To understand why, we first have to understand how hyperpigmentation works. Hyperpigmentation happens when there is an excess production of melanin (aka, the brown pigment that's responsible for determining our skin and hair color). Darker skin inherently has a lot more melanin than lighter skin tones, which can make hyperpigmentation a bigger challenge to correct, according to Brittaney Trent, a New York-based licensed aesthetician: "Hyperpigmentation can be much more severe and longer-lasting in darker skin tones, which in turn can make it more difficult to treat."
In order to find the right treatment, it's helpful to know what's causing your skin's discoloration in the first place. Hyperpigmentation can take on several forms and it can be easily triggered by different things like trauma, acne and inflammation.
"I think that inflammation is a big part of what leads to hyperpigmentation, especially in darker skin," says Cynthia Robinson, MD, FAAD, a board certified dermatologist. "And so, I think [with] a lot of the things that you do to treat hyperpigmentation in darker skin, you have to be super careful not to cause any additional inflammation."
What are the best ingredients to help treat hyperpigmentation?
That includes paying attention to how your skin reacts to a product and its active ingredients. For example, things like kojic acid (a byproduct of the fermentation of fungi to help suppress melanin production), azelaic acid (a compound that has anti-inflammatory properties), and vitamin C (a nutrient that helps brighten the skin) are just few of the ingredients that Hope Mitchell, MD, FAAD, a board-certified dermatologist and co-founder of Mitchell Dermatology, likes to recommend for treating hyperpigmentation for her patients.
"I find that most products can be used in all skin tones; however, some may require that we start them at a lower strength and increase cautiously because the moment there is irritation or a burn, a cascade of inflammation may start a reaction of hyperpigmentation," Dr. Mitchell says.
If you're hoping to have better luck in your skin journey with reducing dark spots and discoloration, we let the pros give you some of their favorite recommendations for beating hyperpigmentation.
Best products to treat hyperpigmentation for women of color
“[BeautyStat] is an amazing Black-owned brand that I love,” says Trent. “Vitamin C is a must for getting rid of hyperpigmentation. But this isn’t just any regular old vitamin C serum. It has the highest level of ascorbic acid allowed (20 percent) with a patented delivery system that prevents oxidation. It’s also formulated with green tea, squalane and tartaric acid which all powerfully (but gently) work together to increase collagen synthesis.”
When acne strikes, it’s not just the blemish you have to worry about. It’s also the scar it leaves behind. To help keep acne scars to a minimum, Trent is a firm believer of this Tula correcting gel. “I’ve grown to love this gel and use it every time a breakout pops up—big or small,” says Trent. “It helps brighten dark spots, plus it contains prebiotics and probiotic extracts that help balance your skin. It’s also formulated with superfoods like wild mint and mushroom extract to help minimize the look of pores. Sometimes salicylic acid products can feel drying but this acne gel doesn’t dry out your skin—and you can use it every day.”
Although a bit pricey, this pigment corrector may be well worth the amount of coins when it comes to results. “Cyspera is kind of making waves, bumping and shaking the hyperpigmentation treatment algorithm right now,” says Dr. Robinson. “That is a cysteamine product that has also been life-changing for some of my patients who have tried a lot of hyperpigmentation treatments, but haven’t really gotten anywhere. [They’ve] been super happy with [this].”
When it comes to targeting problematic skin, there’s no other treatment better than a retinol. It’s an ingredient that can have transformative effects on problematic skin, including discoloration. And this one from the Gen-Z-loved brand is one that Trent recommends as a budget-friendly and effective buy. “Retinol is another ‘must’ ingredient for tackling hyperpigmentation, as it speeds the turnover of superficial skin cells,” says Trent. “Some over-the-counter retinol products can be expensive, but this one is affordable and effective. Not only does this one help with dark spots, it helps reduce the look of lines and wrinkles—plus [it’s] formulated with squalane to help hydrate the skin.”
For a serum that’s fast-absorbing and plays nice with your skin, Dr. Mitchell points to this vegan Hyper Clear Brightening Vitamin C Serum. It has a unique formulation that contains 15 percent vitamin C and E to help reduce fine lines and dark patches on the skin. “[It’s] blended with kojic acid and the blend brightens the skin while tackling the hyperpigmentation. This product goes on smooth and blends into the skin quickly without leaving a greasy feeling,” says Dr. Hope.
If you’re looking for an exfoliant to add to your beauty cabinet, this Glytone face cream works overtime to help moisturize and reduce dark spots all in one go. “I love the double team up of these ingredients,” Dr. Mitchell says. “The glycolic acid loosens the bonds between skin cells and facilitates skin turnover and the azelaic acid can prevent new acne which may lead to hyperpigmentation. It also suppresses melanin production in the skin. “
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