Dark spots, brown spots, age spots, and melasma. No matter the name, hyperpigmentation is one of the most frustrating and stubborn conditions to treat and its causes are almost infinite—think everything from inflammation to scarring.
Sure, hyperpigmentation is harmless—and maybe you’ve embraced it as less of a bother and more of a cherubic cluster of freckles. But for others, dark spots on the face can be annoying. Here, we take a deep dive on all things hyperpigmentation, from causes to clinically proven dark spot correctors and dark spot removers that help fade dark spots and prevent them from returning.
What Is Hyperpigmentation and What Causes it?
Melanin is what gives skin its beautifully diverse colors. But when melanin is overstimulated, it floods the surface of the skin and shows as patches, spots and clumps of color that are darker than our natural skin tone.
In addition to UV exposure from the sun (sun damage), The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) says dark spots can appear when “a pimple clears, a wound heals (post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation), you take (or apply) certain medications, a skin or hare care product irritates your skin, or hormonal changes occur, such as during pregnancy or when taking oral contraceptives (also known as melasma, or the mask of pregnancy).”
What Are Some Real, Proven Ingredients for treating Hyperpigmentation?
All skin types, from the lightest to the darkest, can experience hyperpigmentation, though it typically presents itself differently across different skin tones. Because this is one of the top skin concerns treated by dermatologists, extensive scientific ingredient research has been done to help people answer the question of how to get rid of dark spots on the face, arms and body.
These are the top 6 ingredients that have been put to the test and come out on top when treating hyperpigmentation.
- Tranexamic Acid
Acids are so often indicators of exfoliation. But applying the word “acid” to all ingredients would be remiss. Case in point: Tranexamic Acid, which is actually an amino acid (the proteins that are often called the “building blocks of life”). While the FDA approved Tranexamic Acid to treat patients with hemophilia or excessive bleeding, it’s making a huge impact on the world of dermatology for successfully fading dark spots, melasma, post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation and other pigment disorders.
Tranexamic Acid for skin works by blocking the biological process that ends in dark spots and hyperpigmentation. And, unlike its prescription counterparts (think Hydroquinone), Tranexamic Acid for skin is gentler, yet effective, can be used indefinitely, partners with other skin-brightening all-stars like Vitamin C and Kojic Acid, and is considered safe for use during pregnancy (of course, you should always speak to your doctor before trying any new skincare ingredient).
- Kojic Acid
There’s some serious buzz surrounding this trending fermentation-based skincare, but it’s been around longer than you may think. Kojic Acid is a fungi and a byproduct of fermentation, as well as an inhibitor of tyrosine (what produces melanin). By inhibiting melanin production, Kojic Acid minimizes the intensity of dark spots and hyperpigmentation, and prevents them from coming back.
Niacinamide is becoming the next best thing since Retinol thanks to its multi-hyphenate benefits. Seriously, this ingredient does everything from reduce inflammation and fortify the skin’s barrier to put excess oiliness in check and treat hyperpigmentation.
Antioxidant Niacinamide prevents oxidation that can break down collagen. It also helps boost the skin’s barrier to make it a greater weapon against environmental stressors that take their toll on skin. Studies show that it can inhibit the process that leads to dark spots and hyperpigmentation. And that’s why it’s topping the list of our best treatments for fading dark spots.
- THD, the Next-Gen Vitamin C
Allow us to introduce the next best Vitamin C for skin. THD, or Tetrahexyldecyl Ascorbate, is the more bioavailable, more stable (meaning less likely to break down and lose efficacy), and more effective form of L-Ascorbic Acid (aka, standard Vitamin C).
What does that mean, exactly? Vitamin C is a bright skin powerhouse. It’s also highly sensitive and reactive, meaning its likely to lose its brightening juice when exposed to air (oxidation) or formulated/mixed with other ingredients (especially water). That means little-to-no results for your skin.
In clinical studies, Tetrahexyldecyl Ascorbate has been shown to increase collagen synthesis, provide better antioxidant protection, and provide better protection against blue light damage than traditional L-Ascorbic Acid. All those benefits add up to a more radiant appearance. And, it’s oil-soluble, which is another way of saying the skin’s oils can’t block it from seeping deep into skin. That gives it a higher penetration rate than regular Vitamin C (aka, bioavailability).
When choosing the best Vitamin C for skin, THD was the only option for our Vitamin C Brightening Concentrate, containing clinical strength 10% Tetrahexyldecyl Ascorbate in a super-stable, waterless formula and airless pump to prevent oxidation and maximize dark spot treatment with every use.
- Lactic Acid
Trying to choose an exfoliant? Make Lactic Acid your new holy grail. This chemical exfoliant (versus a physical exfoliant, like a scrub) is part exfoliant, part hydrator, and all-around a gentler alternative to a beta hydroxy acid like Salicylic Acid and alpha hydroxy acids like glycolic acid. Why? Because it’s water-soluble but not oil-soluble: while it can cut through the skin’s natural hydration layers to provide essential cell sloughing, it can’t cut through skin’s natural oils. This delivers less aggressive yet still powerful exfoliation while clearing the way for brightening treatments.
Despite all the shiny new treatments for dark spots and hyperpigmentation, don’t gloss over tried-and-true SPF. After all, the best treatment for a dark spot is to never have one in the first place, and SPF is your preventative step against hyperpigmentation made worse by UV light.
You can apply Kojic Acid, Tranexamic Acid, Niacinamide, and Vitamin C to no end, but if you’re not shielding your skin against UV rays, dark spots will stay put because UV rays trigger and can even bring back dark spots. A double-pronged approach of treatment ingredients combined with daily use of SPF (yes, even on cloudy days or work-from-home days), will deliver a more effective treatment result against hyperpigmentation.
Choosing Your Effective Dark Spot Fighter Just Got Easier
If you’re looking for a one and done dark spot treatment packed with all the ingredients for wiping out dark spots, we recommend our NEW VI Derm Dark Spot Lifting Serum with a triple-threat pigment busting blend of TRI-ER8ASE™ Acid Complex—5% Tranexamic Acid, Kojic Acid, and Lactic Acid—plus Niacinamide. Best of all, these ingredients complement each other to create a superior dark spot fading solution. Here’s how:
- Tranexamic Acid: At a therapeutic, proven-to-work level of 5%, this ingredient helps fade away the most stubborn pigmentation
- Kojic Acid: Suppresses excessive melanin production, preventing future dark spots and pigmentation from forming
- Lactic Acid: Gently yet effectively stimulates exfoliation and breaks down the skin’s barrier so brightening ingredients can penetrate deeper
- Niacinamide: Reduces the transfer of melanocytes (cells that cause pigmentation) to prevent future pigmentation, while hydrating and providing skin barrier protection