for high-beam lasers and intense pulse light therapy. 

Medium skin tones can use:

  • Chemical peels
  • Microdermabrasion
  • Lightening products

Understand your skin, then look for products that suit you. Love your skin, and keep calm. For best results comes to the ones who are patient.

Key Takeaways

Protecting your skin from the harmful rays of the sun will protect you from hyperpigmentation or sunspots. Always wear a high-spectrum sunscreen SPF 50+ when stepping out, even in winters.

Do not shy away from reapplying the sunscreen after a few hours. Wear a hat or cover your face, hair, and eyes from the sun whenever needed. Go ahead and talk to a dermatologist if the situation worsens.

Love the skin you are in and show some TLC with these treatments.

And as Jess C. Scott says :

Be patient. Your skin took a while to deteriorate. Give it some time to reflect a calmer inner state.