How to Treat Hyperpigmentation

Woman shading herself from hyperpigmentation by wearing a sun hat

Whether you call them dark spots, sun spots, melasma, or any of the other myriad ways of describing this frustrating skin concern, they’re all components of hyperpigmentation—an especially common yet stubborn skin issue.

Given that traditional hyperpigmentation treatments are toxic, we’ve always advocated for treating it with skin-brightening antioxidants. But we before we get into how to prevent and fade it, let’s cover what exactly hyperpigmentation is.

What is hyperpigmentation?

Simply put, hyperpigmentation refers to an overproduction of melanin. It’s primarily caused by UV exposure, a.k.a.: too much sun, not enough SPF. Melasma is a particular form of hyperpigmentation caused by hormonal sensitivity to sun exposure. Women who are pregnant, using hormonal birth control, or undergoing hormone replacement therapy are all susceptible to it, as are people with darker complexions.

Is hyperpigmentation dangerous?

Hyperpigmentation itself is not dangerous, but, with the exception of melasma, it reveals having gotten too much sun exposure, which is of course damaging to the skin. And once it’s there, it’s hard (but not impossible) to reverse. So prevention is key.

How do you prevent hyperpigmentation?

Avoiding sun exposure is the best way to prevent hyperpigmentation, but that’s not always realistic. Wearing SPF, hats, and applying topical antioxidants can help keep hyperpigmentation at bay.

The problem with conventional hyperpigmentation treatments

One of the main treatments used to address hyperpigmentation is highly toxic. Hydroquinone scores a 9 (out of 10, with 10 being the highest) on EWG’s ingredient toxicity scale, and is listed as a known human respiratory toxicant and a possible carcinogen (meaning cancer-causing). That’s why it’s been banned in places like Europe, Japan, and Australia. The good news is that treating and preventing hyperpigmentation can be done effectively without compromising your health by applying topical antioxidants. Below, the very best ones.

The best antioxidants for hyperpigmentation

Vitamin C

It’s one of the most researched-backed skincare ingredients, but vitamin C can be very tricky to formulate. The moment it’s introduced into a liquid, it naturally begins to oxidize and lose potency. Until scientists discover how to prevent that from happening, fresh vitamin C powder is the most effective way to derive the antioxidant benefits you need. Buffering it with ferulic acid increases its efficacy by making it more stable.

Quercetin

A type of polyphenol, quercetin is responsible for the pigment in some of our favorite fruits and vegetables—it occurs naturally in red onion, kale, and berries in addition to apples. Quercetin has been found to aid the skin in protecting against free radicals and extend the life of human cells.

Niacinamide

Also known as Vitamin B3, niacinamide prevents melanin from reaching the surface of the skin and protects from additional UV damage. Studies have shown that not only can it help prevent hyperpigmentation and the onset of sun damage, but it is also an effective skin lightener.  

Resveratrol

This powerful antioxidant is a naturally occurring compound found in plants like grapes and berries. And while its anti-aging properties have been widely discussed, scientists are now confident that resveratrol can also significantly decrease melanin production.

Superoxide Dismutase

Also known as SOD, this naturally occurring enzyme (it often comes from French melon) helps to neutralize damaging free radicals and to heal, replenish, and even out the skin, giving it a more youthful appearance. Research has shown that SOD is one of the key players in reducing melanin production caused by UV radiation specifically.

photo via The Womens Wellness Collective