What to do about the very common problem of hyperpigmentation

young asian woman applying moisture cream at her face
How to deal with hyperpigmentationSergey Mironov - Getty Images

Hyperpigmentation is nothing new. So if you've been wondering how to get rid of hyperpigmentation, then you've come to the right place. We sat down with top skin specialists to find out exactly why this beauty bugbear occurs and how we can prevent it from happening.

Aside from using an SPF, the other way to tackle pigmentation is with a specific dark spot fighting serum. The good news? There are so many products on the market to help tackle this skin concern: scroll down for the WH edit.

What is hyperpigmentation?

'Hyperpigmentation is the result of excess melanin being produced in the skin, and it’s the reason around a third of my patients visit me,’ reveals Dr Anjali Mahto.

What does hyperpigmentation look like?

Hyperpigmentation can appear anywhere on your body, and appears as little patches of skin that are deeper in tone than the rest of your body, meaning that your skin tone might appear uneven. It's super common in all ethnicities, but is especially prevalent in those with darker skin tones.

‘Hyperpigmentation is caused by overactive pigment cells and an accumulation of melanin in the skin, usually as a result of overexposure to the sun’s UV rays,’ says Dr Sebastian Bejma of Dr Bejma Medical Clinic. ‘It can also be caused by hormone changes that can occur during pregnancy, as well as some medications and medical conditions.’

Why do you get hyperpigmentation and skin discolouration?

‘This phenomenon is usually the result of your skin’s efforts to protect itself from the harmful effects of ultraviolet light’, says London aesthetics doctor, Dr David Jack.

When your skin is exposed to sunlight, the melanocytes in the deeper layers of your skin produce cells that contain a skin-darkening pigment called melanin. If certain areas of your skin overproduce melanin, you end up with darker patches of skin known as hyperpigmentation.

And it's not just the sun's rays that cause these patchy dark spots - recent studies have also shown High Energy Visible light (HEV), which is omitted from your smartphone, is also a culprit. Bad news for us stuck inside staring at a screen all day.

Is there a difference between sunspots and hyperpigmentation?

Hyperpigmentation is defined as any spot on your skin that’s dark enough to effectively stand out against the surrounding area. Sunspots are a type of hyperpigmentation.

What are the different types of hyperpigmentation?

1. Sun spots

They appear randomly on all areas of the face as well as other parts of the body that are exposed to a lot of sunlight, such as the hands and back. ‘They’re likely to appear alongside other signs of photodamage, such as textural changes to the skin like lines or wrinkles,’ adds Mahto. This type of pigmentation is directly linked to sun exposure, rather than hormonal changes.

2. Melasma

It presents itself as light to dark brown patches on the forehead, cheeks, chin, upper lip and is very symmetrical in appearance on both sides of the face,’ says Dr Mahto. The discoloration can lie on the epidermis (upper layer of skin), dermis (lower layer of skin), or a combination of both. It's one of the most common skin concerns that women of colour face because they produce more melanocytes, the cells responsible for creating pigment.

'Melasma can also be hormonally triggered and it linked to changes like pregnancy and menopause as well as the introduction of synthetic hormones via the contraceptive pill,' Dr Goldfaden explains. Exposure to sunlight increases the intensity of melasma making it trickier to more difficult to get rid of.

3. Scarring and post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation

Also known as PIH, it often appears as the result of of skin injury or an inflammatory skin condition. Think acne, chicken pox or dermatitis.

Is there a part of the body or face that’s more prone to pigmentation?

Your face, neck and chest are extremely prone to hyperpigmentation — particularly melasma.

What’s the best way to treat hyperpigmentation?

The best way to treat hyperpigmentation is to make sure you are both preventative and protective over your skin.

‘To prevent hyperpigmentation you should avoid direct exposure to the sun by wearing protective clothing/hats, and also using and regularly reapplying a high factor SPF with a UVA and UVB filter protection,’ says Dr Bejima. ‘But, hyperpigmentation can be treated at home with topical prescription creams such as retinoids and mild steroids which will work to fade the colour over time and speed up cell rejuvenation.’

Embracing antioxidant skincare products may help to repair some of the DNA damage that has been done by your hormones, sun or scarring.‘Vitamins A, C and E can have an effect when it comes to hyperpigmentation’, says Dr Jack. ‘Vitamin C and E have what is called a synergistic effect, which means they work together to both repair DNA damage in skin cells and also reduce pigmentation. Vitamin A (retinol) also has a similar effect repairing DNA changes.'

Why does pigmentation occur more after your 30s?

Over the course of our lives, there is cumulative damage to the DNA of our skin cells as a result of damage from UV exposure and other environmental aggressors, like pollution. Initially, when we’re younger, our cells have much more robust repair mechanisms to repair the changes to our DNA repair, however, this ability to repair these changes declines gradually over time, resulting in more abnormalities.

‘Our ability to recover from sun exposure and remove excessive reactive pigmentation decreases over time, plus the response to sun exposure becomes heightened’, says Dr Jack.

This results in a stronger protective response by our melanocytes to overproduce melanin.

Are some people more prone to hyperpigmentation than others?

‘Some people may be more prone to this than others, for example people who are pregnant will experience hormone changes which can make them more prone to hyperpigmentation,’ says Dr Bejma. ‘The hyperpigmentation that can occur during pregnancy is often referred to as ‘the mask of pregnancy’ or a ‘pregnancy mask’ and typically manifests as brown patches on the face, cheeks, nose and forehead.

People with darker skin tones may also be more susceptible to hyperpigmentation because they have a higher melanin content in their skin.

Certain medications or health conditions may also make people more prone to hyperpigmentation.’

The best products for hyperpigmentation

1/ The best spot corrector

This fuss-free French pharmacy staple is infused with Niacinamide, Piroctone Olamine and LHA, to brighten skin and deal with discolouration.

2/ Best dark spot corrector for sensitive skin

If you find your skin can't handle most serums or acids then this is your saviour. Created by a founder who struggles with severe skin sensitivity, it's been formulated in such a way so that it's gentle enough not to annoy fussy skin but tough enough to tackle dark spots. Hero ingredients include marine algae and vitamin C.

3/ The best direct acid

The Ordinary's Niacinamide tackles breakouts, congestion and decreases the appearance of pores. The zinc heals damaged skin and the enhances production of collagen and elastin: more ways to lessen hyperpigmentation across your face.

4/ The best serum for hyperpigmentation

It's no wonder that this night time serum is one of Face Theory's best selling products. It treats fine lines, wrinkles and blemishes – as well as acne scars and hyperpigmentation. The ingredient dill extract works to regenerate elastin and liquorice extract to minimise dark spots and hyperpigmentation.

5/ Best serum for brightening hyperpigmentation

Skinceuticals Discoloration Defense Serum is packed with a cocktail of hard working ingredients that help target visible skin discolouration for brighter, more even-looking skin. Apply after your night cream to brighten any dark spots.

6/ The best SPF protection for hyperpigmentation

An integral way to combat hyperpigmentation is to make sure you're wearing SPF, especially if you're using acids that can weaken your skin's barrier to SPF. Ultra Violette have produced a lightweight SPF 50+ for hyper-pigmented and acne prone skin. Easily absorbed and never pilling, it boasts a smooth, silky texture that simply melts into skin and preps it for make up.

7/ The best mask for hyperpigmentation

Its active formula instantly dissolves dead skin cells, revealing a smooth, glowing base. Kakadu plum, rich in vitamin C, offers brightening properties. Papaya and pineapple extract work to combat dull-looking skin.

8/ The best supplement for hyperpigmentation

Zitasticka has designed a daily supplement to treat melasma and hyperpigmentation left behind by post-blemish scarring, sunspots, discolouration of the skin left from eczema or psoriasis, or hormone-related melasma. The formula contains clinically proven ingredients which include vitamins A & E, Lutein, Zeaxanthin, grape seed extract and maritime pine bark extract.

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