Hyperpigmentation, more commonly known as age spots or liver spots, are spots that appear on the skin due to overproduction of melanin. They can appear anywhere on the body but are most noticeable on the face, hands and forearms. As we age, we start to see hyperpigmentation develop due to damage to the DNA of our cells—this can cause the excessive production of melanin which results in hyperpigmentation. Hyperpigmentation isn’t harmful and doesn’t require medical attention, but it can be unsightly and may make you feel self-conscious about your appearance.
1) Use a mild cleanser with glycolic acid
Glycolic acid is a mild, but effective alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) that can help remove dead skin cells and encourage new cell production. It’s one of my favorite ingredients for skincare. I like using it as an active ingredient in face washes, soaps, and masks. But glycolic also works well when formulated into serums or toners with other AHAs, like lactic acid or malic acid. Just make sure you are choosing a gentle cleanser with glycolic—it’s possible to over-exfoliate! You should also test it on your skin before incorporating it into your routine; some people find AHA products irritating and may experience redness or irritation from them.
2) Avoid baking soda
Baking soda is great for a number of things: making cakes, absorbing smells, cleaning… but it’s not so great at dealing with acne. When combined with water, baking soda releases an alkaline substance that can dry out your skin and cause irritation. In fact, some experts recommend avoiding baking soda altogether as it can damage your skin and weaken its natural defenses. It’s best if you save baking soda for use in cooking or other household purposes. If you have acne, speak with a dermatologist about how to get rid of hyperpigmentation safely and effectively.
3) Use niacinamide or azelaic acid
Both niacinamide and azelaic acid are naturally-occurring organic acids. Both are used for a variety of skin conditions, and studies have shown that both can help improve hyperpigmentation. The effects aren’t always permanent, but they can certainly be helpful in improving your overall complexion. You can find both over-the-counter, at many drug stores and at other specialty stores like Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods Market; some examples are SkinCeuticals Blemish + Age Defense Treatment and Neutrogena Sensitive Skin Redness Therapy Moisturizer with niacinamide or Desert Essence Thoroughly Revitalizing Azelaic Acid with salicylic acid
4) Ask a Dermatologist About High-Tech Options
Let’s start with a disclaimer. If you have hyperpigmentation, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you need treatment. In fact, hyperpigmentation is often a sign that your skin is trying to heal itself and a response you should be encouraging. Especially if you have dark spots as a result of acne or hormonal changes. But if your skin isn’t responding as well as you would like, don’t despair! There are several options out there including at-home treatments such as blue light therapy and over-the-counter products such as creams containing niacinamide, which can even things out in just days.
5) Look for chemical peels at your dermatologist
Chemical peels, which use acid to exfoliate skin, can help improve your hyperpigmentation. The most common type is glycolic acid. Glycolic acids remove dead cells on a superficial level and promote new cell growth. This process breaks down melanin deposits in your skin and lightens hyperpigmented areas. Other acids are available as well, such as salicylic acid or trichloroacetic acid. Talk with your dermatologist about whether chemical peels might be a good option for you. A word of caution: Chemical peels may not work for everyone, so consult with a professional before using one on yourself. And always apply it properly!