Hyperpigmentation is a broad term, used to describe an array of skin conditions associated with abnormal production of melatonin. The most common forms of hyperpigmentation are melasma, sunspots, and post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. Because these pigmentary conditions seem nearly identical, it is very easy to mistake them one for the other. If you add in the fact that treatment options for both are very similar, it becomes crucial to identify the specific condition that applies to you.
Despite these similarities, these pigmentary conditions are different and require a distinct approach in treating them. For example, with hyperpigmentation, a combination of chemical peels, sunscreen, and brightening agents will do the trick, whereas, for melasma, you will need a more targeted treatment.
In this article, we’ll talk about the differences between hyperpigmentation and melasma, how to better identify them, and treatment options for each.
Hyperpigmentation is referred to any discoloration of the skin caused by external factors. It could refer to sunspots after prolonged sun exposure, post-blemish scarring, rashes or discoloration after conditions like eczema or psoriasis. Although hyperpigmentation is just a cosmetic condition, it affects tens of millions of people worldwide.
In almost all cases, hyperpigmentation is caused or aggravated by extended UV exposure.
Common treatments include a combination of retinoids (tretinoin), bleaching agents (such as hydroquinone) and cosmetic procedures.
Dealing with melasma is a challenging experience and can go from a simple annoyance to a worrying skin condition that severely affects your self-esteem.
From a genetic perspective, melasma is particularly common in individuals with a darker skin tone because we naturally find more active pigment-producing cells. Melasma appears when these cells produce too much pigment in some areas of the skin. The mechanism is similar to what causes age spots, sunspots, and freckles, but melasma patches tend to be larger. The patches are commonly found on the face, particularly on the cheeks, upper-lip area and forehead. Typically, the patches appear on both sides of the face, in a nearly identical shape.
Another reason for melasma could be hormonal imbalances. Unlike any other pigmentary condition, nearly 90% of people affected by melasma are women. Melasma is commonly referred to as chloasma, and as the “pregnancy mask”. It is associated with hormonal imbalances and is one of the reasons why melasma is more common in pregnancy, or in women that take hormone replacement therapy, or birth control pills.
Finally, sun exposure. As with hyperpigmentation, extended sun exposure without precaution could trigger or exacerbate melasma. No matter the underlying issue, these symptoms may not manifest as aggressively until you expose yourself to the sun for prolonged periods of time. In addition, you need protection from heat and light, not only sun rays. Chemical sunscreens that protect us from skin cancer or hyperpigmentation may not be enough for melasma. You will need a mineral-based sunscreen that works as a physical blocker of light and UV rays. Choosing the wrong type of sunscreen is one of the most common mistakes that people make when trying to reduce the appearance of melasma.
The treatment should be divided into two parts: Topical treatment to target specific problem areas and complementary treatment.
Topical treatment includes tretinoin and hydroquinone, as well as azelaic, tranexamic and kojic acids. These are the first five ingredients that proved their efficiency best in treating melasma.
Complementary treatment includes a mix of antioxidants ( Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Ferulic Acid, etc.), a good cleansing routine, lots of hydration, and mineral sunscreen.
In addition, we’ve covered everything you need to know about topical and complementary treatments, a good cleansing routine, and different products that will help in the process.
Cleansing & Toning
First and foremost, it’s crucial to establish a good cleansing regimen. Environmental pollution can contribute to melasma. Airborne pollutants can adhere to our skin and disrupt the natural barrier, thus making the skin more sensitive and susceptible to sun damage. Thoroughly removing particle polluters from our skin will help your skin preserve its protective surface and will contribute to cell regeneration.
Blithe Anti-polluaging cleansing water
The skincare line from Blithe protects the skin against modern polluters such as dust, fumes, and heavy metal environments that have been proven to age the skin faster.
The Anti-polluaging cleansing water removes makeup residues and dust, impurities, and debris through the principle of osmotic pressure. It’s formulated with 44% Himalayan Pink Salt and ten other natural extracts that thoroughly cleanse and hydrate the skin. The minerals in Himalayan Pink Salt contains minerals that de-clog pores, lift impurities, maintain water balance and help treat acne.
Best for: All Skin Types
When to use it: After removing make-up and SPF with an oil-based cleanser.
Formulated with Biologique Recherche’s Oxygenating Complex, this cleanser is a miracle worker for people who live in big cities, people with sun-damaged skin, smokers, and people who don’t get enough sleep. It contains Vitamin A, E, and F to revitalize stressed, dull skin. The cellular oligopeptide complex in this cleanser boost cellular regeneration and re-balance the complexion. It works wonders in combating the effects of pollution, while gently removing impurities. It is a very gentle oxygenating cleanser that lightens the complexion.
Type: Milk Cleanser
Best for: All skin types
When to use it: After removing make-up and SPF with an oil-based cleanser
Tips: For optimal results, leave it for 2-5 minutes as a cleansing mask for the ultimate glow. If you have oily skin, mix it with Lait U for oil control. Similarly, if you have dry/dehydrated skin, mix it with Lait E.V. or Eau Micellaire Biosensible for a boost of hydration.
Acwell Licorice pH Balancing Cleansing Toner
Biologique Recherche Lotion P50 Pigm 400
The most famous toner in the world, Lotion P50 from Biologique Recherche, is the gold standard for many beauty experts. Following the massive success of Lotion P50, the brand released a new variation of the toner, which is even more targeted in combating unwanted pigmentation.
The Lotion P50 PIGM 400 is an exfoliating toner that brightens the dull skin affected by hyperpigmentation. It contains Palmaria Palmata Extract (Red Algae), a complex of fruits titrated in flavonoids and AHAs to help regulate melanin synthesis. The exfoliating agents include AHA’s, BHA’s, PHA’s, Phytic Acid, and Levulinic Acid. The Australian Finger Line Extract reduces dull skin caused by fluctuations in hormone levels during pregnancy, so it may work to prevent/control the appearance of melasma. It also contains antioxidants (Vitamin B3 and Wasabi Extract), to improve the strength and quality of the epidermis. This one is probably one of the most efficient toners for pigmentary disorders on the market.
How to use it: In the first week of use, to avoid skin sensitivity, saturate moistened/diluted cotton pads with Lotion P50 and apply to the face, neck, and cleavage. After the first week, saturate dry cotton pads with the lotion. Use twice daily (morning and evening) after cleansing your face. Starting with your cleavage and moving upwards, gently press the cotton pad over your skin. Cover all areas of the face, making sure to avoid the sensitive under-eye area. Pat, do not rub. Allow drying time.
If melasma does not fade away naturally, a doctor could prescribe topical treatments to help lighten the dark patches. Some commonly used treatments are retinoids and retinol, which are applied to the skin to boost the cell turnover process. These ingredients usually exfoliate and help the patches clear faster than they would do on their own.
Aside from retinoids, it’s common for doctors to prescribe bleaching agents, such as hydroquinone, that work by taking pigment out of the skin. Hydroquinone is an effective inhibitor of melanin production, reducing and potentially eliminating discoloration in the skin. It works to lighten age spots, freckles, and hyperpigmentation in the skin. You should always use hydroquinone in a maximum of 4% concentration, as higher concentrations can over-bleach the skin, causing white spots. The hydroquinone should only be applied to the affected area, leaving healthy skin untouched.
Other active ingredients recommended include kojic, tranexamic and azelaic acids, that work by slowing down or even stopping the production of pigment in your skin. These are referred to as skin-lightening agents.
In some cases, other procedures recommended for melasma and hyperpigmentation are chemical peels, skin micro-needling, and laser treatments. These are a bit controversial: what works for some people, for others could worsen the condition. It is tough to predict the efficiency of these procedures, and in some cases, they could be very damaging to your skin. Proceed with these options only at your doctor’s recommendation.
Corrective skincare lightening gel
Corrective Skincare is a medical aesthetics practice based in Los Angeles. The treatments are custom-formulated by a highly educated team of paramedical estheticians. The products are topical, each meant to address a unique skin problem.
Their Lightening Gel is made from completely natural compounds. It’s formulated with 10% Glycol, naturally derived from sugar cane, and 2% Kojic Acid derived from Fungi and fermented rice. The gel also contains 1% Hydroquinone. Hydroquinone is an effective inhibitor of melanin production, reducing and potentially eliminating discoloration in the skin. It works to lighten age spots, freckles, and hyperpigmentation in the skin.
How to use: Apply a thin layer over affected areas only, at least 20 minutes before going to sleep to allow the formula to absorb. Do not use the treatment for longer than three months. Avoid sun exposure during the treatment. It works best while used at night and wearing a mineral-based SPF during the day.
Note: Refrigeration is absolutely necessary for this product, as with any natural, organic ingredient with fewer preservatives.
Glytone dark spot corrector
A little more chemical alternative to the Lightening Gel above, The Dark Spot Corrector is also formulated with Glycolic and Kojic acids. This formula contains 2% Hydroquinone. Hydroquinone is an effective inhibitor of melanin production, reducing and potentially eliminating discoloration in the skin. It works to lighten age spots, freckles, and hyperpigmentation in the skin. In addition, it contains Nordihydroguaiaretic acid (NDGA), a phenolic antioxidant shown to be 100 times more potent than vitamin E in preventing lipid peroxidation (the degradation of fats in the skin).
How to use: Apply a thin layer over affected areas only, at least 20 minutes before going to sleep to allow the formula to absorb. Do not use the treatment for longer than three months.
It’s recommended to avoid sun exposure during the treatment. It works best while used at night and wearing a mineral-based SPF during the day.
ASDM Melasma & Pigment lightening serum
Aside from the topical treatments for melasma and hyperpigmentation, there are antioxidants. It’s a natural way to help your skin fight environmental stressors and repairing existing damage. Vitamins C and E can help repair the damage caused by sunlight. Ferulic acid works well when paired with other antioxidants like vitamins C and E to stabilize them and protect against the harmful effects of free radicals. Ferulic acid, vitamins C and E provide partial protection alone, but when paired together provide virtually complete protection against ultraviolet rays by reducing oxidative stress.
When considering adding antioxidants to your skincare routine, remember to be patient and persistent. Long-term prevention and maintenance require an ongoing commitment to protecting your skin, even if the results are not immediate.
Skinceuticals c e ferulic
Wildly considered to be one of the best Vitamin C serums on the market, SkinCeuticals Vitamin C E Ferulic acid serum amassed a cult following over the last decade. Formulated with 15% Pure Vitamin C, 1% Vitamin E, and 0.5 % Ferulic Acid, the serum is a potent neutralizer of environmental damage caused by free radicals. The antioxidant complex helps reduce sun damage, ozone pollution, and infrared radiation that can cause premature aging. The serum works to improve photodamage, and the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines, while brightening the skin’s complexion. Finally, it helps firm your skin and replenishes the skin’s natural lipids.
How to use: In the morning after cleansing and toning, apply 4-5 drops to a dry face, neck, and chest before other skincare products. It works best when paired with a mineral-based SPF during the day.
Biologique Recherche Fluide VIP 02
The VIP O2 is an oxygenating serum that creates an environment that stimulates the natural epidermis function. It works by trapping oxygen in the first layer of the skin, thus offering protection from pollution and urban aggressors. The revitalizing agents include silk extracts and Biologique Recherche oxygenating complex that hydrate and restore the natural skin functions. It also contains Lactic Acid, Witch Hazel, Yeast and Cucumber extracts that protect against skin damage. This serum is an additional layer of protection against pollution, firms the skin and hydrates. It works wonders, especially for stressed and devitalized skin.
How to use: After cleansing and toning, apply 2-3 drops to a dry face, neck, and decolletage before moisturizer, morning and evening.
Klairs freshly juiced vitamin E Mask
Love your Vitamin C serums, but want a complementary boost? The Klairs Vitamin E Sleeping Mask is ideal for those with sensitive skin, coming from a brand whose primary focus is protecting the skin barrier. The superstar ingredients in this sleeping masks are Vitamin E, Niacinamide, and Adenosine. Vitamin E is an excellent addition to your skincare routine, protecting the skin barrier from toxins, and creating a shield to protect your skin from sun damage. Niacinamide has a big moment now, being one of the most potent antioxidants. It helps with fine lines, dullness, and enlarged pores, and has potent brightening proprieties. Adenosine has a significant role in skin regeneration, and this mask has the maximum concentration allowed in a formula, to deliver the most wrinkle-fighting results as possible. The Vitamins C and E work together perfectly as they stabilize each other, and protect your skin from sun sensitivity and exposure to free radicals. When together, they synthesize collagen and maintain the cross-links between the collagen fibers, making it a great anti-aging mask.
Best for: All Skin Types
How to use it: You can use this mask as a moisturizer before sunscreen, or apply a thicker layer after Vitamin C and leave overnight for maximum potency. Use the sleeping mask as the last step of your skincare routine. Apply an even layer on clean skin (face and neck).
Aqualabo oh! very brigh sheet mask
This 2-Step sheet mask+toner is one of the best masks to brighten the complexion while delivering intense hydration.
First step: The Jelly Mist is an innovative gel-to-liquid toner that opens up the absorption pathway of your skin to boost the effectiveness of the sheet mask. It adjusts the pH balance of your skin and strengthens the natural barrier. It contains an amino acid complex and Liposomal ceramide to lock in moisture and balance the skin pH.
Second step: The mask has EWG-grade ingredients, so it’s formulated with 98% natural compounds. It contains Niacinamide, Centella Asiatica, and Licorice Root Extract to soothe and hydrate the skin. This mask is infused with “Gomisin N,” a compound that comes from Omija (Magnolia berry). This extract has been traditionally used in Korea in tea for glowing skin and was found to have 60 times more targeted brightening effects on skin compared to Arbutin. It works by inhibiting the production of pigment in your skin, to ensure a brightening effect.
How to use it: After cleansing and toning skin, place sheet mask over face and leave on for 15-20 minutes. It can be especially refreshing if placed in the refrigerator prior to use.
Hydrate your skin regularly. If you hydrate your skin regularly, you will preserve the protective layer of the skin. This will help prevent moisture loss and visible damage from environmental stressors. Use a good moisturizer after the serum to restore the lipid (fat) barrier of the skin, which helps to protect it from pollution, sun damage and oxidative stress.
Civant Meladerm Pigment Correction
Meladerm has been recommended by dermatologists since 2005, with people constantly raving about this as a safe and effective product for natural skin lightening. It contains ten naturally-derived active ingredients and is free of hydroquinone and mercury. These ingredients are Bearberry Extract, Emblica Fruit Extract, Kojic Acid, Lemon Acid, Licorice Root Extract, Niacinamide, Vitamin C, Mulberry Extract, Alpha Arbutin, and a mix of antioxidants and amino acids. The ingredient mix is premium, to say the least, and contains the best natural extracts mean to brighten your skin complexion, without bleaching. It has cleansing, antioxidant, and moisturizing effects and is suitable even for sensitive skin. It works for any pigmentary disorder including sun spots, melasma, and post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, freckles, underarms, and uneven skin tone.
How to use it: After serums, apply an even layer over the desired area twice daily. Massage thoroughly until the cream is absorbed completely.
Apply once in the morning and once at night for best results.
The use of an additional wide spectrum sunblock of SPF 30 (or higher) is strongly recommended.
Heavy sun exposure should be limited. Avoid the use of tanning beds and/or sun lamps.
For topical use only and should not be ingested or used in the eyes or mouth.
Best for: Melasma, Hyperpigmentation
Biologique Recherche Creme Pigm 400
Creme PIGM 400 is a natural concentrate of brightening ingredients that corrects hyperpigmentation and prevents new age spots from forming. This moisturizer acts on three stages of melanogenesis and regulates the accumulation of lipofuscin at the origin of dark spots. The brightening active ingredients include watercress leaf extract, pure soy-based genistein, and plum pulp. The protective ingredients include Exo-polysaccharide, Vitamin E, and wasabi extract. The cream brightens the complexion, limits cells aging and has an anti-radical action meant to correct existent hyperpigmentation.
How to use it: After serums, apply a small amount of Crème PIGM 400, in the morning and/or the evening to the entire face to brighten the complexion, or to areas with pigmentary spots (face, forearms, décolleté and hands). Gently massage until complete penetration.
Protect your skin from the sun during the use of the product by using a mineral-based SPF.
For lipid-depleted skin, you can combine Crème PIGM 400 with Biologique Recherche Sérum T.E.W.L.
Best for: Hyperpigmentation
The first thing you need to do when treating melasma is preventing the sun from aggravating it. This is a step that requires extreme diligence. The sun is stronger than any treatment you can ever take. The best approach in clearing up melasma is using a strict sunscreen regimen. For this matter, it’s worth knowing that not all sunscreens are created equal. Choosing the wrong type of sunscreen is one of the most common mistakes that people make when trying to prevent the appearance of dark patches. To prevent melasma, you need a sunscreen that blocks not only the sun’s rays but also the light and heat.
There are two main types of sunscreens:
Chemical Sunscreen: sunscreens that use chemicals, such as oxybenzone
Mineral Sunscreen: sunscreens that use physical blockers, such as zinc and titanium dioxide.
You want to choose sunscreens that use physical blockers because those are the ones that can stop the light, heat, and different wavelengths from coming through. Over the years, these sunscreens have come a long way from older formulations that sat on your skin in a greasy, white layer. Today’s zinc and titanium dioxide formulas are micronized so they can sink into the skin, while still offering the same protection.
Chemical sunscreens don’t offer the same protection for melasma, and in some instances, they may even trigger allergic reactions that can make melasma worse.
You can provide added protection to your skin by following up with makeup that contains a second sunscreen to further block out the sun’s rays. Even in the fall and winter, it’s a good idea to wear a hat that is designed to provide sun protection, if you’re going to be outside for an extended period of time.
Remember to be diligent. Melasma will quickly return if you’re not careful about sun protection. So, the only way to ensure long-term maintenance is an ongoing commitment to protecting your skin.
Named after the English word “purity” and the Chinese character for “soil” (土), Purito is a transparent skincare brand. It’s said that a mineral sunscreen with high protection (50+) it must leave a white cast. The internet says that the only way to avoid this is to use nano mineral filters and that it’s impossible or frowned upon. It seems that the word “impossible” is not in the Korean dictionary, because Purito just achieved a completely transparent mineral sunscreen, without using any nano filter. The comfy water is a sunscreen formulated with natural mineral UV filters, with an SP50+, a PA+++++, without any silicone, fragrance or alcohol, that ensures a lightweight texture and no white cast. The formula is very rich in water (70%), which is quite unusual for a mineral sunscreen. Purito has also included skincare ingredients in their sunscreens formulae, such as soothing ingredients (Centella Asiatica) and antioxidants (Niacinamide& Vitamin E). It has a very refreshing creamy texture and feels like it’s full of water. The fresh feeling remains on the skin for a long time after applied. It contains Zinc Oxide and Titanium Dioxide filters, which ensure high UVA and UVB protection. This is by far my favorite sunscreen.
LA DEFENSE MINERAL SUNSCREEN SPF 30
Bonus: If you want to switch to one of the best all-natural, Ayurvedic mineral sunscreen, you could try this one from PRATIMA. It contains 18.65% non-nano micronized Zinc oxide (a medium-to-high SPF 30), but the other ingredients are a treat for the skin.