As fun (aka, regrettable) as those “Oops, I forgot to put on sunscreen!” beach days of your youth (we're all older and wiser now and apply SPF daily, obvs) may have been, you may now be dealing with the resulting sun spots and discoloration, otherwise known as hyperpigmentation.
What is hyperpigmentation exactly? "Hyperpigmentation is increased pigment, also known as melanin, in the skin, usually as a result of sun exposure, trauma, or inflammation,” says Dr. Cheri N. Frey, board-certified dermatologist and Assistant Professor and Program Director, Howard University Department of Dermatology. While sun exposure is perhaps the biggest culprit of hyperpigmentation, it isn’t the only one. “Hyperpigmentation can also be linked to genetic factors, medical conditions such as diabetes, or medications,” says Dr. Frey.
You don’t have to live with those spots forever—if you don't want. There are dermatologist-approved products on the market that will tackle hyperpigmentation, decreasing the appearance of dark spots, improving brightness, and even preventing new spots from forming. Just remember: Sunscreen is your skin’s best friend, especially when using a hyperpigmentation treatment, and if your spots don't improve within six to 12 weeks of consistent use of over-the-counter medications, you may want to consult a dermatologist.
Instead of crossing your fingers and throwing down serious cash on any ol’ hyperpigmentation serum—oftentimes they don’t come cheap—read on for five Dr. Frey-approved products below.
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“Tranexamic acid has become a new workhorse for discoloration,” says Dr. Frey. Good news for you: This topical serum includes the highest percentage of tranexamic acid available over the counter, and it has an affordable (as far as hyperpigmentation products go) price tag. “It also contains niacinamide and licorice, two natural ingredients also known to improve dark spots,” Dr. Frey adds. Apply an even layer on your face, neck, and décolletage to brighten and even your skin tone head-to-chest.
Dr. Frey raves about SkinCeuticals’ thorough approach to product development, including with this anti-discoloration serum, one of her go-tos. “SkinCeuticals always goes the extra mile to make sure their products have gone through rigorous testing,” she says. “As with most dark spot serums, Discoloration Defense relies on a synergistic blend of ingredients to even skin tone,” she says, yet this formula is free of all the questionable ingredients, like parabens and silicone.
This product is a financial investment for sure, but it’s also a long-term investment for your skin. “This is a clinically-proven formula that combines 10 different pigment-blending ingredients, including tranexamic acid, in a non-drying, non-irritating formula,” says Dr. Frey. Rest easy that it’s been tested across multiple skin tones and types, making even-looking skin a possibility for everyone. A serum that corrects hyperpigmentation while preventing the appearance of new spots? We’re sold.
According to Dr. Frey, this brightening serum is like a lightweight toner, great for oily or combination skin types, especially those prone to a zit here or there (or everywhere). “These naturally occurring acids fight acne while improving dark spots,” she says. Bonus: It hydrates and firms the skin too. Four birds, one stone.
“Another option for acne-prone patients,” says Dr. Frey. This serum has been tested and approved for all skin types—normal, dry, combination, and oily. “In addition to fighting dark spots with tranexamic acid, this serum contains the retinol-alternative bakuchiol, an exfoliant that lifts away dead skin cells.” Not only does it combat existing dark spots, but it prevents new discolorations, too.
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