Skin issues like acne and brown spots can be scarring, not just physically, but emotionally, too. To say I struggled with acne as a pre-teen is an understatement, so when my blemishes came back last year out of the blue, I was heartbroken. Thankfully, if you have the right experts and products to help you, you can remedy the problem—and hyperpigmentation creams can do just that when it comes to discoloration. Although acne gets brought up more frequently, hyperpigmentation affects millions of people in the U.S. alone.
Hyperpigmentation is an overarching name for when patches of skin become darker than others around it. "It's caused when melanin—what gives our hair and skin color—is overproduced in certain spots on the skin," Dendy Engelman, MD, a New York City–based dermatologic surgeon, tells us. "Melanin goes into overproduction in the sun to protect our skin from harmful rays, causing them to look darker than your natural skin tone." (In case you were wondering since they're typically mentioned together, melasma is a specific type of hyperpigmentation that appears as discolored splotches on your face, primarily your cheeks, bridge of your nose, forehead, chin, and upper lip.)
The best way to prevent future hyperpigmentation is by wearing sunblock. And when it comes to alleviating the discoloration, you can try over-the-counter creams, prescription creams, chemical peels, and in-office lasers (for when the hyperpigmentation is not new and requires expert handiwork). There are a few ways that active ingredients in hyperpigmentation creams work—some like hydroquinone, kojic acid, and salicylic acid can improve pigmentation; some block the key enzyme responsible for pigment production; and others exfoliate and indirectly lighten the skin, explains Upper East Side dermatologist Estee Williams, MD.
“Hyperpigmentation’s visibility can be emotionally and psychologically troubling and may create a negative impact on self-confidence and quality of life,” says Craig Kraffert, board-certified dermatologist and president of Amarte. “Fortunately, the options for treatment are expanding and becoming increasingly effective and management can provide psychological relief and boost confidence as results begin to show.” To see just some of your options, scroll down to see dermatologists’, plastic surgeons’ and skin experts’ top 10 picks for hyperpigmentation creams.
"This prescription cream specifically treats melasma. It works by exfoliating, blocking pigment production, and minimizing redness. I also use the Lumenis M22 intense pulse light treatment in my office—it targets pigmentation, heats it up at the source, and causes it to flake off. " — Estee Williams
"Many of these creams work well in combination with one another. I like to tell patients to use this Proactiv serum with other products." — Yoon-Soo Cindy Bae, MD, dermatologist at Laser & Skin Surgery Center New York and clinical assistant professor of Dermatology at NYU
"I urge my patients to incorporate these products as part of a more all-encompassing regimen for hyperpigmentation. Apply this serum at night after cleansing—it helps gradually fade dark spots, discoloration or blotches, and helps lighten post-acne marks." — Ted Lain, MD, board-certified dermatologist
"This contains heparan sulfate, which works at the cellular level to rejuvenate the skin and reverse pigmentation. It doesn't cause skin irritation and has the advantage of other anti-aging ingredients to help with overall skin brightening." — David Shafer, MD, FACS, double board-certified plastic surgeon in New York City
"It contains tranexamic acid, a powerful ingredient to reduce hyperpigmentation (the ingredient has been recently recommended for its rapid and sustained lightening). Apply the product at night after cleansing—you can mix it with your antioxidant serum to further prevent free radical damage." — Michelle Henry, MD, clinical instructor of dermatology at Weill Cornell Medical College
"When I was pregnant, I used Elizabeth Arden's Retexturizing Pads with 5% glycolic acid. They are intended to safely exfoliate the top layers for a clearer, more radiant and even-toned appearance. Rub the pads on your skin in a circular motion, going around your face two to three times, then rinse." — Dendy Engelman
"Peppermint and grapefruit oils tone and resurface the skin. Glycolic acid has the smallest molecules in the AHA (alpha hydroxy acid) group, allowing it to penetrate the skin more deeply to treat uneven texture." — Kim Devin, co-founder of Dr. Roebuck's
"This mask has a great rolling applicator—it's easy to apply to skin without causing a mess! Vitamin A, goji, and orange stem cell stimulate collagen production and reveal healthy skin cells. It restores skin's radiance while diminishing hyperpigmentation." — Dendy Engelman
"Getting rid of melanin isn't always the answer, which is why using a natural beta-carotene like Gold Botanical Healing Serum with the occasional glycolic application is better in my opinion. Use this during the daytime for added protection from the sun." — Athena Hewett, owner of Athena Ellen skincare + apothecary
"This product combines natural arbutin, purified elemental sulfur, brightening botanical extracts and a revolutionary 1% nano-encapsulated retinol which work to improve hyperpigmentation in a safe, non-irritating, natural way. Unlike unstable retinol creams that can only be used sparingly and irritate the skin, Aqua Cream can be used any time, day or night (just follow with SPF application during the day)." — Craig A. Kraffert, MD, board-certified dermatologist and president of Amarte
Now that you're up to date on all of the top hyperpigmentation creams, it's time to choose the one (or combination of several) that work best for you.