5 Ways to Get Rid of Hyperpigmentation

Hyperpigmentation develops when your skin produces too much melanin, the substance that gives your skin its color. Areas of pigmentation can develop after injuries, too much sun, or a variety of other issues.

While you might not like the appearance of these areas, they are usually not harmful to your health. Most people who try to treat these areas do it for aesthetic, not medical, reasons.

In this article, you'll learn which factors can cause hyperpigmentation, the steps you can take to help lighten hyperpigmented areas of your skin, and how to prevent skin discoloration in the first place.

Woman applying lotion to her face

David Jakle / Getty Images

What Causes Hyperpigmentation?

Hyperpigmentation develops when the body is triggered to make more of a substance called melanin that gives your skin, hair, and eyes their color. This issue is more common in people with medium to dark skin tones but it can happen to anyone.

Some possible causes of hyperpigmentation include:

Hyperpigmentation Treatments to Try

Treating the underlying condition that has caused your hyperpigmentation is the first step in reducing the appearance of dark spots. Autoimmune diseases and chronic conditions like Addison's disease have to be managed properly before symptoms like hyperpigmentation can be expected to clear.

If you have managed to address the underlying issue and you are still struggling with hyperpigmentation, there are a number of options for treatment. Treatment of hyperpigmentation isn't curative, and it's usually not even necessary. Certain chronic or acute medical problems like Addison's disease or hormone changes can cause hyperpigmentation as a symptom, but the discoloration that is created isn't a problem in itself.

Most people who seek treatment for hyperpigmentation do it for aesthetic or cosmetic purposes, not as a medical treatment. The section below describes some common treatments that can help lighten skin affected by hyperpigmentation. The most effective therapies tend to include a combination of one or more of these treatments, such as skin-bleaching agents with retinoids.

Benefits of Treating Hyperpigmentation

The benefits of treating hyperpigmentation will depend on why you are seeking treatment in the first place. Treatment for cosmetic reasons can help you improve your self-image or self-esteem. However, discoloration caused by underlying systemic conditions like hormone imbalances or autoimmune disease may be needed to improve your overall health and well-being.

Talk with your healthcare provider about what is causing your skin discoloration and how you can best benefit from treatment.

Lightening Creams

There are a variety of over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription-strength products that can lighten the skin, although experts caution to steer clear of using liquid bleach in any form to lighten your skin.

Instead of bleach, many of these products contain topical skin-bleaching agents and include ingredients like:

  • Hydroquinone
  • Fluocinolone acetonide
  • Salicylic acid
  • Dimethicone
  • Titanium dioxide
  • Tranexamic acid
  • Tretinoin
  • Cyspera

Hydroquinone interferes with melanin production and was historically used as a photo developer, and fluocinolone acetonide is a topical corticosteroid used to treat inflammation. Both of these products can be effective in treating hyperpigmentation but are not without side effects like burning or irritation. Salicylic acid, dimethicone, and titanium dioxide are commonly found in a variety of skincare products and have several uses.

There are also some other common, often more natural ingredients that are found in many skin-lightening products. Many of these products work by evening skin tone in a variety of ways such as by reducing inflammation, not just by bleaching. These include:

Talk to your primary care provider or dermatologist about skin-bleaching products, especially if you develop side effects like burning or irritation while using them.

Retinoids

Retinoid is a general term used to describe a number of products derived from vitamin A. These products were first approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for treating acne in the 1970s but have developed a reputation for other skin benefits as well.

Retinols are a specific type of retinoid that can help even out skin tone, texture, and pigmentation. They are available in prescription-strength formulations, as well as in a variety of OTC skin care products.

Be aware that these products work well but come with risks. Retinoids make your skin more sensitive to the sun, so they should always be paired with sunscreen. Dermatology experts also suggest starting with products that contain the lowest concentration of retinoid.

Chemical Peel

Chemical peels work by removing superficial problem areas on the skin, a process called exfoliation. These treatments are particularly effective in people with darker skin and in addressing hyperpigmentation from causes such as sun damage.

Unlike daily skin care products or creams, a chemical peel is applied as individual treatment and should not be used daily. There is a wide variety of chemical peel preparations, and you should see a professional aesthetician or talk to your dermatologist about the best choice for treating your hyperpigmentation. Using chemical peels too often or in the wrong strength can be damaging or irritating to your skin.

Some of the more common compounds used in chemical peels include:

Laser Peel

Laser therapies have gained popularity for a wide range of skin problems, including discoloration or hyperpigmentation. There are several types of laser therapy, which vary by the color or pigment of the laser, as well as the wavelength.

These are specialized treatments that must be performed by a dermatologist or other licensed professional. However, some newer at-home products have been released that aim to reproduce these effects, such as red light therapy, which helps even skin tone and reduce inflammation.

Hyperpigmentation can be complicated to treat with lasers, however, so it's important to speak with your healthcare provider about whether this treatment is a good option for you.

Microdermabrasion

Microdermabrasion is a treatment that involves using a device or crystallized substance to physically remove the top layer of your skin. Much like chemical peels, these treatments are usually used to help treat superficial damage and even out skin tone.

There are home microdermabrasion products and devices, but most studies that found clinical improvement in hyperpigmentation reviewed clinical-grade procedures performed by dermatologists or other licensed professionals.

Hyperpigmentation Home Remedies

Home remedies aren't particularly effective in treating problems with hyperpigmentation. Although you can try at-home treatments using fruit-based preparations, you will usually notice more significant results faster with OTC or prescription products that use the same types of ingredients in much more concentrated doses.

Where on Your Body Can Treatment Take Place?

You can develop hyperpigmentation on any area of your body, but many people who seek treatment tend to want to treat facial discoloration. Melasma, a type of hyperpigmentation that can develop during pregnancy, is one example.

Discuss your treatment plan with your healthcare provider, especially if you are concerned about using treatments designed for other areas of the body on your face. The skin on your face is more delicate than on other parts of the body, and irritation could develop if the products you are using on your face were designed for other uses.

Who's a Candidate for Treating Hyperpigmentation?

Anyone with hyperpigmentation is a candidate for treatment. However, if your skin discoloration was caused by some other medical disorder, like Addison's disease, you may need other treatments to see your hyperpigmentation improve.

Talk to your healthcare provider about your specific skin concerns and how to best treat your hyperpigmentation.

What Are the Side Effects?

Side effects of treatments designed for hyperpigmentation depend on the type you choose. Topical creams and lotions can cause skin irritation or redness. Laser treatments and other clinical therapies also have the potential to make the problem worse, creating new dark spots or damage.

Talk with your healthcare provider about the best treatments for your skin type. You may also want to address any other underlying conditions that could be contributing to hyperpigmentation or you may not get results from your chosen therapy.

Alternative Procedures

Alternative treatments for hyperpigmentation may include systemic medications or hormone treatments. For example, if your hyperpigmentation was caused by a hormone imbalance, treating that imbalance may stop the process of hyperpigmentation, and any existing dark areas may fade with time after treatment.

Understanding why you are developing hyperpigmentation is often the first step in treating the discoloration.

Preventing Hyperpigmentation

You can't prevent every type of skin discoloration. Some hyperpigmentation problems are caused by conditions like pregnancy and cannot be avoided.

However, sun damage is a major contributor to skin discoloration and dark spots, so taking steps to protect your skin from the sun's rays can go a long way in preventing hyperpigmentation. Be sure to wear sunscreen and shield your skin from the sun to prevent discoloration caused by sun damage.

Summary

Hyperpigmentation occurs when your skin gets darker in areas where too much melanin is produced. These dark areas are not usually harmful, but people sometimes want to treat them for cosmetic reasons.

If you choose to remove darker areas from your skin, there are prescription and over-the-counter products and procedures, but you may see better results if you enlist the help of a dermatologist or other trained professional.

A Word From Verywell

If you're uncomfortable with the dark areas on your skin caused by hyperpigmentation, you're not alone. There are several products used to address this problem, both with and without a prescription. You may decide to try over-the-counter treatments first, but don't be afraid to ask your healthcare provider for help if you are not seeing results.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Can hyperpigmentation be cured completely?

    There are many reasons your skin changes color or tone. In some cases, hyperpigmentation can be cured or may even fade on its own in time. Talk to your healthcare provider about what is causing your skin discoloration to find the most effective treatment.

  • How long does hyperpigmentation treatment last?

    Many of the treatments used for hyperpigmentation will only work as long as treatment continues. Some treatments, like laser therapy or chemical peels, are intended to have more long-lasting effects.

  • How much do hyperpigmentation treatments cost?

    The cost of your treatment will depend on what type of therapy you are using, and what type of medical coverage you have. OTC lotions and creams can vary in price, but clinical procedures like laser treatments can cost much more. Your insurance coverage of more in-depth treatment may depend on what caused the problem, what symptoms it is causing you, and your individual insurance coverage.


12 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Rachael Zimlich, BSN, RN
 Rachael is a freelance healthcare writer and critical care nurse based near Cleveland, Ohio.