How to Even Out Discoloration on Darker Skin Tones

Updated 09/22/19

Imaxtree

Way back when, having a good skin day probably meant waking up blemish-free. Sadly, once you leave your early twenties, there’s quite a bit more that goes into it. The list of skin issues you may face in your life is a long one. But what makes uneven skin tone one of the more troubling concerns on that list is that it often springs up on you without notice. With breakouts, you feel them coming in long before they reach their peak. With wrinkles, you start to see those fine lines forming years in advance. But with discoloration and hyperpigmentation, there aren’t many warning signs. And once it’s there, knowing what to do about it becomes the hard part.

Since discoloration on darker skin tones poses specific challenges when it comes to treatment, we called in dermatologist Dr. Dennis Gross and asked him to fill us in on how to correct those pigmentation problems. Keep reading for everything you need to know about addressing uneven tone in dark skin.

The Basics of Discoloration

In a nutshell, discoloration refers to brown spots (aka sunspots, age spots, or dark spots). “They are all actually little growths caused by cumulative sun exposure,” Dr. Gross says. “These sunspots are darker than the rest of our faces because they are filled with excess melanin pigment, our skin’s defensive reaction to the sun.” Darker skin does have more melanin and therefore more natural protection from the sun’s damaging rays, but it would be a mistake to assume your skin can protect itself from the sun without a little help. 

Post-Inflammatory Hyperpigmentation

The melanin in your skin works to protect you from UV rays, but it also reacts to them and responds by making even more pigment. It’s actually the melanin that’s responsible for a type of discoloration called post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation occurs when the skin’s cells overproduce melanin as a response to injury, and the result is discoloration and uneven skin tone. Dr. Gross says another injury your skin faces is acne; making acne scars another example of post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation to watch out for.

Target Hyperpigmentation With Peels, Not Lasers 

Dr. Gross says you shouldn’t look to lasers to take care of your hyperpigmentation when you have dark skin. Laser treatments work for light skin because the laser targets the dark spots. With dark skin, however, the laser can’t accurately target the brown spots, and it will actually make your discoloration worse. Dr. Gross says the safest in-office procedure to treat hyperpigmentation on darker skin tones is a series of peels to resurface the skin.

Start an At-Home Routine to Combat Hyperpigmentation

Orange peels surrounding a skincare vial.
 NikiLitov / Getty Images

At home, Dr. Gross recommends using products with skin-lightening and anti-inflammatory benefits like bearberry extract, mulberry extract, azelaic amino acid, and licorice root extract. Two other important ingredients to seek out are ferulic acid and vitamin C. Ferulic acid is a plant-based antioxidant that enhances the properties of other vitamins and provides protection from sun damage. Vitamin C is an antioxidant with powerful skin-lightening properties that protects against free radicals and UVA damage.

The Best Skincare Products to Help Fade Discoloration

Now that you know which ingredients to keep an eye out for to combat hyperpigmentation it's time to start stocking your #shelfie. Ahead you'll find five of our favorite products packed with dark spot-fading ingredients. Take your pick!

Origins Dr. Andrew Weil For Origins Skin Illuminating Cleanser $33
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Murad Essential-C Toner
Murad Essential-C Toner $34
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Dr. Dennis Gross Ferulic + Retinol Brightening Solution
Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare Ferulic Acid + Retinol Brightening Solution $88
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Ole Henriksen Invigorating Night Transformation Gel
Ole Henriksen Invigorating Night Transformation Gel $49
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Lancôme Bienfait Multi-vital Night Cream
Lancôme Bienfait Multi-Vital Night Cream $54
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