Sun exposure, spots, hormonal shifts, and scarring can all (quite literally) leave their mark on the skin in the form of hyperpigmentation. “Hyperpigmentation is a catch-all term to describe darkened patches or areas of skin caused by an increase in melanin,” said aesthetician Dija Ayodele, who founded the Black Skin Directory. “When there’s trauma to the skin like a cut or a spot, or we’re exposed to UV rays, the melanocyte cells in the skin – which control pigment – are triggered and produce an excess of melanin. This can result in discolouration and hyperpigmentation.”
These marks can be red, brown, or slightly purple in colour, depending on your skin tone, and the darker your skin is, the more prone to hyperpigmentation you’ll be, as Ayodele explained; “Darker skin tones are more prone to hyperpigmentation because of the increased levels of melanin. Dark skin usually has more active and larger melanocyte cells in the skin, which means that whenever there is any trauma, the melanocytes cells very quickly go into action and produce more melanin in an attempt to defend the skin.”
Pigmentation is also common during pregnancy, as hormonal shifts can also trigger the melanocytes into overdrive. Nobody is exactly sure why this happens, so consider it just another fun surprise along with the swollen ankles and sudden aversion to your favourite perfume.
We asked seven experts, including dermatologists, aestheticians, and influencers, for the best products to treat hyperpigmentation. Aside from their picks, all of our experts said a daily broad-spectrum SPF 30 or higher is especially important for anyone prone to pigmentation, as UV light can both cause and exacerbate marks.
Best Overall Treatment for Hyperpigmentation
Two of our experts named this overnight treatment as their top pick. “It has a blend of AHAs, BHAs, antioxidants, and peptides, so not only does it help tackle pigmentation through exfoliation, but it will also help with your skin texture and blemishes too,” said beauty influencer Evie, who goes by @sknperfect. Harley Street aesthetician Benisha Williams agreed, saying that even though it’s potent, it’s still suitable for sensitive skin, as “it doesn’t cause as much irritation and dryness as many other acid-type products on the market.” The key ingredient is the alpha-hydroxy acid known as mandelic acid, which Williams explained is “still suitable for those with darker skin tones and sensitive skin, as a large molecular size it’s less irritating than other AHAs.” This product offers both short- and long-term benefits, according to Evie: “It makes my skin look less congested, I seem to get less blemishes when I use it, and if I have them they heal super-quickly. This has brightened the overall look of my skin.” As Williams noted, that’s most likely due to “the addition of lactic and salicylic acid, which encourages exfoliation and helps to lift superficial blemishes.” [Editor’s note: this product is currently not in stock].
Best Cleanser For Hyperpigmentation
If you’re prone to pigmentation no matter what you do, you might want to think about integrating active ingredients into more than one step of your routine — safely, of course. “Biopelle 10% Glycolic Cleanser is a firm favourite of mine. I use it twice a week,” said dermatologist Dr. Adeline Kikam, also known as @brownskinderm. “The main ingredient, glycolic acid, is a water-soluble AHA which sloughs away dead skin cells for more radiant, even-toned skin. It also unclogs pores, which is great for my acne-prone skin.” Kikam notes that if you’re not used to using acids in skin care, you may notice stinging on the first couple of uses but that it should become more tolerable.
“If your skin is sensitive, CeraVe SA Cleanser is a great alternative,” said Kikam. It has more gentle beta-hydroxy acids (BHAs) as well as other ingredients like ceramides to replenish the skin-care barrier.” If you are using an exfoliating cleanser, follow Kikam’s example and only use it once or twice a week, and don’t combine it with anything else exfoliating that day.
Best for Stubborn Marks
Effective both on the odd mark and pigmentation-prone complexions, Cosmedix Simply Brilliant Serum is one of Ayodele’s favourites. “Cosmedix Simply Brilliant Serum helps to control excess melanin to prevent dark spots from forming, whilst also fading existing spots. It has lactic and salicylic acid to also exfoliate the skin to allow the brightening ingredients – which include whitonyl and waltheria – to penetrate the skin for more even skin tone, and also to strengthen the skin to prevent future discolouration,” explained Ayodele. Consider it a future investment as well as a quick fix – as Ayodele said, “Over time, the skin texture is much improved and the overall complexion looks clearer and radiant.”
Best for Acne Scars
Beauty influencer Kadeeja Khan, who goes by @emeraldxbeauty, said Millionaire Beauty Corrective Serum is her top choice. “It’s really good for hyperpigmentation, discolouration, and redness. It’s helped me a lot with my skin, and I use this twice a day – I might even three times a day if I’m having more of a flare-up,” said Khan. She also noted that she’s tried a lot of different options, but Millionaire Beauty Corrective Serum didn’t upset her skin or make her break out – “My skin is acne-prone and super oily. I get lots of oily breakouts, and I react to lots of products, and then I have hormonal breakouts too,” explained Khan. The serum also contains azelaic acid, which is a gentle, anti-inflammatory ingredient that’s also good for rosacea, as well as being effective against dark marks.
Best for Hormonal Pigmentation
For pigmentation that’s not just caused by breakouts, NeoStrata Illuminating Serum is cosmetic doctor Dr. Amiee Vyas’s pick. “It’s an excellent multitasking product for hyperpigmentation, treating visible pigment and tackling the underlying cause,” said Vyas. Tyrosinase is an enzyme that acts as a precursor to melanin, and this serum has ingredients to stop it in its tracks. “It has active tyrosinase inhibitors like NeoGlucosamine, B-resorcinol, licorice extract, and vitamin C to reduce melanin production,” explained Vyas. “It also has niacinamide to protect against UV damage and reduce melanin transfer to skin cells.” Vyas also said it’s great for pigmentation caused by sun damage and works to control hormonal pigmentation, but that it would work on post-inflammatory pigmentation, too. “I have light-brown Indian skin prone to post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation after hormonal spots, and this is perfect for my skin type, as it’s nonirritating and helps prevent breakouts.” [Editor’s note: this product is low in stock].
Best for Anti-Ageing
If your pigmentation has arrived in tandem with other anti-ageing concerns, look no further. Kikam suggested a retinoid for a twofold purpose: to prevent the cause of marks (acne and ageing) and to treat existing pigmentation. “Retinoids promote cell turnover, keeping pores unclogged, and help to stimulate collagen production, which fights fine lines and wrinkles,” said Kikam. “Of particular significance to those with darker skin like myself is the ability of retinoids to treat both acne and post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. By increasing skin-cell turnover, they facilitate melanin dispersion and improve hyperpigmentation,” she explained. Her OTC pick is SkinMedica Age Defense Retinol Complex, which also has ceramides and vitamin E to hydrate the skin and reinforce the skin barrier, as well as a strong dose of brightening retinol.
Best for Radiance
If your ultimate goal is overall brightness, or if you have a number of tonal irregularities, makeup artist Adeola Gboyega suggested Sunday Riley C.E.O 15% Vitamin C Brightening Serum. “I have combination skin with an oily T-zone, but I don’t want to overly mattify my skin, so I love anything that gives my skin a glow,” explained Gboyega. “This serum is perfect. The texture is creamy yet lightweight and imparts a stunning radiance to my skin. I recommend this serum to all skin types and also to sensitive skins that don’t get on well with other vitamin C products, as this one has never irritated my skin. It’s a great well-rounded product that reduces pore size, tackles pigmentation and leaves the complexion radiant and glowing in a flash.”
Contributor Christine Ochefu wrote an ode to this (admittedly expensive) exfoliator that has done wonders for her hyperpigmentation. “Always a skeptic, hardened by years of unsatisfactory products, and brought up short by the price point, I took my time searching for reasons it wouldn’t work,” she wrote. “At first, I was impatient as it worked rather slowly — it’s meant to exfoliate over the course of two skin cycles, a painstaking fifty days — but I did see my dark spots lifting bit by bit. After a while, friends and family were constantly complimenting me on my skin’s glowiness, and there was a huge difference to my skin clarity.” Ochefu describes the exfoliant as having the viscosity of water, and it contains wasabi extract and red algae to give glowing, even-toned skin. [Editor’s note: Embassy of Beauty is Biologique Recherche’s U.K. retailer. You need to create a profile to purchase, but membership is free.]
And a Strategist-recommended facial suncream
“It’s my favourite sunscreen,” says Dija Ayodele. “It’s a highly moisturising gel texture that doesn’t irritate the skin, even after something like a chemical peel. I’ve gone through several bottles since I tried it last year. I only wish the size was larger!” The clear formula ensures no grey or white tones, even on darker skin tones, and the gel consistency means any makeup you apply afterwards won’t slip or slide off.
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