Can Exosomes Improve Hyperpigmentation In Dark Skin Tones?

One writer puts the buzzy ingredient to the test.

by Bianca Lambert
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When I first heard the word exosomes, I was lying in a dimly lit spa with an esthetician going over my face with a Skin Pen microneedling tool. However, this was my first appointment, so I assumed she was trying to upsell me. Instead, she layered an exosome serum on my face without any additional line item on my bill and sent me on my way.

As my skin healed post-appointment, I noticed it barely flaked. I did look sunburned, but my face was glowing and uber-hydrated. This positive experience got me thinking more about exosomes and how they could help my hyperpigmentation-prone, mocha-hued skin, so I wanted to chat with a few experts about whether this new scientific revolution in the beauty industry would be worth the investment for anyone with a deeper skin tone.

Ahead, dermatologists demystify this new ingredient, breaking down what exosomes are, how they benefit hyperpigmentation, and how to properly incorporate them into your skin routine.

What Are Exosomes?

Imagine exosomes as a mail service that delivers messages between your cells. "Exosomes are tiny carrier vessels (microvesicles) that support intercellular communication, acting like messengers between cells," Dr. Naana Boakye, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist in Engledwood Cliffs, N.J., tells TZR. "They are composed of nucleic acids (DNA and RNA), proteins, and lipids. They facilitate communication between cells by transferring genetic material and proteins to recipient cells.” The dermatologist says they can help both physiologically and pathologically. When shopping for an at-home product, you won’t necessarily see “exosome” on the ingredient list. Look for stem cells or platelet extracts, which release exosomes to communicate with your cells.

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How Can Exosomes Help With Hyperpigmentation?

First, it’s vital to understand what causes uneven skin tone. "Skin pigmentation is caused by a balance of communication between melanocytes and keratinocytes," Dr. Michelle Henry, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist in New York City, tells TZR. "Both cells secrete exosomes to communicate with each other [and] some keratinocyte exosomes contain factors that are involved in pigment regulation." Henry says this cellular communication is important for regulating skin color and in treating hyperpigmentation and hypopigmentation because exosomes can also be anti-inflammatory and help reduce post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation.

However, before-and-after examples of the use of at-home exosome serums on deep skin tones are lacking. Dr. Saranya P. Wyles, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist and regenerative medicine specialist at the Mayo Clinic Center for Aesthetic Medicine and Surgery in Rochester, Minn., participated in the clinical studies of exosomes in skin care and found exosomes to be beneficial for all skin tones. "Topical exosomes applied on intact skin should work similarly on all skin types," Wyles says. "Based on our clinical study, which included higher Fitzpatrick skin types IV to VI, patients experienced an improvement in skin tone and luminosity, which overall improved areas of hyperpigmentation."

How Should You Use Exosomes In Your Skin Care Routine?

Before applying exosome serums, I turned to the aforementioned dermatologists for tips on how properly incorporate them into my skin care routine in order to reap the most benefits. I also wanted to be sure the serums didn't cause irritation like other actives such as retinol or AHAs. Before adding any new product to your routine, Boakye always recommends consulting with your dermatologist to minimize the risk of an adverse reaction and curate a tailor-made routine that addresses your skin concerns.

When cocktailing with other ingredients, she says combining exosomes with other skin-brighteners like niacinamide, retinol, AHAs (alpha hydroxy acids), etc. is possible. "As a general rule of thumb, it's best to apply products with lighter consistencies before heavier ones,” she says.

As for when to use these serums, Boakye says, "If you want to take advantage of their protective and hydrating properties throughout the day, I would use them in the AM.” But if you’re after better absorption and cellular repair while you sleep, Boakye recommends using them in your nighttime routine.

The Hyperpigmentation-Friendly Products I Use Alongside Exosomes

I've been using exosome serums — Angela Caglia’s Cell Forté Serum in the morning and (plated) Skincare’s INTENSE Serum at night — for about a month. My hyperpigmentation hasn't wholly disappeared, but one of the most noticeable and impactful revelations about adding the ingredient to my routine has been that my skin is a lot less reactive, which has allowed me to increase the use of at-home peels to help continue to slowly fade my pesky dark spots. And my skin is consistently glowy and well-hydrated. Let's get into what I'm using alongside at-home exosome serums.

My skin after four weeks of using at-home exosome serums.Courtesy of Bianca Lambert


Night Time

New skin care technologies can come across as gimmicky, especially when it comes to at-home offerings. However, after experiencing science-backed exosomes during in-office treatments and at home, I will use them regularly. There’s no denying these serums are pricey, but I’ve seen more progress in the fading of my hyperpigmentation in the last few weeks in tandem with Skin Pen treatments, at-home peels, and exosomes than I’ve seen in years, so these serums are worth the investment.