7 Ways to Treat Hyperpigmentation

In my last post we learned about what hyperpigmentation is.

Overall, hyperpigmentation is a common, typically harmless condition in which patches of skin become darker in color than the normal surrounding skin.

So how do you treat hyperpigmentation?

Well, friends, there are several ways to go about treating hyperpigmentation. First of all, know that consistency and patience are key! We all want an overnight treatment, but I've gotta keep it real with you (per usual!)... The damage didn't happen overnight and it's not going to go away overnight either.

Not all work for everyone, so below I've also provided information about each treatment, possible products that will help and who each treatment might work best for.

Ok, let's dive in!


 Lightening creams are over-the-counter (OTC) treatments. These creams (or gels!) work with certain ingredients to help decrease pigmentation. Some of these creams are available in stronger prescription forms.

Lightening creams are topical treatments and are typically applied up to two times a day to help lighten the skin over time. 

Common ingredients found in OTC lightening products include:

  • vitamin B-3 (niacinamide)
  • hydroquinone
  • N-acetylglucosamine
  • licorice extract

Who should try this?

Lightening creams work best for flat spots, such as melasma or age spots and can be effective for patches of discoloration on most skin types.

OTC products are accessible (and can be more affordable) options for hyperpigmentation. However, they usually take longer to work than professional treatments.

Additionally, use caution when purchasing OTC skin lighteners per the American Academy of Dermatology. Some may contain traces of mercury.

 Facial acids or skin acids, work by exfoliating the top layer of your skin.

Whenever you exfoliate, new skin cells emerge to take the place of the old ones. The process helps even out your skin tone and makes it smoother, softer and healthier overall.

A plethora of facial acids are available. Popular options include:

Who should try this?

Facial acids work well for mild hyperpigmentation on fairer and medium skin tones.

 Derived from vitamin A, retinoids are among some of the oldest, most common skincare ingredients. Their small molecular structure gives them the ability to treat the layers below your epidermis by allowing them to penetrate deep into the skin.

Retinoids come in either an OTC or prescription formula. Of course, OTC versions tend to be weaker. If you don’t see any results after a couple of months, talk to your esthetician to find out if they have a recommendation or go to a dermatologist and get a prescription for the retinoid tretinoin (Retin-A).

If you don’t already have an esthetician, we can work together. Book your consultation here.

Who should try this?

OTC retinoids may be safe for all skin tones, but you should double-check with your esthetician or derm if you have darker skin and plan on using retinoids long term.

Also important to note, retinoids are more often used to treat wrinkles than hyperpigmentation, so retinoids may not be the best first-line treatment.


 Chemical peels use acids at stronger concentrations to treat the hyperpigmentation. They reduce the appearance of dark spots by removing the epidermis. Deeper versions may also penetrate the middle layer of your skin (dermis) to produce more dramatic results.

Although you may find chemical peels OTC, consider getting an esthetic grade peel in your esthetician's treatment room. Esthetic grade peels are definitely more powerful, and yield quicker results.

Plus, you'll be able to find a skincare routine for maintenance between peels, which is extremely important to be doing to ensure your skin responds well!

Possible risks with both at-home and in-office chemical peels include redness, irritation, and blistering. When used improperly, blisters or scars may also develop, which is why it's an even better idea to have your trained and licensed esthetician handling the peels for you.

Additionally, chemical peels cause your skin to be more sensitive to the sun’s rays. You MUST apply sunscreen liberally every day and use other UV protection or the sun exposure could worsen your hyperpigmentation. 

Who should try this?

Chemical peels may work if you have:

  • age spots
  • blotchy skin
  • melasma
  • sun damage

They also work best for fairer skin tones and may provide faster results than the other products listed above. Peels work best in tandem with a regular skincare routine.


Laser peel (resurfacing) treatments use beams of light to reduce hyperpigmentation.

There are ablative lasers and non-ablative lasers.

Ablative lasers are the most intense and involve removing layers of your skin. Non-ablative lasers target the dermis to promote collagen growth and tightening effects.

Clearly, ablative lasers are stronger. That means they may work better or faster, but may also cause more side effects. Both types destroy elements in your skin to ensure that new skin cells grow back tighter and more toned.

Who should try this treatment?

Ablative lasers may work better for people with fair skin. For some people, non-ablative versions may cause the skin to darken instead of lighten. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to skin resurfacing, so it's important to speak to a laser specialist to discuss your options.


IPL therapy is a type of non-ablative laser treatment that stimulates collagen growth within the dermis and usually requires multiple sessions.

You may have heard of IPL before as it sometimes goes by "photofacial". 

IPL can be used for overall pigmentation issues, but flat spots respond to this treatment the best. IPL may also help reduce the appearance of wrinkles, spider veins, and enlarged pores.

Who should try this treatment?

IPL works best for people with fair skin.


Microdermabrasion is used to treat hyperpigmentation that affects the epidermis only (superficial scarring) and is done in a treatment room. Multiple sessions are typically need to achieve your desired results.

Your esthetician will use a drill-like handheld tool with a wire brush or other abrasive attachment. The tool is then swiped across your skin to rapidly (and gently!) to remove the top layer of skin.

Who should try this?

Microdermabrasion works best on superficial scars. It also works well for people with fairer skin.

Last note on skin tone...

As you can see from above, skin tone can play a role in the intensity and length of hyperpigmentation treatments.

People with fair, medium, and dark skin tones can use SOME of the same therapies, but darker skin tones need more time for the treatment to work.

Fairer skin responds fairly well to most hyperpigmentation procedures.

If you tan easily or have darker skin, the following will most likely be off limits for you:

  • high-beam lasers
  • IPL therapy

Medium skin tones may find they do well specifically with chemical peels and microdermabrasion.

Darker skin tones might benefit from glycolic acid, kojic acid, some lightening creams, microdermabrasion, low strength chemical peels, low intensity lasers with a longer number of treatment sessions.


Take heart. There are ways to reduce the appearance of hyperpigmentation. Just keep the above tips in mind, remember that topical treatments take longer to produce results and patience and consistency are key with any treatment option.

Want to start your skin health journey? Book a Skin Health Transformation Session here!


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