The best hyperpigmentation treatment for black skin

Hyperpigmentation treatment for black skin

Hyperpigmentation is a condition where patches of skin become darker than the normal surrounding skin—i.e., the fancy term for “dark spots.” This discoloration is the result of an accumulation of excess melanin—a naturally occurring pigment in the body that gives the eyes, hair, and skin their (beautiful array variety of) color.

Though hyperpigmentation can occur in people of all skin tones, it tends to be more frequent in people with darker skin—particularly black skin. The reason is that darker skin contains a higher amount of melanin (more color) in the skin cells and a tendency to overproduce additional melanin in response to external factors. While hyperpigmentation is totally treatable, people with darker skin need to take extra caution to treat dark spots safely and effectively. Read below for dermatologists tips for the best ways to treat hyperpigmentation in black skin (including our favorite Dark Spot Remover).

What causes hyperpigmentation?

  1. Post-Inflammatory Hyperpigmentation (or PIH): PIH is a type of “skin trauma”—injury or inflammation of the skin—which can result from a number of illnesses, disorders, or hormonal problems. For example, PIH may be caused by acne, eczema, psoriasis or contact dermatitis. All of these can contribute to higher amounts of melanin in the area and the resulting development of pink, red, or dark brown spots. PIH can affect people with any type of skin tone but tends to affect those with dark skin the most.

  2. Sun damage: Sunspots, which are small and flat, can range in color from light to dark brown. They tend to develop on parts of the skin that are exposed to the most sunlight—such as the face, chest, neck, and hands—that receive more sun exposure, which stimulates the production of melanin. Sunspots—as with other dark spots—tend to get darker with additional sun exposure.

  3. Melasma: Melasma is a type of skin discoloration caused by changes in hormone levels often associated with pregnancy or the use of birth control pills. Melasma typically develops on larger areas face—the cheeks, sides of the face, forehead, and above the lips.

Why people with black skin need to be careful with hyperpigmentation treatment

People with darker skin tones need to use extra caution when using products to treat post-acne dark spots and hyperpigmentation. Using the wrong ingredients—or even the right ingredients in the wrong concentrations—can cause skin irritation, further skin discoloration, excess skin lightening, and other side effects. However, there are several "gold-standard" ingredients that are proven to help treat hyperpigmentation in dark skin safely and effectively when used properly.

The best ingredients for treating hyperpigmentation in black skin

Man with black skin using MDacne Medicated Dark Spot Remover for hyperpigmentation

The safety and efficacy of hyperpigmentation and dark spot treatments depend on their active ingredients. Below are our dermatologist-approved ingredients for treating hyperpigmentation in black skin. These ingredients can be used individually but can be more effective and less irritating when combined together and with other anti-inflammatory ingredients.

Best Medical-Grade Ingredients:

  • Hydroquinone: The most effective medical-grade skin lightening agent. Used as the key ingredient in the Kligman formula (the strongest prescription formula for the treatment of hyperpigmentation), it works by reducing the activity of tyrosinase, an enzyme involved in the production of new melanin (i.e pigment) and is more effective than other brightening ingredients such as kojic acid, glycolic acid, and azelaic acid. Hydroquinone is the only FDA-approved product for fading dark spots on the market, and its effectiveness is solidly supported through multiple scientific studies. In concentrations of up to 2%, hydroquinone is safe for all skin types, including dark skin, black skin, and sensitive skin. Higher levels may still be effective but do pose a greater risk of adverse effects in black skin.

  • Retinoids (creams derived from vitamin A): Retinoids are some of the most popular and effective treatments for reducing sun damage and dark spots. Clinical studies have shown that retinoids (including retinoic acid, retinol, and retinyl palmitate) help reduce uneven pigmentation while also strengthening elastin fibers and supporting structural collagen, which helps prevent breakouts and signs of aging.

Additional Effective Ingredients:

  • Bearberry Extract: Believed to be the world’s best plant-based dark spot treatment. Like hydroquinone, it also works by inhibiting the enzyme tyrosinase. As a botanical resource, bearberry extract also contains antioxidants and anti-inflammatory agents that protect against free radical damage and UV rays and prevent the formation of new melanin in existing dark spots.

  • Glycolic Acid (AHA): this naturally occurring alpha-hydroxy fruit acid is used in professional settings to lighten uneven excessive skin pigment. Through exfoliation, glycolic acid enhances the penetration of other ingredients to achieve better performance for faster, visible results. While moderately effective on its own, it can be a helpful addition to a formulation with other active ingredients.

  • Salicylic Acid (BHA): derived from willow bark extract, it works like a superficial professional peel to help increase cell turnover. Similar to glycolic acid, it helps to increase the effects of dark spot fighting compounds while also helping prevent future breakouts.

  • Sunflower Oil: a naturally derived plant oil that is super moisturizing, and made up of 60% linoleic acid and is rich in the antioxidant vitamin E.

  • Vitamin C: helps lighten hyperpigmentation by inhibiting the enzyme tyrosinase, combating free radical damage and boosting collagen production.

  • Vitamin E: An antioxidant that prevents free radical skin damage and protects the natural skin barrier.

  • Licorice Root Extract: Licorice root has long been used for its natural “skin lightening” effects. In extract form, which contains high amounts of compounds including glycyrrhizin, glabridin, and liquiritin, which also helps[p block tyrosinase enzymes, which contribute to changes in skin pigment. It can also help reduce the loss of collagen and improve the skin’s ability to absorb other ingredients.

Less Effective Ingredients:

  • Kojic acid: a by-product of rice fermentation, Kojic acid also works by blocking tyrosine from forming. However, Kojic acid does pose the risk of causing allergic or sensitizing reactions in a small number of people. Since it is also significantly less effective agent than hydroquinone at treating hyperpigmentation, it and is rarely used by Dermatologists.

  • Azelaic Acid: Found in wheat, rye, and barley, in concentrations of 20%, it may have some effect on dark spots. That said, it is the least effective lightening agent and is rarely prescribed by dermatologists for the primary treatment for Dark Spots.

What is the best dark spot treatment for black skin?

There are several products available both over the counter and with a prescription that has been proven safe and effective in treating hyperpigmentation in dark skin tones. The most commonly prescribed treatment is the Kligman Formula, which combines several of the ingredients above to treat hyperpigmentation, However, due to the high concentration of hydroquinone in most Kligman Formula variations, it is often not suitable for black skin.

The best Dark Spot Treatment for Black Skin

MDacne Dark Spot Remover: We're biased, but we think this is the best way to treat hyperpigmentation in dark skin tones—especially black skin. It was formulated by a dermatologist, Co-Founder, Dr. Yoram Harth. Inspired by Kligman Formula to help treat dark marks gently yet effectively and is one of the first of its kind formulated for acne-prone, sensitive skin. For best results, this dark spot corrector combines the most effective medical-grade ingredients with plant-based anti-inflammatory and skin lightening ingredients. This special formulation is safe and effective for all skin tones, including black skin.

Check out these results! Using her Customized Acne Treatment Kit & Medicated Dark Spot Remover, Pamela has been able to clear her acne and fade her PIH for clear, glowing skin!

Results from MDacne Medicated Dark Spot Remover

In-office treatments for hyperpigmentation

If you haven't tried the above treatments, stop here. While there are more aggressive treatment options, they are often not necessary (or even beneficial) as the ingredients above are typically enough to treat hyperpigmentation effectively in black skin. However, as with any effective skincare product, results can take time. Be patient, and your skin will thank you.

If you've tried these and haven’t achieved full clearance of your hyperpigmentation, or you are desperate to get rid of your dark spots ASAP (hello, weddings, prom, job interview), here are some other treatments you might consider...though they come at a pretty price and with some side effects!

  • Microdermabrasion: This procedure removes the uppermost superficial layer of skin. Microdermabrasion is safe for people with black skin. Still, it will not be able to remove pigment that lies deeper in the epidermis and dermis and will typically not have significant effects on dark spots.

  • Chemical Peels: using ingredients like salicylic acid, glycolic acid, Jessner peels, and low percentage TCA peels help to remove dark pigments below the surface of the skin. The milder, more superficial peels have some effect on melasma and sun-induced dark spots. TCA peels, which are more aggressive, are usually not recommended for people with dark skin due to the risk of post-treatment hyperpigmentation (over lightening).

  • Laser or IPL Treatments: target the melanin that accumulates in skin cells with a high-intensity light. Using special wavelengths of light, the melanin in the skin cells is heats and destroyed. Similar to TCA peels, laser and IPL treatment may be too aggressive and risky for people with black skin due to an increased risk of hypopigmentation.

Can you treat hyperpigmentation with diet?

Diet has not been shown clinically to have a direct effect on existing hyperpigmentation. That said, dietary choices can influence the skin’s inflammation and indirectly help with post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. An anti-inflammatory diet can also help with active acne, one of the causes of PIH, and is an excellent supplement to the regular use of a medicated dark spot treatment.

Anti-Inflammatory Foods:

  • Green Tea: Contains polyphenols, which have free radical-scavenging and anti-inflammatory effects. Green tea is also an excellent ingredient of anti-acne and dark spot remover. Leafy green vegetables — Good source of vitamin C and phytonutrients that decrease sun-induced free radical damage to the skin cells.

  • Berries: all types of berries are a great natural source of antioxidants, including vitamin C and E, that can protect the skin and help with skin healing processes.

  • Wild-Caught Salmon: and other types of omega-3 rich fish are rich in Omega 3 that is a potent anti-inflammatory agent.

  • Healthy Fats: including coconut oil, olive oil, avocados, almonds, flax seeds, walnuts, and other nuts/seeds — Help to keep skin hydrated, prevent dryness, and reduce inflammation.

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