Vitamin C Isn't Your Only Option For Battling Hyperpigmentation

The treatments and topicals that work just as well. Sometimes, even better.

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For the longest time, whenever hyperpigmentation would appear from post-acne inflammation I’d immediately turn to vitamin C. The trusted skin care ingredient, for the most part, would always offer some relief. However, it’d take quite awhile to do so, and by the time I’d get rid of one dark spot, another was appearing. I began to explore how to fight hyperpigmentation more quickly and effectively than just with vitamin C, and luckily, the options are out there, and they range from over-the-counter topicals to in-office treatments.

“Vitamin C is so loved for a lot of reasons,” Dr. Anne Beal, founder of Absolute Joi Skincare tells TZR. “The most prevalent is that it’s so gentle. For every product I use on patients, I consider the risk profile, and with vitamin C, there’s very low risk.” On top of that, she says that there is strong literature and evidence that back the ingredient’s benefits for brightening and so much more. “It aids in collagen production, smoothing, so it’s overall just a great ingredient to have in your skin care regimen.”

But the experts understand that sometimes vitamin C just isn’t enough. “Hyperpigmentation is very difficult, to treat,” Dr. Ife Rodney, board-certified dermatologist says. “That’s especially the case for darker skin types, because the melanocytes are more active. Those are some of the reasons that make it so difficult to treat also, specifically, in the case of acne and skin of color.”

Ahead, discover the in-office and topical treatments that fight hyperpigmentation more quickly and more effectively.

How To Fight Hyperpigmentation: Chemical Peels


“In-office customized chemical peels are huge for hyperpigmentation,” Dr. Rodney says. “These peels often have beta hydroxy acids, which break up the bonds beneath the surface to even out your skin and speed up cell turnover.” She says that essentially what it's doing is sloughing off the dead, discolored, hyperpigmented skin to reveal a fresh, new, even tone. “Think of it like babies’ skin,” she says.

She also notes that high concentrations of AHAs such as glycolic, lactic, and BHAs such as salicylic are often included in these peels. For more sensitive and darker skin tones, mandelic acid, which is a gentler option that your doctor may suggest. “You can really combine and customize them to your individual needs.” For best results, Dr. Rodney suggests a cadence of one peel a month for three months minimum to truly see tangible results.

How To Fight Hyperpigmentation: Laser Treatments


Laser treatments shouldn’t be your go-to due to risk of making hyperpigmentation worse, but in some instances, it can be beneficial. “You have to be really careful because it depends on the cause of the hyperpigmentation you have,” Dr. Rodney says. “If you have discoloration on the face that is triggered not only by sunlight, but also by heat (like melasma), using a laser for this type of hyperpigmentation is risky because it could end up worsening the issue.” She says that with post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, the underlying cause of the inflammation is gone, so lasers will likely not further exacerbate the hyperpigmentation. That said, there are non-ablative lasers that you can use to break up the pigment in the skin to help your body turn it over quickly. However, this is only advised for fair skin tones. Each session typically ranges between $1000-$2000, and a minimum of three treatments are advised for best results. “Nonetheless, lasers should be your last option due to the risk involved with heat, and not an option at all if you have a melanin-rich complexion,” she says.

How To Fight Hyperpigmentation: Topical Products


Luckily, the experts say that there are plenty of topical products out there that can help minimize pesky hyperpigmentation. Dr. Rodney suggests the use of cysteamine, a brightening agent, for one. “We're not yet exactly sure how it works,” she says. “But from my experience it really helps. It doesn't lighten the skin. Instead, it literally brings your skin back to your baseline complexion.”

Another very popular agent, according to Dr. Rodney, is tranexamic acid, which is ideal for melasma-induced hyperpigmentation, and works by shrinking the blood vessels that ultimately lead to the dark discoloration of your skin. “Again, it doesn't bleach the skin,” she says. “It just helps to bring it back to the even color.”

Another effective agent, but one that requires more caution, is hydroquinone which directly targets pigment. Because of its skin bleaching properties, Dr. Beal doesn’t suggest consistent use for more than 12 weeks at a time. For darker skin, the ingredient is not advised as all, as it can compromise surrounding areas of melanin.

And of course, if you can’t get into your dermatologist or esthetician for a professional chemical peel, there are several over-the-counter AHA, BHA, and PHA options that you can incorporate into your routine a few days a week. If you don’t have 20 minutes to spare, an exfoliating toner can offer similar brightening and dead-skin-clearing benefits. Just remember, whichever topical product you chose, it will take consistent use to see the results you want.

How To Fight Hyperpigmentation: Prevention

Most important is committing to daily sun protection and SPF to help prevent dark spots in the first place. “Mineral sunscreen with SPF 30 should be applied throughout the day as many times as needed,” Dr. Rodney says. Reason being, sun exposure both cause and further exacerbates existing hyperpigmentation, making the darker skin even darker. “Even minimal amounts of sun exposure can trigger hyperpigmentation,” she says. “So if you're not using sunscreen religiously, then just two minutes walking from your house to your car, or even if you're inside sitting next to a window, or even natural sunlight can trigger the hyperpigmentation.”

And ultimately, Dr. Beal says be leery of the other ingredients included in your current lineup of products as well — most notably, mercury. “Many brightening products have issues with mercury content,” she says. “There was actually a recent study conducted by the American Academy of Dermatology where they actually evaluated lightening products from around the world and they found that in the last 10 years of the 12% that contained mercury, half of those were in the United States.” She says that the mercury can not only damage the skin, but poses a risk for further health complications down the line.

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