Hyperpigmentation is one of the most difficult skin conditions to treat on your own, but that doesn't mean it's a lost cause. You can take action in your daily routine to prevent discoloration from getting worse. For example, did you know you can use sunscreen for hyperpigmentation?

Just as it helps prevent skin cancer and premature aging, sunscreen is one of the best ways to manage dark spots. Wearing sunscreen alone won't resolve hyperpigmented skin, but it acts as a barrier to prevent further discoloration and other sun damage from ultraviolet (UV) rays.

Combined with active ingredients, over-the-counter skin brighteners, and Dermatology treatments, you can minimize hyperpigmentation for a brighter, more even complexion. Here's how.

What Is Hyperpigmentation?

Hyperpigmentation happens when skin cells produce more melanin, or pigment, than usual. This overproduction results in patches that appear darker than your natural skin tone. There are a few types of hyperpigmentation, including age spots, melasma, and post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation.

The reasons for increased melanin production vary. Age spots, also known as sun spots, result from sun exposure over time. Hormonal fluctuations (think during pregnancy or when taking birth control) are often attributed to melasma—so much so that it's sometimes called "pregnancy mask."

Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation develops from a skin injury, such as popping a pimple or scratching a patch of eczema. These inflamed areas continue to darken with subsequent sun exposure.

Attractive woman in red dress dancing on the beach. African woman wearing red sundress and sunglasses having fun on the beach.

Who's at Risk?

While hyperpigmentation can occur in all skin tones, it's typically more frequent in people with darker skin. "The reason behind this is fairly intuitive," explains Dermatologist Dr. Rachel Westbay at Marmur Medical. "Because melanocytes in darker skin contain a greater amount of melanin, they have a greater tendency to overproduce melanin in response to external factors."

Hyperpigmentation also appears more in women than men since female hormones estrogen and progesterone can cause melanin overproduction following sun exposure.

How Does Sunscreen for Hyperpigmentation Work?

So, can sunscreen help hyperpigmentation? Absolutely. In fact, Dr. Westbay says sunscreen is the first product she recommends to patients with hyperpigmentation.

Melanin acts as the skin's natural sun defense by protecting cellular DNA from harmful UV rays. When your skin is overexposed to the sun, it responds by increasing the number of melanin pigments. Photodamage from both chronic and intermittent bursts of UV radiation encourages pigment-producing cells to become more active, resulting in dark spots.

"SPF blocks the UV radiation that injures cells," Dr. Westbay says. "Once that damage sets in, there is no way to completely erase the clock and start with a clean slate. Daily use of a broad-spectrum SPF 30+ sunscreen is the absolute best way to prevent the development of hyperpigmentation [and] to improve how fast it resolves."

Chemical vs. Mineral Sunscreen for Hyperpigmentation

So, what's the best sunscreen for hyperpigmentation? Sunscreen comes in two forms: chemical and mineral. Chemical sunscreens—which include blockers like Avobenzone, Oxybenzone, Octinoxate, and Octocrylene—protect you by absorbing UV rays.

Mineral sunscreen blockers Zinc Oxide and Titanium Dioxide, on the other hand, work by creating a barrier on top of the skin to physically reflect UV rays. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, sunscreens that include one or both of these mineral blockers are best for resolving hyperpigmentation. Because they don't absorb into your skin, mineral sunscreens are also great for children and people with sensitive skin.

Try a formula like EltaMD UV Restore Tinted Broad-Spectrum SPF 40. This 100 percent mineral sunscreen includes Ginger Root Extract to minimize the appearance of discoloration and antioxidants to combat skin-aging free radicals.

Tinted vs. Untinted Sunscreen

If you're looking to beat hyperpigmentation, you may be interested in tinted sunscreens. These sunscreens leverage Iron Oxides to provide light coverage and better blendability. They also help camouflage discoloration while protecting your skin from the sun and blue light from cellphones and laptops. Try EltaMD UV Clear Tinted Broad-Spectrum SPF 46, a tinted hybrid sunscreen with skin brightener Niacinamide, antioxidant Vitamin E, and super-hydrator Hyaluronic Acid. For a deeper tint, try EltaMD UV Clear Deep Tinted Broad Spectrum SPF, a sunscreen designed and tested for deeper skin tones and containing 5% Niacinamide to help reduce the appearance of blemishes and discoloration on your skin.

Remember: UV rays are present every day—even when it's cloudy, raining, and snowing. The best way to fade and prevent hyperpigmentation is to apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher every morning and to reapply at least every two hours.

Products and In-Office Treatments

Now that you've got your sunscreen game down pat, here are some ways to help even out your skin tone.

Active Ingredients

Retinoids are active skin care ingredients that improve hyperpigmentation and stimulate collagen production. Some require a prescription, while you can buy others over the counter, like Retinol. They work by speeding up skin cell turnover, which removes the over-pigmented cells sitting on your skin's surface. Retinoids make your skin extra sun-sensitive, so keep up your daily sunscreen habit.

If sunscreen, Retinoids, and time aren't giving you the results you're hoping for, consult a Dermatologist to discuss alternative actives like Hydroquinone and Tranexamic Acid. Always use these ingredients under your Derm's careful guidance.

Cosmetic Solutions

Other options include cosmetic treatments like chemical peels, microneedling, and laser treatments. Always do your research and consult a Derm who's experienced with these specific treatments for people with your skin tone. For example, Dr. Westbay explains that it's "nearly impossible to recommend one laser over another without seeing a patient in person. This is where seeing a Dermatologist is key."

Your Derm will be able to explain the risks and benefits of each treatment depending on your type of hyperpigmentation, body surface area, and skin tone.

Over-the-Counter Options

For less invasive topical treatments, over-the-counter brightening ingredients can help. Look for products containing antioxidants and skin brighteners like Vitamin C and Niacinamide. Less aggressive skin exfoliators like Kojic Acid, Glycolic Acid, Salicylic Acid, and Azelaic Acid can also help to slowly lift off areas of hyperpigmentation.

Resolving Hyperpigmentation One Day at a Time

Once you decide to tackle hyperpigmentation, the time it takes to fade depends on the type you have, how often you use sunscreen, and whether you leverage active ingredients, cosmetic treatments, or over-the-counter topicals. Whatever solutions you may dig up in your research, use sunscreen every day and team up with a Derm to tackle your hyperpigmentation—and any other skin issue that comes your way. After all, teamwork makes the dream work, and healthy, radiant skin is a dream worth pursuing.

Author

  • Jessica DiJulio, MA, MMS, PA-C

    Jessica DiJulio is a board-certified physician assistant. She graduated from the Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University as a member of its inaugural class. She enjoys all aspects of dermatology including working with inflammatory skin conditions like atopic dermatitis in children, adults and using her master's degree in English to contribute as a freelance medical writer.

    View all posts