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Skin discoloration doesn’t discriminate, and whether you’re a college freshman or a middle-aged man, dark spots, hyperpigmentation and melasma are common skin conditions. But discoloration doesn’t have to be detrimental to your well-being — or your good looks.
While discoloration may seem daunting at first, the best spot treatments for skin hyperpigmentation can help. With regular use, they work to brighten, lighten and ultimately fade those discolorations. For an explanation on how spot treatments work to even out skin tone, we reached out to Dr. Michele Green, a board-certified cosmetic dermatologist based in New York City who regularly treats skin hyperpigmentation. She helped answer some basic questions for us about skin hyperpigmentation and spot treatments. Alongside her advice, we’ve included a few of the best spot treatments for skin hyperpigmentation.
What Causes Skin Hyperpigmentation? How Does It Develop?
Skin’s pigment comes from melanin, which is produced by melanocytes. Skin hyperpigmentation and discoloration occur when there’s an increase in melanin in the skin, Green said. That can happen when the melanocytes are activated more often than normal. What triggers that in each person is trickier to say, but it’s usually one of a number of causes.
“There are a bunch of things that trigger overproduction [of melanin] like sun damage, UV rays and hormones,” Green said. “Some skin hyperpigmentation is a product of age, exposure to elements, skin conditions like eczema and skin scars.”
How Can Spot Treatments for Skin Hyperpigmentation Help?
Spot treatments, peels and particular ingredients basically break down existing skin and prompt new skin. Over time, that has the effect of fading skin hyperpigmentation, discoloration, dark spots as well as wrinkles and fine lines.
If you’re dealing with skin hyperpigmentation from a skin condition like eczema, you’re going to want to treat that cause first. For most other people, the discoloration comes about from sun-related UV damage and just general age-related wear and tear. For that kind of skin hyperpigmentation, Green recommended turning to chemical peels, vitamin C spot treatments and retinol spot treatments too.
Chemical peels, including TCA, glycolic and salicylic acids, help exfoliate dead skin and promote skin turnover. That helps minimize skin hyperpigmentation as well as acne and excess sebum, Green said.
Vitamin C, aka ascorbic acid, has antioxidant properties that repair damage, fight free radicals, reduce signs of aging and brighten and protect skin.
Retinol, a form of vitamin A, effectively exfoliates skin, promoting new skin and fading spots and fine lines, Green said. But it makes skin sensitive to sunlight, so you should definitely avoid the sun, or at least use a high-SPF sunscreen if you’re using a retinol product.
Any products with these ingredients will not only help with skin hyperpigmentation and uneven skin tone, but also other signs of aging, such as wrinkles, age spots and fine lines, as well as acne and acne-related scarring and discoloration.
For best results, make sure to follow each product’s specific instructions. Because spot treatments tend to be concentrated and involve pretty strong ingredients, most should only be used a few times a week, especially if you’re new to these kinds of products.
1. Kiehl’s Clearly Corrective Dark Spot Solution
The Kiehl’s Clearly Corrective Dark Spot Solution has the answer to your skin hyperpigmentation problems. With a form of vitamin C and salicylic acid as well as peony extract, a natural antioxidant, this serum fades dark spots and discoloration of any cause or kind for any skin type. Just use a couple of drops every morning and night on discolored spots and by the time you’re through the bottle, you’ll have visibly brightened and more consistent skin.
2. Paula’s Choice 1% Retinol Treatment
The Paula’s Choice 1% Retinol Treatment makes use of both retinol and vitamin C to treat skin hyperpigmentation, uneven skin tone and fine lines and wrinkles. Licorice extract also helps soothe irritated skin, and the light lotion-like formula absorbs fast. Use a pea-sized amount no more than three times a week to begin with. Your skin will take a couple of weeks to show results, so stick with it before tinkering with the application.
3.La Roche-Posay Vitamin C Serum
Retinol is definitely a hero ingredient in the best spot treatments for skin hyperpigmentation, but it can be aggressive on skin. That’s why you might like the La Roche-Posay Vitamin C Serum. It skips out on retinol in favor of exfoliating salicylic acid and skin-brightening vitamin C. Just add a few drops of this during your morning routine for more even skin tone and texture.
4. Dr. Dennis Gross C + Collagen Brighten & Firm Vitamin C Serum
BEST VITAMIN C TREATMENT
The Dr. Dennis Gross C + Collagen Brighten & Firm Vitamin C Serum is one of the best vitamin C serums out there. A combination of exfoliating and skin-rejuvenating ingredients such as lactic acid, collagen and, of course, vitamin C, work together to minimize any discoloration or signs of aging and stimulate your skin’s natural collagen production.
5. Versed Press Restart Gentle Retinol Serum
BEST RETINOL TREATMENT
Retinol can be a tough ingredient to work with, but the Versed Press Restart Gentle Retinol Serum makes using retinol easy. Instead of loading up on 100% retinol, this serum incorporates natural retinol alternatives and microencapsulated retinol into its formula, significantly minimizing the risk of surface skin irritation while offering the same skin-saving benefits. Plus, at under $25, you won’t find too many better values for an effective retinol serum. Versed recommends using this spot treatment nightly for best results.
6. The Ordinary Alpha Arbutin 2% + HA Serum
Speaking of better values, The Ordinary offers some of the best value across the board for almost any skin treatment you could want. As far as the best skin hyperpigmentation spot treatments go, you can’t do much better than The Ordinary Alpha Arbutin 2% + HA Serum. The hyaluronic acid helps plump and hydrate skin while the alpha arbutin takes care of discoloration, age spots and generally uneven skin tone. Without retinol and harsher ingredients, you’re OK to use this treatment once in the morning and once at night, though The Ordinary encourages you to do a test patch before trying the serum on your face.
7. SkinCeuticals CE Ferulic Serum
For pure vitamin C power, go for the SkinCeuticals CE Ferulic Serum. With 15% vitamin C as well as 1% vitamin E and 0.5% ferulic acid, this serum delivers potent antioxidants deep into skin to improve fine lines and wrinkles and brighten dark spots and discoloration. In particular, ferulic acid not only neutralizes free radicals on its own but also stabilizes the vitamins for maximum impact. Sure, it’s pricey, but it’s highly effective for skin hyperpigmentation if you can stick with a routine.
8. CeraVe Skin Renewing Vitamin C Serum
BEST DRUGSTORE SPOT TREATMENT
For a budget-friendly, sold-everywhere spot treatment, go for the CeraVe Skin Renewing Vitamin C Serum. The combination of 10% vitamin C and hyaluronic acid promises to revitalize skin and lessen discoloration without breaking the bank.
What About Hydroquinone?
Hydroquinone has been a go-to skin lightening ingredient for decades, available over the counter and by prescription. But the Food and Drug Administration revoked the OTC status through the CARES Act in 2020, Green said. Though hydroquinone is not suitable to treat all kinds of skin hyperpigmentation, like those stemming from skin irritation, Green said it can be a useful treatment for skin hyperpigmentation. The key difference today is you must speak with a doctor today to receive any hydroquinone treatment. Be aware that some companies are still selling products with hydroquinone but that you should not buy them.
What Can I Do To Prevent Skin Hyperpigmentation?
There are two things Green said everyone can do to prevent and minimize hyperpigmentation: avoid the sun and if you must be in the sun, use sunscreen. Acids, retinol and vitamin C will make your skin more sensitive to sunlight, which can easily wreck any good you’re getting from the skin hyperpigmentation spot treatments. There are mineral sunscreens, spray sunscreens and even moisturizers with SPF protection out there too, so there’s no reason to not take this key preventative step. Your skin will thank you in 10 years.
Now that you know how skin hyperpigmentation can occur, check out a few great spot treatments below, most of which are some kind of highly concentrated serum. With patience and consistent use, these spot treatments can minimize skin hyperpigmentation and begin to restore your skin to a more consistent appearance. You can even continue to use them after the discoloration is gone to help keep it at bay in the future, too.