How to treat and prevent hyperpigmentation

Hyperpigmentation has been a buzz word in skin care for a while now. It leads to 20 percent of dermatologist visits. There are a lot of products that claim to reduce pigmentation and/or brighten. To help wade through all the information out there, we’ve gone to a trusted source, Dr. Leslie Baumann, renowned dermatologist and author of both the book and website Skin Type Solutions, for her top over the counter picks, as well as tips on prevention and protection.

Woman applying lotion


Prevention comes first. This applies to both those who don’t have any hyperpigmentation and those who do and don’t want to see the situation worsen. Dr. Baumann shares how to keep pigmentation from happening as well as how to make sure you don’t exacerbate what you already have.

  • Use an antioxidant topically such as vitamin C which also is a tyrosinase inhibitor. The best are these four: Active C by La Roche-Posay ($50), Skinceuticals Phloretin ($152), CE Ferulic ($144) as well as IS Clinical ($140).
  • Sunscreen: Try to use one with UVA/UVB protection, high SPF and use every day.
  • Avoid inflammation: Do not do laser if you have darker skin tones. Do not pick pimples.
  • Sun avoidance: Wear hats, and stand in the shade when possible.


If you already have hyperpigmentation, you’ll want to know what works on it. There are several types of treatment ingredients that work to control and treat unwanted pigment. One thing to keep in mind, and that the doctor mentions frequently, is that these don’t work overnight. It takes time, and therefore patience, to get results.

  • Tyrosinase inhibitors such as hydroquinone, kojic acid, arbutin and mulberry extract. These block the enzyme tyrosinase that’s needed to make melanin. These take eight to 12 weeks to work because you have to wait for the pigment that has already been made to exfoliate off.
  • PAR-2 blockers — Niacinamide and soy (like what is in NIA 24 $85, and Aveeno Positively Radiant $15) prevent the transfer of melanin containing melanosomes into skin cells, keratinocytes from the melanocytes where they are made. Blocking PAR-2 prevents pigment from getting into the top layers of skin. Again you must wait for the pigmented cells to exfoliate off.
  • Lignin peroxidase — Breaks down existing melanin so there’s no need to wait for exfoliation. Results can be seen as early as four weeks. This is found in Elure Advanced Lightening Skin cream ($150).
  • Exfoliation — Glycolic acids (like Vivite Renew, $119) or retinols. Exfoliation rids the surface of the skin of cells with pigment (melanin). If you speed up the cell cycle by exfoliating, sometimes the melanocytes cannot make pigment fast enough and that causes lightening. Retinol is one of the best ingredients for pigmentation as it helps increase exfoliation, but it’s very unstable. To get the best from a retinol product, try the ones by Skinceuticals, Afirm ($37),  Neutrogena Healthy Skin ($13) and Roc Correxion ($21) because of the aluminum packaging.

Follow these tips to give your skin its best shot at looking good. Always remember sun protection and keep in mind the doctor’s advice to get back your youthful glow and keep those pesky spots at bay.

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