It can be difficult to put your best face forward when hyperpigmentation hurts your confidence. Dark spots can appear for a myriad of reasons, from sun exposure to melasma. The good news is that if you’ve been negatively affected by hyperpigmentation, there are many treatment options to choose from. Keep reading for some of the most trusted remedies for battling dark spots.
1. Topical Treatments
When it comes to treating hyperpigmentation in its various forms, topical creams and gels are quite commonly recommended. These medications are usually prescribed in three- to six-month intervals, and are not recommended to use longer than these time periods.
Hydroquinone cream is one of the most-studied treatments out there, so it’s a pretty safe option. This medicine is often prescribed for treating melasma, sun spots, and uneven pigmentation. While hydroquinone is sometimes marketed as a skin-bleaching cream, the term can be misleading. It has also caused some controversy due to historical associations with harmful practices like racial discrimination. It’s not as scary as it sounds.
This medication works by blocking the skin from continuing to discolor or darken and reversing what hyperpigmentation has already occurred. Because of this, hydroquinone cream has a lightening effect, which is why its process is referred to as skin bleaching.
Retinoid gels are another common treatment for hyperpigmentation, and many are sold over the counter. This medication works by penetrating the deeper layers of skin to reduce the amount of melanin production, which causes dark spots. However, retinoids are recommended for milder instances of hyperpigmentation, as they can be weaker than other treatments.
Facial acids are another option for mild cases of hyperpigmentation. These work by exfoliating the top layer of the skin, which can create a lightening effect with repeated use. The most common types include ascorbic, salicylic, glycolic, and mandelic acids. Most of these can be purchased over the counter, varying from overnight peels to face washes to serums.
2. Chemical Peels
Another common treatment for hyperpigmentation is a chemical peel. Getting this done might sound like a scary process, but it’s actually quite safe. Chemical peels work by removing layers of skin that contain hyperpigmentation or scarring. These can penetrate multiple layers of the epidermis, the uppermost part of your skin, or even down to the dermis, the middle section.
As the peeling agent settles into your skin, the top layers will slowly peel. Think of it like when your skin peels after a sunburn — it doesn’t hurt. It is important to note, chemical peels are typically recommended for people with fair skin tones. Those with less melanin typically have a lower risk of experiencing certain complications like post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. Unfortunately, darker skin can sometimes end up more uneven than it was to begin with.
These treatments can be done in-office with a dermatologist or at home. However, over-the-counter peels will be weaker in their effectiveness and won’t penetrate as many layers. If you’re more at risk for complications, you definitely want to speak with a professional first.
3. Light Treatments
With new technology comes a Star-Wars-esque treatment for hyperpigmentation — yep, it’s lasers and light beams. There are a couple different types of these treatments, ranging from intense pulse light therapy to skin resurfacing.
Intense Pulse Light Therapy
Intense pulse light therapy is an effective way to reduce hyperpigmentation, but it differs from laser therapy. While lasers use one beam of light, IPL uses multiple wavelengths of light. This is how it got the nickname “photo facial,” since there are flashes of lights during the treatment.
IPL beams can penetrate all the way down to the dermis layer without affecting the epidermis. This means you’re less likely to experience potential damage to the top layers. IPL can require multiple sessions to produce desired results. Recovery is quick and easy though, so that’s a plus.
Also known as laser peels, skin resurfacing treatments fight hyperpigmentation by targeting both the dermis and epidermis. With two sections of skin being treated at once, this treatment is often recommended for its success rates.
With a concentrated laser beam, this treatment stirs collagen production in the dermis section, which helps healthy skin grow and tighten. This leads to a more youthful, even-toned appearance. The laser simultaneously causes peeling to occur in the top layers of the epidermis, similar to a chemical peel’s effects. This is why it’s called skin resurfacing — it uncovers a new top surface, while working on the health of the hidden layer underneath.
Another option that involves removing the top layers of skin with hyperpigmentation is microdermabrasion, which essentially sands your face. Think of it as a sped-up exfoliation process. While this might sound like another scary treatment, it’s actually minimally invasive, and numbing isn’t required.
During a microdermabrasion treatment, a dermatologist uses a handheld tool with an abrasive surface that removes layers of the epidermis. This tool will scrape away this skin while simultaneously sucking it away, kind of like a dentist’s suction device. One type of this treatment, called crystal microdermabrasion, actually sprays tiny crystals on your face to help exfoliate the skin more quickly.
This type of treatment is highly effective, with many people seeing a noticeable difference after just one session. However, this is a treatment that often requires multiple sessions. The number of times you’ll undergo this process depends on how prevalent your hyperpigmentation is.
Follow the Aftercare Instructions
As with any medication or treatment, it’s important to pay attention to the aftercare and follow its steps accordingly. Most of the options listed above can result in tenderness and increased sun sensitivity. Make sure you use sunscreen and limit your time in the sun during and after these treatments. And be sure to follow instructions, or your results could be negatively affected.