”How to treat hyperpigmentation” is one of the most searched skincare questions. Like most people, I am constantly on the lookout for products that reduce hyperpigmentation. Unfortunately, although there is a massive amount of information available, it can be difficult to tell fact from fiction. However, after repeated trial and error, I have learnt what works and what does not. So here are some strategies and products which have helped in my quest for clear skin. So get ready, it is going to be a long post.
Causes of hyperpigmentation
Hyperpigmentation is any dark spot or patches on the skin. The most common type of pigmentation that most people suffer from can be categorised into four main groups. These are post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH), acne or skin injury, age/sun spots and melasma from hormonal changes.
If you have dark skin post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation from acne or injury is the most common cause of hyperpigmentation. These can often take several months to fade and take a toll on one’s self-esteem at least it does for me. Over the past few years due to stress and a host of other issues, I have struggled with constant breakouts. Which compounded with my inability to leave my face alone (AKA hand in face syndrome) has led to hyperpigmentation.
Acne control Strategies
The strategies I took to control my acne can be broken down into 3 main steps so that additional pigmentation does not occur and they include
- Prevention to control acne formation which prevents new acne breakouts
- Lighten or brighten the pigmentation which has already occurred
- Prevent darkening from reoccurring
Some steps required more than one product or cut across more than one part of my skin care regimen.
Step one: Prevent or treat acne
The first step is to stop breakouts; you cannot reduce hyperpigmentation if regular breakouts continue to add to the mosaic of spots on your face. To prevent acne from occurring I made sure every product I used in my skincare routine.
- Balanced or reduced oil/sebum production
- Had antibacterial properties and to deal with the acne causing bacteria
- Reduced hyper keratinisation to prevent blocked pores
Cleansing my skin:
I made sure to double cleanse each and every time I wore makeup to ensure that I removed every speck. For the first cleanse I used an oil balm and Clinique take the day off was my balm of choice. I alternated this with the PIXI nourishing cleansing balm, which was not a product I particularly enjoyed you can learn about why here but used sometimes. For the second cleanse I used either Sunday Riley Ceramic Cleanse or SU: 37 Miracle Rose cleansing stick. Ceramic cleanse is a clay cleanser that controls oil and sebum production and I used this in the morning while I used the cleansing stick at night. Yes, I know ceramic cleanse is expensive there are affordable alternative from Loreal but any water-based cleanser will do the trick.
Here the main product I used in the morning and at night was Paula’s choice 2% BHA liquid which is salicylic acid based and is great for preventing and controlling. In the morning this was followed up with, The Ordinary’s Niacinamide and zinc and 0.05% Tretinoin treatment at night. Tretinoin is prescription retinol which treats acne and increases your skin’s cellular which in turn reduces the appearance of pigmentation. The Ordinary’s Niacinamide, on the other hand, is an absolute lifesaver because it balances sebum production and reduces congestion which leads to acne.
Once absorbed I would usually follow with up Azelaic acid also from The Ordinary. This served double duty to prevent acne by killing acne-causing bacteria (antibacterial) and lightened the pigmentation already present. At night I included clarifying face oil after my moisturizer at the end of my regimen. My preference is Clarins Lotus face oil which builds on the theme of controlling sebum production to stop acne formation. So you can see the theme here is to attack the issue from multiple angles and multiple products which increases the likelihood of success.
Step two: Lighten or brighten pigmentation
For this, the main products I used were The Ordinary’s Vitamin C, Azelaic acid and 4% hydroquinone. Vitamin C is an antioxidant that neutralizes free radicals and preventing oxidative damage which allows skin heal and repair. Vitamin C also boosts collagen production and improves post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation by improving the skin’s natural healing response. There have been some complaints about this formulation being to ‘’gritty’’ and oily on the skin. Yes, it felt slightly gritty but not so gritty that it was unbearable to use and it did the job. I used Azelaic acid in the mornings and vitamin C in the evenings, followed by a prescription strength Hydroquinone just on the spots.
Hydroquinone is currently the most effective product to reduce hyperpigmentation and lighten dark spots. It prevents the skin from producing excess melanin which causes hyperpigmentation. 2% Hydroquinone is available for purchase over the counter; however, I used prescription strength 4% hydroquinone followed by a moisturiser and Clarin’s Lotus face oil, alternated with Trichology Rosehip oil.
Step three: Prevent darkening from reoccurring
The key is making sure you use sunscreen consistently because any skin brightening regimen without sun protection is worthless. Minimal exposure to UV light even UV light from a window can counteract the most effective brightening regimen. Exposure of a hyperpigmented area to UV rays triggers melanin production causing further darkening as the skin attempts to protect itself. So the daily application of high SPF sunscreen is essential to control melanin production. UVA rays remain the same strength all the year round so sun protection is required all year round. My preferred brand of sunscreen is Biore UV Aqua Rich Watery essence since it is lightweight and works under makeup.
There you have it, all the strategies I used to treat and control my hyperpigmentation. Bear in mind it takes a few weeks for the results to become visible especially with the much darker spots. However, if you are consistent with your regimen it will improve
I have included an Infographic AM and PM routine with the products used for each step. I hope you enjoyed this post, subscribe and follow me on Instagram for more skin care and beauty tips.