How To Treat Inflammation and Hyperpigmentation of Your Skin

What is Hyperpigmentation?

Hyperpigmentation of the skin is an increased amount of melanin pigment in the skin as compared to a normal skin tone.  Hyper comes from a Greek word meaning excess. The definition of hyperpigmentation is when you have skin that is darker than your normal skin color.  Hyperpigmentation is not related to ethnicity or darker skin tones.  It is often described as dark spots on the skin, brown patches on the skin, dark patches on the skin, liver spots, age spots or sunspots. Hyperpigmentation results in an uneven skin tone.

Learn more about an uneven skin tone here.

The Best Way to Treat Hyperpigmentation?

There are many hyperpigmentation creams on the market.  These may be called melasma creams or pigmentation serums.  There are so many different hyperpigmentation cleansers, hyperpigmentation creams and pigmentation serums on the market, that it is hard to know which hyperpigmentation skincare products are the best. The first step to choosing a skincare routine for hyperpigmented skin is to learn your Baumann Skin Type®.  This is important to identify any underlying barriers to skin health and causes of inflammation that may be causing skin hyperpigmentation. For example, if you have skin hyperpigmentation on the cheeks and play spots outside, you need a Vitamin C Serum for hyperpigmentation to protect the skin from the sun while helping block the formation of melanin.  If your dark spots on the skin are acne dark spots, the pigmentation will not get better until your acne is treated. Knowing your Baumann Skin Type® will allow us to customize a skincare routine to treat your hyperpigmentation and the underlying causes.

What Causes Hyperpigmentation?

Skin color is caused by many factors, but the amount of a type of melanin known as eumelanin causes most cases of skin hyperpigmentation. A suntan is a form of hyperpigmentation. There are many skin conditions that cause an increase in skin pigmentation. These are common causes of hyperpigmentation and their characteristics:

  • Acne

    • Acne dark spots

  • Melasma (also known as mask of pregnancy)

    • Skin discoloration on the face

    • Hyperpigmentation on the cheeks

    • Hyperpigmentation on the upper lip

    • Common in pregnancy

    • Seen with estrogen, hormone replacement therapy and oral contraceptives

    • Click here to learn more about treating melasma hyperpigmentation

  • Hyperpigmentation in pregnancy

    • Hormone changes in pregnancy cause skin darkening

    • Linea Nigra is a dark vertical line from the belly button to the pubic area

    • Melasma is hyperpigmentation on the face

  • Hyperpigmentation due to inflammation

    • Seen after any “rash” or skin redness

    • Inflammation turns on melanocyte cells

    • Common in eczema, psoriasis, and allergic reactions

    • Also called post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation 

    • Also called PIPA or post-inflammatory pigment alteration

  • Phytophotodermatitis

    • Skin darkening after sun exposure in areas that have been in contact with a photosensitizer that makes skin more reactive to the sun

    • Causes by celery, limes and figs

    • Dark spots on skin after drinking margaritas, tequila shots or beer with lime on the beach

    • Dark spots on the skin after drinking Bloody Mary drinks with celery in the sun

  • Sun spots

    • Also called solar lentigos

    • Click here for what causes sunspots

    • Click here for how to treat hyperpigmentation caused by the sun

  • Acanthosis Nigricans

    • Thick velvet appearing dark patches in skin folds

    • Dark patch on neck

    • Dark patches under the arms

    • Can be associated with diabetes

  • Ochronosis

    • Black patches on the face

    • Caused by an enzyme deficiency or overuse of hydroquinone

  • Addison’s disease

    • Caused by an increase in adrenocorticotropic hormone

What Causes Inflammatory Pigmentation?

Inflammation can be caused by many different skin issues and is most commonly seen in sensitive skin types. Inflammation, regardless of the cause, can lead to hyperpigmentation.  This occurs because, during inflammation, the immune system is activated which sends signals to the melanocytes to make melanin. It is unknown what biological benefit this has and why the skin gets dark in response to inflammation, but inflammation is a very common cause of hyperpigmentation.  In order to treat hyperpigmentation, you must first identify if inflammation is causing the dark patches on the skin- and if so- use skincare products to stop the skin inflammation. In our customized skincare routines for hyperpigmentation, our dermatologists have designed regimens that first address causes of inflammation to calm the skin in order to reduce activation of melanocytes and block pigmentation.  It is impossible to cure hyperpigmentation without also soothing skin inflammation. For example, if you have rosacea and skin hyperpigmentation, a rosacea skincare routine must be combined with hyperpigmentation creams that will not irritate sensitive skin. 

What Do Dermatologists Recommend for Hyperpigmentation?

The best treatment for hyperpigmentation depends upon what the cause of hyperpigmentation is. In general, a skincare routine to even skin tone should be used. Topical skincare products to treat hyperpigmentation will contain cosmeceutical ingredients to treat dark spots on the skin from one or more of these categories:

  • Tyrosinase inhibitors
  • PAR-2 blockers
  • Anti-inflammatory ingredients
  • Antioxidants
  • Exfoliants
  • Retinoids
  • Sunscreens

Dermatologist-recommended treatments to treat dark spots will consist of combinations of these categories of skincare products to treat hyperpigmentation.  Every step in the skincare routine is important.  For example, you need a cleanser for hyperpigmentation as well as a moisturizer for hyperpigmentation in addition to hyperpigmentation creams such as a melasma cream.  If you have inflammation that is causing hyperpigmentation, you need an inflammation cream that also reduces skin pigmentation.

The best skincare routine for hyperpigmentation should be designed for your Baumann Skin Type®.  If you have skin hyperpigmentation, you are considered a Pigmented Baumann Skin Type.  There are 8 different Pigmented Baumann Skin types, so it is necessary to take the skin type quiz to get specific recommendations for skincare products to reduce inflammation and pigmentation.


Find Hyperpigmentation Treatments 

There are many skincare products for hyperpigmentation- but- all of them will take 8-16 weeks to see results. Click this link to learn why it takes so long to even the skin tone. Although we strongly believe in getting an entire skincare routine customized for your Baumann Skin Type to lighten pigmentation, here are a few of our favorite hyperpigmentation skincare products.

Hyperpigmentation Cleansers

Hydroxyacid cleansers, salicylic acid cleansers and other low pH cleansers help exfoliate skin and increase penetration of ingredients that treat hyperpigmentation.  Your choice of low pH cleanser depends upon your Baumann Skin Type. Examples of low pH cleansers include:

  • Essopi Glycolic 10% Cleanser, this low pH cleanser loosens the cellular attachments in the upper dead layers of the epidermis and allows the cells to exfoliate off.  This renes the skin and increases the ability of hyperpigmentation creams to penetrate into the deeper layer of the epidermis to block pigment production.
  • SkinCeuticals Clarifying Exfoliating Cleanser is both a salicylic acid and a hydroxyacid cleanser (glycolic and lactic acid). It is appropriate for both oily and dry skin types.
  • Nolio Salicylic Acid Cleanser is for oily skin types and is often used as a face wash for melasma. Salicylic acid penetrates into the pores and clears them.  The benefit of salicylic acid is that it treats both inflammation and hyperpigmentation.  This cleanser is not appropriate for dry skin type.

Hyperpigmentation Serums 

Oily Baumann Skin Types seem to prefer hyperpigmentation serums over creams. Here are a few of the most popular hyperpigmentation serums:

  • Clarityrx Let There Be Light - Lightening Serum  This serum is popular because it is a hydroquinone-free skin lightening serum.  Best for oily skin types with an uneven skin tone.
  • SkinCeuticals Discoloration Defense- This hyperpigmentation serum is also hydroquinone-free.  It contains the tyrosinase inhibitor kojic acid in combination with the PAR-2 blocker niacinamide. It also contains tranexamic acid which is a third way to lighten the skin.  A combination of ingredients that target skin pigmentation from 3 different angles makes this an effective hyperpigmentation serum when used with other products in a hyperpigmentation skincare routine.

Hyperpigmentation creams

Dry Baumann Skin Types prefer hyperpigmentation creams over hyperpigmentation serums. It is important that the hyperpigmentation creams contain ingredients that help increase skin penetration of the skin lightening ingredients. (many creams actually block penetration!)

Vitamin C Serums for Pigmentation

Skinceuticals is known for its Vitamin C technology developed by Dr. Sheldon Pinnell. Dr. Pinnell discovered that Vitamin C increases collagen production when applied on the skin in a low pH formulation.  Vitamin C is also a tyrosinase inhibitor and antioxidant. There are several choices of Vitamin C Serums to treat hyperpigmentation.  The most expensive vitamin C serums are Phloretin CF and  C E Ferulic because ferulic acid gives added sun and pigmentation protection.  It is important for you to use these Vitamin C serums them every day and replace them one month after opening them. These serums begin to lose efficacy once you open them because they are exposed to air and light.  For this reason, we prefer the more affordable Vitamin C serum Skinceuticals Serum 10 AOX+  so that you will replace it more often and not be afraid to use a lot of it. Beware of copycat Vitamin C products that are not formulated in a way that allows penetration into the skin.

Best Sunscreens to treat Hyperpigmentation

Look for a sunscreen with iron oxide pigments that block blue light from your cell phone (blue light can darken skin). One example is:

Hyperpigmentation Supplements and Vitamins

If you are looking for a more natural way to treat melasma, some studies have supported the use of polypodium leucotomos, pycnogenol and melatonin supplements.  However, these are not strong enough to treat melasma on their own.  These natural options to treat melasma should be used in conjunction with a proven skincare routine to treat hyperpigmentation.  

  • Heliocare Supplement Capsule- contains polypodium leucotomos to help protect the skin from inflammation from sun exposure.  This inflammation can lead to increased pigmentation.  If you cannot avoid the sun, this skin protective supplement is highly suggested.
  • Healthmins- this dermatologist-developed supplement contains the PAR-2 anti-inflammatory ingredient niacinamide (also known as nicotinamide), vitamin C, green tea, pycnogenol (the same as pine bark). These ingredients help reduce inflammation. 


Does Hyperpigmentation Go Away?

In some cases hyperpigmentation will go away.  One example is hyperpigmentation on the upper lip which is melasma.  This can be caused by heat such as hot wax used to remove hair or by estrogen from pregnancy or oral contraceptives.  Stopping these may result in hyperpigmentation going away on its own.  If you stay out of the sun, hyperpigmentation will improve on its own in most cases, but it can take months.  It is best to get on a skincare routine for hyperpigmentation.

Does Post Inflammatory Hyperpigmentation Go Away?

In many cases, hyperpigmentation will go away but it can take months or years.  The best way to make hyperpigmentation go away is to use sun protection and hyperpigmentation creams as discussed above.  Darker skin types are at a higher risk for post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation and can take longer for skin to return to a normal color. This si why it is best to prevent post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation.  For example, if you are getting a procedure that has a high risk of hyperpigmentation, many dermatologists will begin a pigmentation cream before the procedure and anti-inflammatory skincare products to prevent pigmentation.

Can I Fade Hyperpigmentation in a Week?

NO!!!!! Please don’t try!  Lasers and light devices can help remove dark spots fast- BUT- they recur worse in most cases.  It is very common for hyperpigmentation to return after a laser or light treatment, even if a prophylactic pigmentation crema is used before the procedure. Microneedling, Clear and Brilliant, lights, lasers and radiofrequency can worsen the pigmentation that they are used to treat.  It is frustrating- we know- we see patients with hyperpigmentation every day- but the slow way is always best when treating pigmentation.  If you do want to make your skin discoloration fade faster, speak to your dermatologist or one of our STS-approved medical providers for guidance.

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