We encounter many skincare challenges as we age, and one that impacts nearly everyone is hyperpigmentation. Cosmetic Dermatologist Dr. Michele Green explains that “Hyperpigmentation is a skin condition characterized by areas of the skin that are darker in appearance than the surrounding skin.”
While hyperpigmentation is harmless, it can be undesirable because it gives skin an uneven, dull appearance. We spoke to three skincare experts to get to the bottom of what causes hyperpigmentation, how it can be prevented, and what types of products and treatments can be added to your skincare routine to help to combat it.
A variety of factors cause hyperpigmentation. Clinical Dermatologist Dr. Enrizza P. Factor explains that “Acne, hormonal changes, aging, and sun exposure can all trigger hyperpigmentation.” Perhaps the most significant contributor, however, is sun damage. Dr. Green explains that “Skin color is related to a substance called melanin, which is produced by skin cells called melanocytes to protect the skin from the sun’s harmful UV rays.”
She goes on to say, “Too much melanin can be produced if the skin cells are damaged or unhealthy, causing that area to appear darker. Increased sun exposure leads to increased melanin production, so the skin becomes darker or ‘tan.’ Sun exposure makes the skin more prone to skin discoloration: over time, melanin can clump together to cause age spots.”
Dr. Green also explains how aging impacts hyperpigmentation, saying, “As you age, the skin loses collagen and elastin and becomes thinner and drier, making it more susceptible to developing hyperpigmentation.”
The general consensus is that the best thing you can do to prevent hyperpigmentation is to practice sun safety by wearing SPF daily. Dr. Green says, “The sun’s UVB rays are responsible for sunburn and melanoma, while UVA rays are responsible for signs of aging like sun spots and wrinkles.” She recommends that people “seek out “broad-spectrum” sunscreens to protect your skin from both UVA and UVB rays.” explaining that, “Sunscreen must be reapplied every 90 minutes, even on cloudy days, for the most effective protection.” Dr. Pescatore additionally suggests that you “Avoid picking existing blemishes or mosquito bites, which can cause inflammation and lead to hyperpigmentation.”
Experts agree that people suffering from hyperpigmentation should look for skincare products containing the following ingredients.
Vitamin C or ascorbic acid, “is an antioxidant that protects the skin from free radical damage and oxidative stress caused by the sun’s UV rays, smoking, pollution, and natural metabolic processes,” according to Dr. Green. It’s an excellent ingredient for fading dark spots and creating an even skin tone.
Dr. Factor recommends vitamin C as one of the top ingredients to look for in skincare products, explaining, “One of its functions is to block the action of an enzyme called tyrosinase, which is essential for the formation of the pigment melanin.” Dr. Green recommends products that pair vitamin C with vitamin E. She says, “Vitamin C is an unstable compound but becomes more stable when combined with vitamin E. The combination of vitamin C and vitamin E is the most effective in treating hyperpigmentation.”
Retinoids or vitamin A derivatives, may be best known for their anti-aging properties and their ability to reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. According to Dr. Green, retinoids also treat dark spots and sun damage. She says, “Retinoids expedite cellular turnover. This allows healthier cells underneath to replace the old skin cells while promoting collagen and elastin production. This leads to a brighter, smoother, and more youthful skin.”
Hydroquinone, like vitamin C, also inhibits the production of tyrosinase. Hydroquinone is a skin bleaching agent and it’s best to get a dermatologist’s recommendation before using it. Dr. Green cautions that “Hydroquinone makes your skin photosensitive, so adequate sun protection and daily sunscreen application are essential”. She adds, “Because hydroquinone can be an irritant to the skin, it is important not to mix it with other potentially irritating ingredients such as benzoyl peroxide and alpha hydroxy acids.”
Many may think the solution to hyperpigmentation comes in a topical cream. Adding oral supplements to your routine, however, can provide major benefits. Dr. Fred Pescatore is a renowned natural health physician and expert in skin health who has worked with celebrity clients like Sarah Jessica Parker and Kate Hudson. Dr. Pescatore recommends adding supplements like vitamin C and Pycnogenol into your routine in order to prevent hyperpigmentation.
While vitamin C is a well-known ingredient, readers may be less familiar with Pycnogenol. This maritime pine bark extract works as an antioxidant that reduces the appearance of spots and hyperpigmentation. It simultaneously protects the skin from further damage.
According to Dr. Pescatore, “It lightens over-pigmented skin, lowering pigmentation intensity resulting in a brighter skin complexion,” adding, “The great thing about ingredients like vitamin C and Pycnogenol is that they are found in so many great wellness and beauty products. Pycnogenol is available in over 1,000 oral and topical products, and it is a standardized ingredient, so no matter what brand you select, you can be confident you’ll be getting its benefits.” He recommends Healthy Origins as an oral supplement that contains this ingredient.
Along with topical treatments and oral supplements, there are also some in-office treatments that can treat melasma and hyperpigmentation. According to Dr. Green, “Fraxel Laser is the gold standard treatment for improving skin tone and texture.” She explains how this treatment works, saying, “Fraxel is a fractionated skin resurfacing laser recommended for those with sun damage and hyperpigmentation. It creates controlled, microscopic wounds in the skin through highly concentrated laser pulses. As the skin repairs these wounds, it forms new collagen, and new skin cells grow. This leads to a brighter, more radiant complexion that is even in tone.”
She also recommends chemical or Trichloroacetic acid (TCA) peels. These treatments exfoliate the skin and increase cell turnover rates, “encouraging dead and discolored skin cells to slough off”. This results in the development of new skin cells which are healthier and more evenly colored.
Looking for more anti-aging skincare advice? Check out this piece on the importance of retinoids.