The best ingredients for hyperpigmentation

If you’re part of the ever-growing population of people with unwanted dark spots on your skin–a.k.a. hyperpigmentation–you’ve probably found yourself wondering: What exactly are those discolored patches of skin, and more importantly, how do you get rid of them? Fortunately, we’ve got the answers to those questions, and we’re sharing everything you need to know about hyperpigmentation, plus the best skin care ingredients to treat it. We’re ready to break down everything you need to know about skin discoloration and hyperpigmentation treatments, including:

What is hyperpigmentation?

Hyperpigmentation refers to any darkening of the skin, whether it’s dark spots, melasma, freckles, acne scarring, or a whole host of other conditions. Hyperpigmentation occurs when the skin produces an excess of melanin, which is the pigment responsible for providing your skin and eyes with their unique shade and tone.

The causes of hyperpigmentation

Dark spots and discoloration on the skin can pop up as a result of both internal and external factors, such as unprotected sun exposure over time, inflammation from chronic health conditions, or skin injuries such as acne or burns. Additionally, melasma is the temporary darkening of the skin due to a fluctuation in hormone levels during pregnancy or birth control use, and it can also occur from excess sun exposure.

How to get rid of hyperpigmentation

Laser treatments, chemical peels, and prescription topicals can all help improve the appearance of hyperpigmentation, says board-certified dermatologist and LovelySkin CEO Dr. Joel Schlessinger. “Since most skin discoloration is caused by unprotected sun exposure, prevention goes a long way,” Dr. Schlessinger says. “Wear a broad-spectrum sunscreen of SPF 30 or more to prevent hyperpigmentation from occurring in the first place and reapply every one and a half to two hours if you are out in direct sun or sweating.”

When it comes to the best ingredients for hyperpigmentation, the gold standard is prescription hydroquinone. “Hydroquinone is the best, but sadly there are many prescription versions that are pretty awful out there, as they are generics that smell bad and don’t last long. That’s why I only use the Obagi products in my practice. I haven’t found any other product that even comes close to it when it comes to results,” Dr. Schlessinger says. “I don’t use it in pregnant or nursing patients, and I always stress to my patients they will likely be on it for the rest of their lives in order to keep pigmentation at bay. I call it ‘Obagi for life.’ I offer telemedicine appointments for this product and dispense it in my office with a quick visit to me.”

Hydroquinone works by inhibiting tyrosinase activity in the skin. Tyrosinase is a copper enzyme present in both plants and humans that helps speed up the production of melanin. “Simply put, it doesn’t do skin any favors and contributes to hyperpigmentation,” Dr. Schlessinger says.

The Obagi Nu-Derm System is a prescription-strength seven-piece skin care kit that includes a cleanser, toner, three treatment products with hydroquinone, a moisturizer, and sunscreen that all work together to improve the appearance of hyperpigmentation. Because hydroquinone is a prescription-only product, you’ll need to visit your dermatologist to see if it’s a good fit for you.

The best ingredients for hyperpigmentation

Over-the-counter treatments are also formulated with some of the best ingredients for hyperpigmentation on the market today. From face serums to moisturizers to full multi-step regimens, here are some of the best treatments for hyperpigmentation to consider in your skincare routine.


A natural alternative to hydroquinone, arbutin is an extract of the bearberry plant. Swapping out the prescription-only Obagi Nu-Derm System’s use of hydroquinone for arbutin, Obagi Nu-Derm Fx System – Normal to Dry is a seven-piece skin-brightening kit that contains a cleanser, toner, three treatment products, moisturizer and sunscreen that work in harmony to brighten hyperpigmentation. The products in this kit use 7% arbutin to help address dark spots and gentle exfoliators such as lactic acid to smooth. The moisturizer also contains ingredients such as shea butter, avocado oil, and mango seed butter to ensure your skin stays soft and supple.

Tranexamic acid

This skincare ingredient is a derivative of the amino acid lysine that inhibits the activity of melanocytes, which contribute to stubborn brown patches and dark spots. SkinMedica Even & Correct Advanced Brightening Treatment Serum combines tranexamic acid, lotus seed extract, niacinamide, and the potent antioxidant phenylethyl resorcinol to help address discoloration and help even out your skin tone. It also contains hyaluronic acid to provide an instant plumping effect. At the same time, Vitis flower stem cell extract helps protect skin from free radical damage that can lead to signs of photoaging, such as fine lines and hyperpigmentation.

Kojic acid

Kojic acid is a byproduct of rice fermentation. It’s typically used in the production of sake, but in skin care, it’s one of the best ingredients for hyperpigmentation because it helps inhibit unwanted pigment. It’s also very effective at improving the appearance of inflammatory marks from acne. NeoStrata Enlighten Dark Spot Corrector combines the skin tone-evening effects of kojic acid with vitamin C. This antioxidant plays a supporting role by reducing not only discoloration but also fine lines and wrinkles. In addition to being one of the best treatments for hyperpigmentation on the face, you can also use this cream on the back of your hands, another common area for age spots and freckles.

Azelaic acid

Derived from grains like barley, wheat, and rye, azelaic acid provides anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties that help clear bacteria from pores and address breakouts. Additionally, it’s also one of the best ingredients for hyperpigmentation because it is a natural botanical brightener that addresses uneven skin tone and dark spots. PCA Skin Pigment Gel HQ Free is a face serum that gently exfoliates with azelaic acid and kojic acid to help brighten dark spots over time.


Licorice extract is another great ingredient that’s beneficial in diminishing hyperpigmentation. It delivers anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties that protect and purify the skin. More importantly, it also contains an active ingredient called glabridin that inhibits the enzyme tyrosinase, which, as previously discussed, accelerates the formation of dark spots. Revision Skincare Lumiquin is one of the best treatments for hyperpigmentation that is formulated specifically for aging hands. Licorice extract helps brighten the appearance of dark spots while peptides replace lost volume, and hyaluronic acid binds moisture to the skin for smoother, younger-looking hands.

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