Beauty

Your Guide To Treating Hyperpigmentation, Straight From The Pros

And how to prevent it from forming in the first place.

The days are suddenly getting shorter and the weather has that crisp feeling to it, which means... autumn has arrived. While you’ll have to bid adieu to poolside days and al fresco dining, there’s one aspect of the summer that could linger — and it’s one you don’t necessarily want. It’s called post-summer hyperpigmentation, and it’s a very real (and pesky) skin condition that could take months and even years to get rid of.

As a master esthetician of over 15 years, I’m a firm believer that prevention is key — however, I’m also a realist that understands it’s almost impossible to avoid the summertime sun. And, no matter how strict you are about (re)applying SPF, any amount of time spent in the sun can leave your skin with new pigmentation spots, freckles, and small patches.

For some help with treating the condition, Bustle consulted with Dr. Marisa Garshick, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist based in New York City, on everything there is to know about how to get rid of hyperpigmentation — including how to prevent it from forming in the first place.

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What Is Hyperpigmentation?

Simply put, hyperpigmentation is areas that appear darker on the surface of the skin, resulting from an increase in the amount of melanin present (they’re often called dark spots for this reason). The most common variation is post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH), a type of hyperpigmentation that’s triggered by the way the skin regenerates after injury and inflammation. These kinds of dark spots typically come from skin conditions that cause trauma to the skin, such from as atopic dermatitis and acne vulgaris, and can look like flat marks of hyper coloration that range in color from light pink to dark brown and even black, depending on your natural skin tone.

What Is Post-Summer Hyperpigmentation?

Post-summer hyperpigmentation is just what it sounds like: discoloration that results from sun exposure during the summer months, explains Garshick. “This may include new-onset discoloration or the worsening of preexisting discoloration,” she says. So these can be sun spots (think freckles or age spots) or post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation that gets darker after consistent sun exposure.

Another common form of PIH is melasma, a skin condition that affects 5 million people in the U.S. alone and can both be caused by UV sun exposure and hormonal imbalances, generally appearing in women during and/or after pregnancy. Melasma will appear on the cheeks, bridge of the nose, forehead, and upper lip of the face in brown or gray-brown patches and can be present all year round, but is especially noticeable in the summer as it’s more sensitive to the sun.

How To Minimize The Risk Of Developing Post-Summer Hyperpigmentation

As I mentioned earlier, prevention is vital. Wearing broad-spectrum sun protection of at least SPF 30 is crucial, as is remembering to reapply every two hours. Garshick also recommends avoiding peak hours in the sun, seeking shade when possible, and wearing a wide-brimmed hat. “These are great ways to minimize the risk of exacerbating preexisting hyperpigmentation,” she tells Bustle. Additionally, if you want further cautionary measures, certain types of hyperpigmentation are also sensitive to blue light, so using sunscreens that include antioxidants in their formulas — aka an added line of defense against these potentially harmful rays — is a bonus, notes Garshick.

How To Get Rid Of Hyperpigmentation

Sunscreen, exfoliants, topical treatments, and professionally performed in-office lasers can help fade or improve the appearance of hyperpigmentation. However, the more discoloration, the longer the fading process could take — which could be, at minimum, a couple of months to a couple of years depending on the severity.

According to Garshick, the key ingredients you want to look for in topicals when addressing post-summer hyperpigmentation include antioxidants like vitamin C, niacinamide, glycolic acid, tranexamic acid, retinoids, kojic acid— and of course — sunscreen to prevent further darkening. Antioxidants can be particularly helpful: In a 2020 clinical study, it was shown that in addition to vitamin C being an antioxidant, it protects against free radical damage to inhibit melanin synthesis helping to reduce discoloration — which is why having a vitamin C-spiked serum in your repertoire is key. For some more help putting together your skin-brightening skin care regimen, keep scrolling for some of the best products you can buy to fight post-summer hyperpigmentation.

Shop Hyperpigmentation-Fighting Products

The Microbiome-Friendly Serum

Garshick is a fan of this serum, as it contains a patent-pending MelaPATH technology to brighten and rejuvenate the skin by protecting against environmental stressors as well as blue light. It's non-comedogenic (read: not-pore-clogging) and contains vitamin C as well as prebiotics, the latter of which supports the skin’s microbiome.

The Tinted SPF

Sunscreen protects existing pigmentation from darkening and helps block UV radiation against blue light. As Garshick points out, “A study found that exposing skin to blue light led to more pigmentation in some individuals, especially in those with darker skin types.” Elta MD’s tinted SPF is a great mineral-based sunscreen that also contains iron oxide to offer additional protection against blue light.

The Gently-Exfoliating Serum

This formula contains a blend of key ingredients that help to brighten, including niacinamide, glycolic acid, and tranexamic acid. “It works to help visibly fade dark spots and even out the skin tone,” says Garshick. Additionally, the glycolic acid works to gently exfoliate and even out the complexion while the niacinamide and tranexamic acid help to lighten dark spots.

The Antioxidant-Rich Buy

Your skin gets a potent blend of key pigmentation fighters, such as alpha arbutin, kojic acid, and licorice root. Besides the antioxidants in its formula, it also contains anti-inflammatory ingredients like aloe, moringa oil, thyme, and turmeric leaf extract, so your complexion can stay cool, calm, and collected as the other ingredients go to work on brightening.

The Milky Serum

This option by Eadem is fragrance-free and uniquely formulated for melanated skin tones. It contains fruit-derived enzymes for gentle skin resurfacing, niacinamide, and vitamin C to visibly reduce dark spots and deliver a brighter glow.

Studies referenced:

Boo, Y. (2021). Arbutin as a Skin Depigmenting Agent with Antimelanogenic and Antioxidant Properties. Antioxidants. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8301119/

Davis, E. & Callender, V. (2010). Postinflammatory hyperpigmentation: A Review of the Epidemiology, Clinical Features, and Treatment Options in Skin of Color. The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2921758/

Desai, S. (2014). Hyperpigmentation Therapy: A Review. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4142815/

Elbuluk, N. (2021). The Pathogenesis and Management of Acne-Induced Post-inflammatory Hyperpigmentation. Am J Clin Dermatol. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34468934/

Fatima, S. (2020). The Role of Sunscreen in Melasma and Postinflammatory Hyperpigmentation. Indian J Dermatol. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6986132/

Mahmoud, B. (2010). Impact of Long-Wavelength UVA and Visible Light on Melanocompetent Skin. Journal of Investigative Dermatology. https://doi.org/10.1038/jid.2010.95

Melnick, S. (2016). Hyperpigmentation in a middle aged woman: a common yet underdiagnosed condition. J Community Hosp Intern Med Perspect. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4942510/

Sanadi, R. (2020). The effect of Vitamin C on melanin pigmentation – A systematic review. J Oral Maxillofac Pathol. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7802860/

Experts:

Dr. Marisa Garshick, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist based in New York City