Hyperpigmentation is one of the most difficult skin conditions to treat on your own, but that doesn't mean it's a lost cause. There are some options for treatment, but can sunscreen help hyperpigmentation?
Just as it helps prevent skin cancer and signs of aging, sunscreen is one of the best treatments for hyperpigmentation. There are also plenty of ingredients, treatments, and products that can help even out skin tone and prevent future dark spots from occurring.
To explain how you can best treat hyperpigmentation, Dermatologist Dr. Rachel Maiman at Marmur Medical offers a breakdown of this very common skin concern.
What Is Hyperpigmentation?
Hyperpigmentation is what happens when the skin produces more melanin than usual, making spots or patches of skin in the affected area appear darker than your natural skin tone.
Dr. Maiman says that causes of this increased production vary. Some conditions like melasma and sun spots occur with exposure to the sun, and other conditions like postinflammatory hyperpigmentation occur following cutaneous inflammation or injury.
While hyperpigmentation can occur in all skin tones, it is typically more frequent in people with darker skin. "The reason behind this is fairly intuitive," Dr. Maiman explains. "Because melanocytes in darker skin contain a greater amount of melanin, they have a greater tendency to overproduce melanin in response to external factors." She also says it appears more in women than men because female hormones estrogen and progesterone can cause overproduction of melanin in the skin following sun exposure.
Sunscreen As Your Best Defense
So, can sunscreen help hyperpigmentation? Absolutely. In fact, Dr. Maiman says the first product she recommends to patients with hyperpigmentation is sunscreen.
Melanin acts as the skin's natural sunscreen by protecting cellular DNA from harmful rays. When the skin is overexposed to the sun, the skin responds by increasing the number of melanin pigments. The photodamage from both chronic and intermittent bursts of ultraviolet (UV) radiation encourages pigment-producing cells to become more active, resulting in spots that are darker than the surrounding skin.
"SPF blocks the UV radiation that injures cells," Maiman 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." When in doubt, sunscreen for hyperpigmentation such as EltaMD's UV Restore Broad-Spectrum SPF 40 or EltaMD's UV Glow Broad Spectrum SPF 36 is your best bet.
Products and In-Office Treatments
Although hyperpigmentation can be difficult to treat, Dr. Maiman says there are many prescriptions and over-the-counter products that are known to help even out skin tone.
Retinoids and retinols are active skin care ingredients that treat a number of skin concerns, including hyperpigmentation. They stimulate cell turnover and remove over-pigmented cells that are sitting on the surface. Assuming the aggravating factor has been removed from the equation, the skin that replaces the removed cells may better match your natural skin tone.
If sunscreen, retinoids, and time don't work as expected, you should consult a Dermatologist to see if something stronger could be appropriate. After review, your Dermatologist may recommend hydroquinone, a skin-lightening agent that works by reducing the enzyme involved in producing melanin. It's the only FDA-approved product for hyperpigmentation on the market, but should only be used carefully. Overuse of this substance has been known to cause serious blue-black discoloration, so if you're recommended this option, be sure to follow your doctor's directions and product instructions carefully.
For less invasive topical treatments, Dr. Maiman also lists brightening ingredients like vitamin C, niacinamide, kojic acid, and azelaic acid as effective in treating hyperpigmentation. She adds that glycolic acid will also help as it exfoliates the skin and enhances anti-pigment ingredients in penetrating the skin to get better results.
Finally, you can turn to laser treatments to even out dark spots. For postinflammatory hyperpigmentation and some cases of melasma, in-office resurfacing lasers that specifically target melanin work great, Maiman explains. But to find the right laser with the right wavelength, always do your research and consult a Dermatologist who is experienced with these specific laser treatments for people with your skin tone. "It is nearly impossible to recommend one laser over another without seeing a patient in person," she says. "This is where seeing a Dermatologist is key."
Whatever solutions you may dig up in your research, be sure to apply a daily sunscreen and team up with a Dermatologist to tackle your hyperpigmentation and any other skin issue that comes your way.