Treating Hyperpigmentation on Black Skin, According to a Dermatologist

Every editorial product is independently selected by our editors. If you buy something through our links, we may earn commission.

In a perfect world, life would be as easy as dabbing on concealer, smearing on some highlighter, and leaving the house with flawless skin every day. But that isn't the reality for many people who experience hyperpigmentation, especially hyperpigmentation on Black skin. Hyperpigmentation on Black skin is extremely common and causes the affected area to darken because of an increase in melanin production. Hyperpigmentation can be particularly prevalent if you've dealt with acne or breakouts — they're the little dark marks that are left behind when the pimple goes away.

Even with that, hyperpigmentation on Black skin can be complex. It can occur in unexpected areas of the body — even if you didn't have a breakout in that location. There are also different types of hyperpigmentation that can stem from a myriad of causes. As a result, hyperpigmentation treatment for Black skin is never a one-size-fits-all experience.

To help cut through the noise, we enlisted the help of dermatologist Michelle Henry, MD, to help break down everything from how to properly address the condition to the best hyperpigmentation products you should shop for. Whether you're looking for a new skin-care routine to try or the reason you're experiencing dark spots in the first place, don't fret: a brighter future is ahead.

What Is Hyperpigmentation?

While hyperpigmentation is common, not all dark spots are created equal. Dr. Henry tells POPSUGAR there are two main types of it that appear in skin of color: post-inflammatory erythema (aka PIE, which manifests as redness from inflammation by trauma to the skin, like damaged capillaries or blood vessels) and post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (aka PIH, the dark pigment that comes from inflammation from a pimple).

"The key to knowing which one it is depends on the color of the mark," she says. "You can very well have both. It is harder to see PIE on dark skin than PIH. If your complexion is very light, you might have some redness, but you're likely also going to have some hyperpigmentation due to the overproduction of melanin in African American skin."

Hyperpigmentation Causes

How did those tiny dark spots end up on your face in the first place? Well, acne is a major culprit that usually leaves marks behind. You also increase the chances of dark scars on your skin if you pick at your pimple. Dr. Henry says picking and squeezing causes inflammation and blood production at the breakout site, which often leads to bruising that turns into a brown scar.

As hard as it might be to leave your pimples alone, try to refrain from picking at them and creating more scars. Be sure to also shield your skin with SPF daily, as lack of proper sun protection can also worsen existing dark spots.

Hyperpigmentation Treatment

Despite all the trendy products on the market, Dr. Henry stresses the importance of simplifying your skin-care routine. The hyperpigmentation treatment for dark skin doesn't have to be complicated. "Simple is better when it comes to treating hyperpigmentation because you don't want to make your condition worse," she says. Pick a regimen, or consult your dermatologist for the best results.

As for ingredients that fade dark spots, retinol is high up on Dr. Henry's list of favorites. "It helps unblock pores and fights acne, which will result in the development of fewer new spots," she says. "It's also anti-inflammatory and will help lighten dark spots in brown skin.

Dr. Henry gave some hyperpigmentation product recommendations ahead.

Additional reporting by Ariel Baker

Best Cleanser For Hyperpigmentation

Best Cleanser For Hyperpigmentation

Acne-Free Oil-Free Acne Cleanser ($6)

Everything else you put on your skin should be gently exfoliating and moisturizing. "Look for products with key ingredients like benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, and glycolic acid," she says. "I like the Acne-Free Oil-Free Acne Cleanser because it can be used on the face and the body to remove acne-causing bacteria and prevent new ones from forming that can result in hyperpigmentation."

She also recommends having a strong spot treatment on hand to zap stubborn pimples.

Best Toner For Hyperpigmentation

Best Toner For Hyperpigmentation

Biologique Recherch P50 Lotion (pricing varies)

Henry suggests adding a hydrating, balancing toner into your skin-care regimen as well, since most spot-fighting products tend to strip your skin of moisture. She swears by this popular Biologique Recherch lotion to hydrate and balance pH levels in the skin (but keep in mind that it can be very harsh on sensitive skin).

Best Serum For Hyperpigmentation

Best Serum For Hyperpigmentation

SkinMedica Lytera 2.0 Pigment Correcting Serum ($160)

Once you've taken steps to prevent additional breakouts, you should incorporate spot-fading ingredients into your routine. One of the most common is hydroquinone, but before you jump for products with the potent additive, be careful. "It gets a bad reputation because in a lot of countries, especially a lot of Caribbean and African countries, people are using it excessively," she says.

"You're only supposed to use it for a short period of time. When you use it consistently, you can get something called ochronosis, which is the permanent darkening of the skin and the exact opposite of what you want it to do."

Dr. Henry explains that mixing hydroquinone with topical steroids to increase its potency is common in foreign countries. "These dangerous mixtures can cause unwanted stretch marks and give the skin an orange tint. So I would definitely recommend using it sparingly and talking to your doctor first," she says.

If you can't make it to a doctor's office, she suggests using vitamin C products like this SkinMedica Lytera serum to lighten spots. Don't forget to test all new products and prescriptions on soft patches of skin to get an idea of how you'll react to them before applying it all over your face.

Best Sunscreen For Hyperpigmentation

Best Sunscreen For Hyperpigmentation

Supergoop Unseen Broad Spectrum SPF 40 ($38)

Daily use of SPF is super important to prevent the overproduction of melanin, which could make your dark spots even darker. Dr. Henry swears by Supergoop's Unseen formula. "I really like this one because it goes on clear, which is perfect for brown skin."

Best Sunscreen Powder For Hyperpigmentation

Best Sunscreen Powder For Hyperpigmentation

Colorescience Sunforgettable Brush-On Shield SPF 50 ($69)

If you wear makeup daily and don't want to smear on sunscreen lotion every two hours, you should keep your skin protected with an SPF powder. Dr. Henry likes this one from Colorescience because it "protects your skin without compromising your makeup." The mineral powder goes on sheer and comes in four shades including Tan and Deep, which is flattering on a range of black and brown complexions.

Ariel Baker is the assistant editor for POPSUGAR Beauty. Her areas of expertise include celebrity news, beauty trends, and product reviews. She has additional bylines with Essence and Forbes Vetted.