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If there’s one thing you’re almost guaranteed to find a Black woman’s #shelfie, it’s a brightening product. Whether it’s a serum, patches, toner, or spot corrector, it’s likely there; stubborn dark spots and hyperpigmentation are common skin concerns for us. Hyperpigmentation can be caused by many things, including acne and excessive sun exposure. While anyone can experience it, it’s more prominent on dark skin tones given the melanin those complexions produce.
What causes hyperpigmentation?
“Melanin is extremely sensitive to inflammation and UV exposure, so hyperpigmentation can occur after any inflammation, even a single isolated pimple,” explains Elyse Love, MD, FAAD. “Pigmentary disorders, such as melasma, are also more common in melanin-rich skin.”
What can I do to treat it?
Products like exfoliants and serums are helpful, but “it’s important to start topicals one at a time,” says Dr. Love. “Most topicals that treat hyperpigmentation have the potential to be irritating, so starting too many can cause irritation to the skin and actually create hyperpigmentation.”
Dark spots aren’t impossible to remedy, but they can’t be treated overnight either. It’s taken me weeks, and sometimes months, to see results from certain products. And, one of the biggest steps that a lot of people miss when treating dark spots is the regular use of sunscreen. Applying the protective cream daily not only aids to prevent hyperpigmentation, but it can also help to fade it when paired with the right products. (Sunscreen prevents UV rays from prompting the increasing melanin production that makes dark spots more prominent.)
Here, we’ve rounded up some of the best hyperpigmentation products for darker skin tones. A few are from Black-owned brands and formulated specifically for melanin-rich skin.
Designed for women of color and formulated with Smart Melanin™ technology, Eadem formulated an effective serum that works without affecting tyrosinase, the enzyme that controls melanin production. A powerful trio of ingredients — amber algae, niacinamide, and encapsulated vitamin C — work in unison to fade dark marks. The milky serum has been one of my favorite new additions to my routine; not only because it’s been fading my hyperpigmentation, but it also leaves a soothing finish on my skin.
Topicals has only been around for a year, but their Faded cream already has a cult following. The lightweight, gel-like cream is infused with ingredients like tranexamic acid, niacinamide, and azelaic acid that brighten the skin, even out discoloration, and also improve the skin’s texture. I have yet to find another product that visibly reduces my dark marks as effectively as this one.
Hyper Skin was created out of a need for a vitamin C that works for Black women. The brightening gel has fruit enzymes and kojic acid, which together tackle hyperpigmentation in darker skin tones. A common pet peeve I’ve found with vitamin c serums is the sticky finish they leave behind, but this one goes on smooth. Many reviewers dub it their “holy grail” for dark marks.
IT Cosmetics wants you to literally kiss your dark spots bye-bye. Like many of the other effective treatments, it is blended with niacinamide and ethyl vitamin C, both favored ingredients in treating hyperpigmentation.
When I first started experiencing hyperpigmentation I went down a rabbit hole of testing products that could work quickly without realizing that fading dark spots usually takes a lot of time. However, this Urban Skin Rx treatment is an exception; it works quickly to improve the appearance of dark marks. The blend includes high levels of retinol and kojic acid — which are very strong — so that’s important to keep in mind if you have sensitive skin.
Paula’s Choice is beloved by editors, celebrities, and influencers, and with just one use, you’ll see why. The brand’s new repair serum targets the underlying causes of visible discoloration and works to brighten the skin by working through the barrier.
When I first started using this product it was more so for the dewy finish and plump appearance it gave my skin, but I quickly realized that the niacinamide was reducing the appearance of my dark spots. It’s a great shelf staple if you love a treatment that doubles as a skin nourishing product and leaves you with a luminous complexion.
This lightweight serum has a trio of acids that works quickly to fade dark marks. It lightly exfoliates the skin barrier while brightening it. It also improves and smoothes out the texture of your complexion.
This serum is on the pricey side, but it’s an investment that will benefit your skin. With active ingredients like garden cress extract and ginseng, Dr. Barbara Sturm formulated a serum that not only brightens and refines your skin tone, but also hydrates and moisturizes it. Small drops take you a long way and will leave you with faded marks and a brighter complexion.
Serums and creams are great, but if you prefer to slide on a patch and let it do the work for you, these infused micro-needling patches work quickly and effectively. Just a few consistent nights of placing this over a dark mark will visibly even out the complexion.
If there’s one product you’d need on a desert island, it might be this. Though potent, it’s one of the most lightweight products I’ve used, and leaves skin feeling hydrated and healed. The regenerative liquid is blended with stem cells, making it ideal for preventing breakouts and treating conditions like psoriasis, redness, and other skin sensitivities.
If your dark marks and acne scars have caused your skin to feel weakened, this overnight serum works to strengthen the barrier while brightening it and treating discoloration. It’s a bit pricey, but unlike any other serum on the market — from its distinctive ingredients to its replenishing features.
Peels aren’t everyone’s favorite (seeing your skin flake off can throw you for a loop), but this one is highly recommended. It works to replenish the skin with a multi-layer exfoliation that treats dark marks and simultaneously nourishes.
Reviewers rave about the smoothness of their skin after using this serum, and claim the experience is “spa-like.” It’s that good at diminishing dark spots and leaving the skin refreshed.
Love recommends this serum for its low but effective percentage of lactic acid. “It’s pregnancy safe and gentle enough for most sensitive skin,” she explains. “It should be started a few times a week, especially on sensitive skin, but may ultimately be tolerated nightly.”
Another low percentage but highly effective recommendation from Dr. Love is this overnight renewal serum with 10 percent glycolic acid. It’s pregnancy safe she explains and can be used nightly as your skin builds up a tolerance to it but you should avoid mixing it with other actives like retinols or acids.
As you add more active products to your skin-care routine, you should also be incorporating a sunscreen to prevent damage to sensitized skin and additional hyperpigmentation. This one is a favorite of Dr. Love’s because it’s cast free and weightless. The smooth formula also makes a great base for makeup.