7 Ways To Treat Hyperpigmentation

by Gio
7 ways to treat and fade hyperpigmentation

Think dark spots is something that happens only when you get older? Think again.

Anyone can get dark spots. Freckles. Melasma. That annoying discolouration that hangs around after you’ve popped a pimple. Hyperpigmentation comes in many forms.

Sometimes, they’re caused by too much sun exposure. Others by hormones. Or several diseases, like celiac disease or Addison’s disease.

Hyperpigmentation is such a common problem, scientists have been working hard on a solution. They’ve found quite a few. Here are seven ways to treat hyperpignmentation:

1. Hydroquinone

What it is: Hydroquinone is the most used skin brightening ingredient in the USA.

What it does: it treats brown spots, melasma and freckles. It works by inhibiting tyrosinase (the enzyme needed to make melanin), and by increasing the breakdown of melanosomes (melanin pigment granules) in the melanocytes (the cells that produce melanin).

Side effects: although it’s banned in France and Japan, there’s no proof it causes cancer. But it can irritate and dry out skin and, in darker skin tones, cause ochronosis (a bluish black discoloration). Ochronosis seems to be linked with excessive sun exposure and the use of resorcinol. So if you use hydroquinone, pile on sunscreen and avoid resorcinol.

Best picks:

Related: Why Is Hydroquinone The Gold Standard At Treating Hyperpigmentation? 

2. Kojic Acid

What it is: an acid naturally found in soy sauce and sake.

What it does: it inhibits the activity of tyrosinase, making it an effective treatment for melasma, freckles and brown spots too. It’s less effective than hydroquinone but better tolerated.

Side effects: it’s very unstable and gradually loses its efficacy when exposed to light and air. That’s why many brands prefer to use a derivative, kojic dipalmitate.

Best pick:

Related: Kojic Acid VS Hydroquinone: Which One Should You Choose?

3. Azelaic Acid

What it is: an acid produced by the fungus Pityrosporum Ovale.

What it does: it fades melasma, brown spots and freckles, treats acne and soothes rosacea. It does the skin-lightening job by  inhibiting tyrosinase. A 2007 study comparing the efficacy of a 20% azelaic acid cream to that of an 4% hydroquinone cream found that “no significant treatment differences were observed with regard to overall rating, reduction In lesion size, and pigmentary intensity” between the two.

Best picks:

Related: Paula’s Choice 10% Azelaic Acid Booster VS The Ordinary Azelaic Acid Suspension 10%: Which One Is Better?

4. Glycolic Acid

What it is: the most famous member of the Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHAs family).

What it does: it fades hyperpigmentation and freckles,  reduces fine lines and brightens skin. It works by exfoliating skin,  removing the “damaged” top layer and replacing it with the newer, healthier and brighter skin cells underneath.

Side effects: the high concentrations of glycolic acid you need to treat dark spots effectively can irritate skin.

Best picks:

Related: The Complete Guide To Glycolic Acid

5. Vitamin C

What it is: a powerful antioxidant.

What it does: it prevents premature wrinkles, brightens skin and fades away sun spots. It works by inhibiting the activity of tyrosinase.

Side effects: Vitamin C is unstable and loses a bit of its effectiveness whenever it’s exposed to light and air. High concentrations can also irritate skin.

Best picks:

Related: Types Of Vitamin C Used In Skincare (Find The Best One To Treat Dark Spots!)

6. Undecylenoyl Phenylalanine

What it is: a skin-lightener developed by L’Oreal.

What it does: it treats skin discolorations and brown spots by inhibiting melanotropin, which controls tyrosinase activity, melanin synthesis and melanosome. This reduces melanin production. A 2011 study has found a cream with undecylenoyl phenylalanine to be a good alternative to hydroquinone. Undecylenoyl phenylalanine works best when used together with niacinamide.

Best Picks: Undecylenoyl phenylalanine seems to have run out of favour since I first wrote this post because I couldn’t find any products that currently use it. If you find a product with it, give it a go.

Related: Why You Should Add Niacinamide To Your Skincare Routine

7. Lumixyl

What it is: a complex of olygopeptides developed by researchers at the Stanford University.

What it does: it treats hyperpigmentation by inhibiting tyrosinase. A 2009 study has found that application of Lumixyl twice a day fior 16 weeks produced a “statistically significant improvement in the appearance of melasma and overall facial aesthetics”.

Best picks:

Lumixyl Topical Brightening Creme ($80.00): available at Envy Medical

Bottom Line

These days, there are plenty of options to treat dark spots. The catch? You’ll have to experiment to find the one that works best for you. Often, that’s a combination of one or two treatments. Choose your poison!


How do you treat your pigmentation? Share your tips + fave products in the comments below.

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Monica P April 30, 2013 - 7:28 pm

I have a bit under my ears on the sides of my neck due to lack of sun screen. I’ve lightened it quite a bit (but it’s still there). I now wear sunscreen on my neck as well as my face religiously.


beautifulwithbrains April 30, 2013 - 9:40 pm

Monica, I’m sorry to hear that. It’s not easy to erase dark spots completely, but thankfully we have lots of options to choose from to help us, and I’m glad that you managed to lighten it a lot.

Janessa May 4, 2013 - 7:37 pm

I’ve only tried vitamin C and glycolic acid from the ones you mentioned above. I didn’t even know this product I bought (came in a kit or with some irresistible deal lol) and when I put it on my face, it stung! I researched it some more and saw it had glycolic acid and I’ve barely touched the product since. I’ve used some of it on my hands as a moisturizer but rarely.
I don’t have hyper pigmentation and hope I don’t develop any! I do have a few spots on my skin from repeated sun exposure but that’s lightened a tad since taking care of my skin. :] And since discovering your blog!

beautifulwithbrains May 5, 2013 - 3:16 pm

Janessa, Glycolic Acid is my favourite exfoliant but, unless you have hyperpigmentation problems, it should be used only in very small doses or it can sting and even remove too many layers of skin. And even when you need to use high concentrations, they should always be prescribed by a dermatologist. I’ve seen lots of products on the market with high concentrations of GA that can be easily bought by everyone but, to me, that’s dangerous. I’m sorry it caused problems for you. And glad that my blog helped you improve your skin. 🙂

jane May 28, 2013 - 1:04 am


if i buy any normal body/face lotion {dove, simple, clarins, bodysho} etc. can i mix any of these in my lotion.

maybe like the Philosophy Miracle Worker Dark Spot Corrector. or if you have any other suggestion. i want to have a brighter skin. and i break out alot on soaps. i have pimple all over my body.

jane May 28, 2013 - 1:05 am

or this one you mentioned Skinceutical CE Ferulic Acid. can i mix that in my lotion?

beautifulwithbrains May 28, 2013 - 9:19 pm

Jane, it would depend on the product. Mixing skincare products isn’t a good idea because some active ingredients may cancel each other out when used together. So unless you know what you are doing, it’s best not to mix them.

If for brighter skin you mean a healthy glow, then a product with Vitamin C or glycolic acid would be better. Philosophy Miracle Work is more suitable for people with dark spots on their skin. To treat pimples, I would suggest Salicylic Acid (it is an exfoliant, so if you opt for it, don’t use glycolic acid as well), which can penetrate inside the pores and remove all the gunk that is clogging them. Hope this helps.

Somasam August 30, 2013 - 3:35 am

Hello, i currently started using clindomycin phosphate 1% gel for my acne spots on cheeks. What do you think about this gel is it worth using? Is it safe to apply and than go outside? When can i start to see the difference?

beautifulwithbrains August 30, 2013 - 6:44 am

Somasam, that’s a good product to treat acne. As long as you follow the instructions, you shouldn’t experience any problems and will be able to use it safely. With this kind of product you should usually start to see a small improvement within a week.

Jessica September 6, 2013 - 1:43 am

Hello, thanks so much for this fantastic post! I’ve recently gotten my cystic acne under control but it’s left me with quite a bit of post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. Aside from the prescription tretinoin cream, I’ve been on a mission to find something that will help to lighten the hyperpigmentation. I purchased the Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare Alpha Beta Peels in hopes that it might help because it contains AHA & BHA; unfortunately, after using it for 2 months now, I have not seen any difference, not even a subtle difference. Really disappointed that it didn’t work on me because the reviews have been overwhelmingly positive. I’m certainly going to try a few of the products that you suggested though.

beautifulwithbrains September 7, 2013 - 6:36 pm

Jessica, you’re welcome. I’m sorry to hear about your problem and that the Dr Dennis Gross peels didn’t work for you. To be honest, I’m not a big fan of his two step peel system. It uses an alcohol base which can be irritating (and irritation delays healing) and the jar packaging won’t keep the antioxidants stable for long. Besides, small concentrations of AHA and BHA take forever to heal hyperpigmentation.

I hope one of my suggestions here will help you. Let me know what you decide to try and how it works for you. 🙂

Hareem December 24, 2016 - 5:35 pm

I have pigmentation on face..Can i use glycoacid..???

Gio January 2, 2017 - 12:05 pm

Hareem, yes, you can.

jenni July 9, 2014 - 7:16 pm

Hi am Jenni, I have pimple break outs often maybe three times are more a week…and am.a picker which leaves me with dark spots all over my face is a salicylic acid peel best for removing years of discoloration, and even out my skin tone…for African American skin? Our is there something better to use…its not the break outs its the picking i do that ends up dark spot

Gio July 10, 2014 - 9:20 pm

Jenni, yes, salicylic acid should help lighten the discoloration, but don’t expect results overnight. OTC salicylic acid exfoliants contain small concentrations that take weeks/months to work. If you want quicker results, you can go to a dermatologist, who can performs peels with a higher concentration of SA. On the plus side, SA also exfoliates skin, removes the gunk that accumulates in the pores, and regulates oil production so, if you use it regularly, you should have less breakouts, which will lead to less picking and less brown spots.

miss naa July 25, 2015 - 12:24 pm

Im dark skinned with small but many hyper pigmentation marks on my legs from scratches and bites. I would like to know what you would recommend.

Gio July 25, 2015 - 4:26 pm

Miss Naa, I would try glycolic acid first. If that doesn’t work, you should consult a dermatologist.

su December 25, 2015 - 5:46 am

is it a good idea to use olay dark spit fading cream after benzyol peroxide lotion for hyperpigmentation spot?

Gio December 26, 2015 - 6:19 pm

Su, does the Olay cream contains niacinamide? If so, there shouldn’t be any problems with it.

Broi April 26, 2016 - 1:11 pm

I have dark skin. I am am between a IV and V and I suffer from dermal and epidermal hyperpigmentation. Most of my marks are epidermal. Only one is in the dermal layer of the skin. I got results from doing salicylic peels every two weeks and I was using hydraquninone. I got results from HQ. I no longer wear make up. However, it has been 3 months already so just switched to Neostrata Securewhite brightening serum. I use Vichy SPF sunscreen regularly also. I will let you know in 2 months if anything has changed. My marked skin has come a long way but not exactly where I would like it to be. I am giving it another 9 months as that would complete a year of treatment.

Gio April 27, 2016 - 8:00 pm

Broi, thank you for your comment. It’s great that you’ve found something that works, but I hear your frustration. Reducing hyperpigmentation can take forever sometimes. But, you’re on the right track, and I’m confident your condition will further improve. Yes, please, keep me updated, thanks.

missdianathmpsn June 4, 2016 - 1:01 pm

Hi! I have been using Alpha Arbutin http://www.amazon.com/Alpha-Arbutin-Whitening-Serum-Hyperpigmentation/dp/B01DQTE6UG from Amazon. And it’s great, i found it really effective! I have dark spots and dull uneven skin and i cant deny the fact that it really has affect my self confidence. At first i’m having doubts of this product effectiveness, i tried using it. And surprisingly after couple of weeks my spots are starting to fade. I would definitely recommend it to anyone with hyper-pigmentation problem.

Gio June 10, 2016 - 12:01 pm

MissDianaThmpson, I’m so glad you’ve found something that works so well for you. Thanks for sharing. This serum sounds amazing!

mjd June 26, 2016 - 3:17 am

Hi . Thanks for answering … l am having a proplem of dark elbows and knees … l have type 2 skin with dark elbows and knees …. l am puzzled between hydroqinon4% alone or hydroquinon2% with glycolic acid 10% combinaion … or are there better options ?? And after treatment is the results permanent or the darkening will come back ?? Because hydroquinon the say has reversible effect ??? Thank you very much again

Gio July 31, 2016 - 7:42 pm

MJD, I’d start with hydroquinone and glycolic acid first and see how that goes. And that depends. If your skin is sun damaged, more dark spots may form in the future. Always wear sunscreen.

Melvin July 30, 2016 - 11:34 pm

Great job you are doing here to help us with our hyperpigmentation.
I recently purchased Neutrogena 2 in 1 rapid fight and fade toner with grisi sulfur soap to treat some acne and blackheads but to my utmost surprise, it worsened the breakouts and dried my face the more leaving me with more dark marks which was the sole reason I purchased the fight and fade toner in the first place. According to the ingredients list, it contained both 2% salicylic acid as the active ingredient and glycolic acid as one of the inactive ingredients. I don’t know if it was a purging process. I stopped immediately and bought the Neutrogena 3 in 1 acne stress control toner and skin success dark spot corrector fade cream for oily skin.The skin success fade cream contains both hydroquinone and retinol. Do you know if this product is really effective in clearing the dark marks( skin success dark spot corrector fade cream). So far the Neutrogena 3 in 1 acne stress control toner seems to be calming and contolling my acne breakouts as the name suggest. Thank you so much once again for your kind responses.

Gio July 31, 2016 - 5:40 pm

Melvin, glad to be of help. I’m sorry you are having such big troubles finding good products for your hyperpigmentation. Unfortunately, both the Neutrogena Rapid Fight and Fade toner and the Grisi soap contain drying ingredients that may cause havoc on the skin, as you have sadly experienced. The Skin Success Dark Spots does help treat hyperpigmentation, but I wouldn’t use it if your skin is prone to acne. It contains mineral oil, an ingredient that can make acne worse. Hope this helps.

neha kumari August 17, 2016 - 1:31 pm

Is alpha arbutin is safe?

Gio August 17, 2016 - 8:56 pm

Neha, yes it is.

Sumiteshwar September 26, 2016 - 2:32 pm

I am Indian with dark brown skin tone. For last 2 years I developed hyperpigmentation on both sides of cheeks which is quite darker than my skin and pretty visible. I am 38 and want to try the mildest of all peels even if it takes months to better things. Please suggest.

Gio September 26, 2016 - 8:47 pm

Sumiteshwar, sorry to hear about your problem. One of the mildest peels I know is Paula’s Choice RESIST Weekly Resurfacing Treatment With 10% AHA. Bravura London Glycolic Acid 15% Night Treatment is also a good one. If those aren’t available in India, just look for glycolic acid in concentrations between 10 and 15%. Hope this helps.

Sumiteshwar September 28, 2016 - 5:16 am

Will it be OK to use a cream having 12% Glycolic acid? Please refer to this link: http://acnemantra.com/questions/glycolic-acid-cream-in-india/

Gio November 19, 2016 - 2:40 pm

Yes, that should be ok.

nathan September 27, 2016 - 1:29 am

I do have brown but most of them are red scars left by acne. As I touch my face, i didnt feel any bumps or pimples, it was smooth (for me c:) but ofcourse the scars might seem acne for others? What do you think will suit my skin tyoe. Combination skin? Im filipino

Gio November 23, 2016 - 6:55 pm

Nathan, it seems to be like you’re dealing with the discolouration that’s sometimes left behind by pimples and acne. The good news is that it disappears on its own. The bad news is that it takes ages to do so. If you want to make them disappear faster, I;d go with glycolic acid.

Rama December 16, 2016 - 6:23 am

I use Salicylic acid cream 6% W/W for my mild pigmentation on my face, is it okay to use it. I have been mixing it with some mild night cream/ nivea cream. Do you think what I am doing is right?
Thank you

Gio December 17, 2016 - 8:20 am

Rama, yes that is ok to use, but I wouldn’t mix it with anything else. As a rule, it’s always best not to mix active ingredients as there’s a chance you could reduce their efficacy.

Rama December 17, 2016 - 12:16 pm

Thank you. So you don’t think it is too strong to use it by itself?
I have been using it without mixing it with other cream alos for a long time, but recently I thought maybe I should just mix it with some mild neutral cream like Nivea, which is a very mild cream.
Though , I am always told I look much younger than my age, still, I feel I can do much better, and try to maintain my face much better without go to any Dermatologist and and trying their expensive medicines. I am 58 years old, and workout quite a lot, been teaching Aerobics for more than 20 years.
With age, and menopause, I have been putting on weight and also see jowls, double jaws and bags under my eyes etc. However, I like to maintain myself with the regular items that can be found in the kitchen itself.
This how look with my double jaw, chin and eye bags:https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10208210879293987&l=61fc4e3609

Gio December 17, 2016 - 12:48 pm

Rama, you look gorgeous and much younger than your age. Whatever you’re doing, it’s obviously working. 🙂

That depends. It’s definitely a stronger concentration than you usually find in OTC products but if your skin is not complaining (ie, becoming dry, flaky, irritated…), you’re not doing it any harm. But if you’re using it on its own, I would just apply it once or twice a week.

Rama December 17, 2016 - 2:26 pm

Thank you. Do you have any solution for ingrowth hair that keeps coming in the chin,and upper lip area.I am really fed of it, and my constant search in the net too has not got any results. One dermatologist had said that applying a paste of aspirin regularly would help, but in India they have stopped uncoated aspirin/ dispirin. The yonly have Ecospirin, which has a orange coating, I don’t know whether it all right to use that. I would be very happy if you can suggest some simple solution.
Thank you.

Gio December 17, 2016 - 3:09 pm

Rama, you’re welcome. As far as I know, exfoliation should help, so if you’re using the salicylic acid treatment you should be fine.

Danyel February 8, 2017 - 11:35 pm

This post was soooo helpful. I really appreciate the product recommendations. I have been using OTC 2% hydroquinone for 2 months with great success. The process is slow but I have taken pictures and can see definite improvement on some old acne scar and a dark patch on my check. I have type V skin and I will be diligent about cycling off of hydroquinone for 3 months. I purchased a product with MAP, niacinamide, Undecylenoyl Phenylalanine and hexylresorcinol. After reading your blog I understand of the dangers of using resorcinol and hydroquinone together but I am having trouble finding any information on whether it is safe for people with dark skin to use them separately in 3 month cycles? Any insight you can offer would be great!

Gio February 12, 2017 - 6:20 pm

Danyel, I tend to believe that won’t be a big problem because you’re not really using them together. However, I haven’t seen a study on this yet so this is just my personal opinion. You may want to consult a dermatologist for a second opinion.

Michelle March 31, 2017 - 10:55 pm

I went to the dermatologist before my wedding to see if I could get rid of a large dark spot on my cheek. I’m very fair skinned with freckles. I tried triluma, as well as hydroquino 4% which didn’t do anything. He then gave me a mixture of kojic acid (4%) hydroquinone (6%) and tretinoin (.05%) and it irritated and burned my face! I stopped immediately but it made my spot larger, darker and splotchy. It also got rid of the freckles around the spot, highlighting it even more. This was around 6 months ago and it appears to get worse and worse. I can’t cover it up no matter how much makeup I put on. I feel disfigured and ugly– whenever I look in the mirror it’s all I see. When I asked the dermatologist what to do he said I should just deal with it! He told me nothing will help it and no one will look at it anyway. I can barely stand myself and feel completely in despair. Please help!

Gio April 3, 2017 - 8:20 pm

Michelle, you are not disfigured and ugly. You are a beautiful woman and an amazing human being. Any dark spots on your face can’t take away your kindness, sense of humour, intelligent and skills. Those are the things your loved ones see and love you for.

That dermatologist is a jerk. I’m not surprised that regime messed up your skin because it’s very harsh. And it’s appalling how he washed his hands of the mess he made rather than apologize and try to fix it. My advice would be to find a better dermatologist who knows what he’s talking about and has some empathy too.

In the meantime, I would choose one of the options in this post and see how it works. Unfortunately, there is no silver bullet. You have to experiment to find out what works for you.

But, don’t do them all at the same time. That’s too much, as you’ve learned the hard way. Choose one and see how it works. My advice would be to start with low concentrations of vitamin C and glycolic acid (these you can indeed use together with other skin-lightening ingredients) and then build up to something more powerful.

Hope this helps.

vikrant October 18, 2017 - 1:24 pm

i have brown skin, i have 5 dark scars that are caused by chicken pox, i have tried a cream containing hyroquinone,tretinoin and mometasone furoate cream . this cream lighten all my scars but all scars comes back after 2 months . now i am using a cream cotaining azealic acid .this cream is not showing any results. i want an effective treatment that last long. pls advice me best treatment for my case

Gio October 19, 2017 - 1:17 pm

Vibrant, sorry to hear about your problem. Hydroquinone and azelaic acid are the most effective treatments out there so if they don’t work, I don’t think anything you can get OTC will help. I recommend you see a dermatologist and ask to try Mequinol. It’s an alternative to hydroquinone but is available by prescription only.

Aayush Kumar October 24, 2017 - 6:53 am

Thanks For your post Actually I have some dark spots on my face due to pimple and every week a new pimple comes which leaves a dark spots i am currently using kojic acid cream will it work

Gio October 28, 2017 - 2:38 pm

Aayush, for the dark spots caused by pimples, I recommend glycolic acid.

Debra November 27, 2017 - 7:07 pm

Omg, Your recommendations just really overwhelmed me. I am of dark complexion and about 3 yrs ago I developed these two dark spots down my jawline.Don’t know if has to do with me going thru perimenopause but also developed the worst case of acne which never been bothered with. I been using a little of this and that. But for the past month Ive been using kojac san soap and vitamin c serum which is doing ok. I started out using the food grade hydrogen peroxide allowing it to sit for about 15min and I really believe it really worked better than anything so going back to using it. Started back Sunday before last with Eden 88% glycolic acid peel. Love Paula Choice AHA cleanser/toner. My biggest complaint now is getting my skin back hydrated, hyperpigmentation and tone back. If you can supply which products would be better for my issues.
thank you

Gio December 10, 2017 - 2:56 pm

Debra, sorry for the overwhelm. There are a lot of different options to fade dark spots. It’s all a matter of experimenting and finding what works best for you.

If you find this regime is drying out your skin too much, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to cut back a little. You can also try a hyaluronic acid serum followed by an oil. That’s what I usually do when my skin needs more hydration.

Catherine Ledezma December 2, 2017 - 4:49 pm

I have lots of old acne scars, pigmentation issues and quite frankly, blah skin. I’m 40 years old and have only done chemical peels, no fillers. The first time I used dermalmd lightening serum it was tingly and I could tell it was very potent for an OTC product. I have used it religiously daily as instructed and my skin absolutely feels tighter and clearer. I do not have sensitive skin and some days I use it twice, but if you do have sensitive skin, I would suggest to even try once every other day as it is VERY strong. Since it has only been over a week, my darkest spots are still there, but fading, and I’m amazed that within the short amount of time of use, dermalmd lightening serum has significantly made my skin smoother. I am going to try their other products along with this to see if I get even better results! I’m a big fan!!

Gio December 3, 2017 - 7:45 pm

Catherine, I’m glad to hear this is working so well for you. Thanks for sharing your experience.

Dr.Nazia June 27, 2018 - 6:54 am

I am 27 and have post acne scars and hyperpigmentation. I was asked to use 20 percentage azelaic acid cream and glyco 6 in the night. But I feel glyco6 is irritating my skin and resulting in new breakouts.

Gio June 29, 2018 - 9:16 am

Dr Nazia, glycolic acid exfoliates skin and anything that does that can cause purging. That means the breakouts were already developing. Glycolic acid makes them come up to the surface earlier. You can check out this link to check out if it’s really a purge: https://www.beautifulwithbrains.com/purging-breakout-difference/

If it is, keep using glycolic, just less often. If it’s a breakout, there’s probably something else in the formula that’s causing them. Try switching to a different exfoliant. Hope this helps.


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