An Expert Guide To Fading And Treating Skin Pigmentation

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Pigmentation is a skin concern many of us tend to identify with. And it’s no wonder considering it comes in so many different forms and has many different causes.

“There are well over 45 causes of hyperpigmentation on the face, each with unique clinical features,” says Dr. Michelle Rodrigues, Dermatologist and Director of Chroma Dermatology, Pigment and Skin of Colour Centre.

She also explains that ‘pigmentation’ is a term rather than a diagnosis, which typically refers to skin that is “lighter than normal (called hypopigmentation) or darker than normal (called hyperpigmentation).”

Most of the time, when people say “pigmentation”, they actually mean “hyperpigmentation”. The appearance of which Rachel McAdam, La Roche-Posay’s Medical Communications Manager, describes as “darker areas, spots or blotches on the skin; these areas may have a brownish appearance and may be faint or pronounced.”

Or as we like to describe it, the chocolate milk moustache that shows up when we’ve had a bit too much sun in summer.

Hyperpigmentation can also appear differently depending on a person’s skin tone and Dr. Michelle reveals that it’s typically more common in those with skin of colour.

“This is because a condition called melasma is more common with this group and this is one of the most common causes of hyperpigmentation.” Melasma is also more common during pregnancy and has been linked to hormonal changes.

So is there anything that can be done to diminish these dark spots and patches? Here’s what the experts think…

The best ingredients for fading hyperpigmentation

You’re not imagining it, hyperpigmentation does tend to become more noticeable as we age – “mainly due to UV exposure over our lives,” says Rachel – and so it’s only natural to want to try and find products to combat its appearance. So what exactly should we be looking for?

Dr Michelle stresses that “getting the right diagnosis first is really important because different causes of hyperpigmentation require different treatments.” But here’s some ingredients known to help…

Hydroquinone

“For things like very light freckles, post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation and mild melasma, hydroquinone is still the gold standard treatment,” says Dr. Michelle Rodrigues. The active ingredient can be found in products like John Plunkett’s Superfade Face Treatment Cream ($21.99 at Chemist Warehouse) and is available over the counter at pharmacies in concentrations 2 per cent or less – no prescription needed!

AHAs & Vitamin A

Australian Cosmetic Physician Dr Naomi McCullum says it’s crucial to tackle melanin production from all angles if you want to see a difference in hyperpigmentation. She recommends incorporating an AHA serum or essence (specifically her own Pore Relation, $89 at drnaomi.com) and vitamin A into your weekly routine to “help increase cell turnover and over time fade visible surface pigment.”

Vitamin C & Niacinamide

With resurfacing taken care of, Dr Naomi recommends pairing exfoliation with brightening ingredients that will target “different pathways of melanin production, such as the well-documented vitamin C and niacinamide.” bh recommends: BOOST LAB Vitamin C Brightening Serum ($29.95 at Adore Beauty)

The best ingredients for preventing further hyperpigmentation

There’s only one word you need to know for your best defence against hyperpigmentation: sunscreen.

“UV protection is by far the most effective way to both prevent pigmentation and also repair existing pigmentation,” says Rachel. 

When it comes to selecting the best sunscreen for the job, Dr Michelle says to“make sure you choose one that says SPF 50+ with high UVA protection.”

“Choosing one with a tint is also really helpful, especially for those with skin of colour” – this is because tinted sunscreens contain iron oxide which absorb blue light, so you’ll also be protecting yourself from hyperpigmentation it can cause.


bh recommends: La Roche-Posay Anthelios Invisible Fluid Facial Sunscreen SPF50+ ($31.95 at Adore Beauty), Hamilton Everyday Face Sunscreen is a SPF 50+ ($11.49 at Chemist Warehouse) and Cancer Council Face Day Wear BB Cream SPF50+ Medium Tint ($13.39 at Chemist Warehouse)

Can skin care alone help?

If you’re wondering whether professional treatment is required to truly fade the appearance of hyperpigmentation, Dr Naomi says it largely depends on the kind you’re dealing with.

“There are some types of pigmentation that are more safely or effectively treated with skin care and some types that are more effectively treated by energy based devices in-clinic,” she tells beautyheaven.

“For example, melasma-type pigmentation is well treated and more safely treated with topical skin care. Although we have many in-clinic treatments for this issue, we would always include skin care as part of the treatment. Freckle-type pigmentation [on the other hand] is poorly treated with skin care and very effectively treated with in-clinic IPL devices.”

In terms of how much improvement skin care products alone can provide, Rachel says it’s modest and “in the realm of 20-50 per cent reduction.”

For more intensive reduction, she advises seeking out a dermatologist for treatment, which Dr Michelle strongly agrees with.

“Seeing a dermatologist will mean a detailed physical examination of the skin that gives a 3D view of the concerns and give you the opportunity to consider prescription grade creams, lotions and maybe even tablets to pair with a great skin care plan,” she says. 

There are dermatologists who specialise in pigmentation too, so if you’ve tried all the above ingredients and tips to no avail, it may be time to book an appointment.

Main image credit: @hoskelsa

Do you have hyperpigmentation? Have any of the above ingredients or tips worked for you?

Share your thoughts

Comments 30

  1. I do have two areas I want to treat – one on my cheekbone and the other at the base of my neck. The John Plunket Super Fade sounds like the product I need.

  2. Myself Personally I have a lot of hyperpigmentation on my hands, legs especially on the back of my calves and arms, a few on my face.
    Have used heaps of different types of hyperpigmentation Serums and Creams, it does take quite sometime but they do make such a difference.

    It is always good to use Sunscreen 50+ on your Face and Body, stay out of the hot sun don’t sunbake use some of the great Fake Tan Products.

  3. Yeah, got melasma ages ago. Did not even know until gp told me. Now so happy how it looks (only I know I have it). Using acids, vitA, sunscreen when exposed to direct sunlight, B3 sometimes. VitC did not agree with my skin.

  4. I notice as I am getting older I definitely am getting more dark spots but I have always been a sun baby so this is pay back time. I always use sunscreen now which has helped a little

  5. I’ve got heaps of hyperpigmentation spots on my upper cheek area and no matter what I try I can’t see to get it fade despite using sunscreen every day, vitamin C, niacinamide , arbutin. It keeps it at bay but even after years of topical treatment it really hasn’t changed significantly.

  6. Other than sunscreen and UPF clothing, here are some of my tips to reduce pigmentation:

    Think as follow:

    It starts with eating a healthy diet and also incorporating some AHAs and ABCs into your skincare routine.

    Think A: Retinoid and Azelaic Acid.

    Think B: Niacinamide and Panthenol

    Think C: Vitamin C and possibly Creatine

    Think D: Vitamin D

    Think E: Vitamin E to potentiate Vitamin C.

    Think F: Ferulic acid to potentiate Vitamin C and E.

    Think G: GORGEOUS!

    N-Acetyl Glucosamine (NAG) combined with Niacinamide works absolute wonders.

    Tinted physical sunscreens are the go for melasma.

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