Dark spots? Hyperpigmentation? You’re not alone. These are some of the most common skin concerns and some of the first signs of premature skin aging and damage.
It can feel frustrating, as they are caused by multiple triggers and can present differently in people based on age and skin color. Understanding what causes dark spots and hyperpigmentation is important in building a customized skincare routine that works for you.
What are dark spots?
These spots can appear on the skin from head-to-toe and come in a range of colors and sizes. They’re the result of cells found in the upper layer of our skin that produce the pigment known as melanin. Melanin is an important protective and healing component in our skin. It’s an anti-inflammatory antioxidant that acts as our skin's natural UV protectant. It can also aid in wound healing.
When these cells are triggered to produce extra melanin, it can lead to dark spots and hyperpigmentation. When combined with inflammation (or heat), it can become anchored into the lower layer of the epidermis and lead to very stubborn and hard-to-treat dark spots.
Esthetician Note: Generally, the most stubborn dark spots and hyperpigmentation to treat are from that excess melanin lodged in the base of the epidermis. Proper sun care, avoiding unnecessary heat exposure to those areas, and a proven skincare routine are key for a more even-looking, brighter skin.
What causes hyperactive melanin production?
Certain factors like UV exposure, hormones, injury medication, autoimmune conditions, skin disorders, and inflammation from things like acne can trigger our skin to produce excess melanin. The three main causes include UV exposure, inflammation, and hormones.
UV exposure and oxidative stress are the leading causes of hyperpigmented skin. This causes multiple processes to occur in the skin that results in lines, wrinkles, sagging skin, larger pores, oil imbalance, and yes, dark spots and hyperpigmentation. These spots are generally what we think of as “age spots.” However, they are not always benign and can result in skin cancer. Think of repeated overexposure to UV radiation as UV injury. This makes dark spots even harder to fade and improve.
Injury and inflammation of the skin cause what is known as post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. These can look more purplish in hue and can result from acne, bug bites, wounds, or skin conditions like dermatitis. The inflammation can trigger our melanocyte cells to become hyperactive to help heal the skin. In addition, heat from the inflammation can lodge melanocyte cells into those lower skin layers, making it very hard to improve.
Hormones combined with UV exposure can lead to Melasma. This type of hyperpigmentation is generally found in women and can be known as a pregnancy mask. It may appear for a time (like during pregnancy) and fade, or it can remain as some of the most frustrating hyperpigmentation to treat. It typically appears as larger areas of hyperpigmentation in areas of the face like the forehead, nose, and above the mouth.
How can we improve the look of dark spots and hyperpigmentation?
The best thing we can do for our skin is prevent unnecessary UV exposure and wear SPF daily. Prevention is always important, but proper suncare is also essential to improve the look of current damage. It’s important to note that hyperpigmentation is caused by (and made worse by) multiple triggers. A combination therapy approach is best to improve the look of dark spots and hyperpigmented skin. Remember that results will vary by person due to the range of causes of hyperactive melanin production and how anchored into the skin it has become.
What is combination therapy?
Combination therapy is the idea that a person uses a range of ingredients and tactics, day and night, that support their skin and target excess melanin production, inflammation, and the removal of excess melanin in the skin. Basically, those dark spots didn’t get there from just one thing, so we need to target them in more than one way.
Esthetician Note: A range of ingredients and skin treatments can help improve the look of dark spots. Skin color and how “clean” you want your skincare can be vital in determining the best approach.
All About Ingredients
So, what are the most powerful clean ingredients for ditching the look of dark spots and hyperpigmentation? Here are our favorites to add to your glow-enhancing rotation.
1. Vitamin C
Vitamin C is a cornerstone skincare ingredient when it comes to prevention and improving the look of dark spots. Remember that vitamin C is a whole category of ingredients with varying benefits. Using vitamin C in your daytime routine is crucial as it can help inhibit the production of tyrosine, which can trigger excess melanin production leading to dark spots and hyperpigmentation.
Ascorbic acid is ideal for helping to fade the appearance of not only dark spots, but fine lines and wrinkles as well! Our Vitamin C Booster is powered by this ultra-stable ingredient.
If you have more sensitive or oily skin, try products containing Kakadu Plum, the world's richest source of vitamin C! Our Brighten & Even Serum is also formulated with sodium ascorbyl phosphate, a vitamin C derivative that is a powerhouse antioxidant. These ingredients work with your SPF to neutralize more free radicals that can cause the visible signs of premature aging.
For the most stubborn hyperpigmentation deeper in the skin, THD ascorbate at higher percentages can be an excellent solution. This ingredient has been shown to penetrate up to 3x more deeply than other forms of vitamin C to improve the look of dark spots. Our NEW 30% Vitamin C Dry Oil contains this as well as Bright Oleoactif®, featuring licorice root and rice bran extract. Both have been proven to improve the look of dark spots. In a Bright Oleoactif ® clinical study, volunteers showed visible improvement in the quality of their complexion in just 28 days: 18.5x increase in the look of skin lightness and 273% increase in the look of luminance.
To hyper-target the look of dark spots, our Spot Corrector taps into the restorative, radiance-enhancing power of BV-OSC (our form of THD Ascorbate).
A wonderful complement to your other active ingredients, Niacinamide offers a range of benefits. One of the lesser talked about benefits is how it improves the look of dark spots. It interferes with melanin transport after it’s produced and pairs well with your other dark spot-fighting skincare (think vitamin c and retinol).
Our 10% Niacinamide Booster also features LightSkin, a microalgae that improves the look of dark spots and is safe for all skin tones. In a clinical in-vivo study of 28 days, LightSKN® effectively evened the look of skin tone and reduced the appearance of age spots.
Retinol and retinoids are often overlooked when targeting the appearance of hyperpigmentation. However, they are a wonderful support to minimizing the look of skin discoloration, including dark spots and multiple forms of hyperpigmentation. They support more youthful skin renewal and regeneration function.
Our Firm & Lift Serum features innovative antioxidants like Bakuchiol, which works to stimulate collagen and give you a glow-worthy complexion. Plus, gentle yet effective Retinol 2.0 works to resurface the look of skin to reveal a smoother, more even texture and radiance.
Remember, this ingredient is best used in your evening skincare routine only.
Do you have a glow-worthy routine that’s helped you fade the look of dark spots and hyperpigmentation? Comment below!