POSTED: 17 Jul 2023

Best Treatments for Hyperpigmentation in Darker Skin Tones

Hyperpigmentation is a common skin condition that can affect anyone. However, people with darker skin tones are often more prone to developing this condition hence treating hyperpigmentation in brown or black skin is hard. This blog post aims to provide a thorough understanding what are the best hyperpigmentation dark skin treatments.

Understanding Hyperpigmentation in Skin of Colour

Simply put, hyperpigmentation occurs when an excess of melanin is deposited in the skin. It commonly presents as sun spots, melasma and post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. Darker skin tones have more melanin containing cells, so when the skin is injured or inflamed, these cells over produce melanin and spill their contents onto the surrounding skin. This leads to patches of hyperpigmentation which are more pronounced in brown or black skin.

The Challenges of Treating Hyperpigmentation in Dark Skin

Treating hyperpigmentation in darker skin tones presents its unique challenges. This is because skin of colour is very susceptible to post inflammatory hyperpigmentation. That means that many of the standard treatments for hyperpigmentation such as certain types skincare, lasers or chemical peels can cause irritation and worsen skin discolouration if not used appropriately.

Best Hyperpigmentation Treatments for Brown and Black Skin

When treating hyperpigmentation in brown or black skin, you need to employ a two-pronged attack. The first is to prevent the hyperpigmentation from getting worse or new patches of dark skin from developing. This means protecting your skin from the sun using a broad spectrum sunscreen of at least SPF 30. You also have to treat your skin to avoid trauma which leads to inflammation and post inflammatory hyperpigemntation. The best way to do this is be super gentl with your skin. Avoind physical exfoliants and be careful with irritating active skincare products like exfoliating acids. It also means seeing practioners who specialise in treating skin of colour when considering things like laser therapy and chemical peels.

The second step is to use hyperpigmentation treatments that actually work on darker skin. You see, not all skincare ingredients work the same on all skin tones. This is especially true for pigment suppressing products which are the backbone of fading hyperpigmentation. You will save yourself a lot of time, money and heartache by choosing the right treatment in the first place!

Hyperpigmentation Skincare That Actually Works on Darker Skin

There are many skincare products can help fade hyperpigmentation over time. These include exfoliating acids, retinoids, vitamin C and pigment suppressors.

To understand why certain treatments work better for hyperpigmentation in dark skin, its important to know a little more about melanin. Eumelanin and pheomelanin are the two primary types of melanin in the body. Eumelanin is the most common type of melanin and is found in higher concentrations in individuals with darker skin. It appears brown or black and provides more efficient sun protection so it’s more effective at protecting the skin from harmful UV radiation. In terms of hyperpigmentation, an overproduction or uneven distribution of eumelanin can lead to the dark spots or patches characteristic of this skin concern. Pheomelanin, on the other hand, is less abundant and appears yellow to red. It is more photoreactive which means it can produce harmful free radicals when exposed to UV radiation. It’s found in higher concentrations in individuals with lighter skin and red hair.

When it comes to treating hyperpigmentation, especially in individuals with darker skin tones, understanding these melanin types is crucial. Below we’ll discuss which of these actually work in treating hyperpigmentation in brown and black skin.

Hydroquinone vs Arbutin and Other Pigment Suppressors

Hydroquinone is a depigmenting agent that works by inhibiting tyrosinase, the enzyme responsible for melanin production. It specifically inhibits the production of eumelanin which is why it is more effective for treating hyperpigmentation in darker skin.

Arbutin and Kojic acid also work by inhibiting tyrosinase. However, unlike Hydroquinone, they reduces the production of melanin overall and it do not specifically target one type of melanin over another. This general action makes Arbutin and Kojic acid a less effective treatment for hyperpigmentation in darker skin.

Azelaic acid acts by selectively targeting hyperactive and abnormal melanocytes. It is gentle and leaves normal skin cells unaffected. This makes it a good choice for treating post inflammatory hyperpigmentation where melanocytes are overactive. However, it doesn’t target eumelanin specifically and it’s gentle action means results are slow and limited particularly in skin of colour.


Retinoids are derivatives of vitamin A that stimulate skin cell turnover, increase collagen and elastin production and fade hyperpigmentation. This makes them a great all rounder for treating skin ageing, acne, scarring and hyperpigmentation. In particular prescription retinoids like Tretinoin can be a great treatment for hyperpigmentation in brown and black skin. Tretinoin is often combined with Hydroquinone to treat severe hyperpigmentation. However, you must be super careful when using retinoids as they can be irritating. The best rule is to start on a low dose and frequency slowly build up as your skin tolerates it.

Vitamin C

Ascorbic acid, or Vitamin C, is a potent antioxidant that neutralises free radicals and helps to brighten the skin. Vitamin C can help to fade existing dark spots and prevent new ones from forming by disrupting melanin production. However, it’s less potent than ingredients like Hydroquinone and Tretinoin, so the results are very limited when treating hyperpigmentation in brown and clack skin.

Exfoliating acids

In general, exfoliating acids can be effective in treating hyperpigmentation but special care is needed in darker skin tones to avoid post inflammatory hyperpigmentation. Glycolic acid is usually the most problematic in skin of colour so consider using a lower strength solution or gentler options like mandelic or polyhydroxy acid. Beta hydroxy acids (BHAs) tends to cause fewer problems but caution is necessary also. Enzyme exfoliants are typically gentler than alpha hydroxy acids and BHAs so consider these if your skin is particularly prone to irritation. Regardless of which you wish to try, start with the lowest strength and frequency then build up slowly, Also patch test any new skincare before you apply it to your face.

Professional Treatments for Hyperpigmentation

Chemical peels and laser therapy are two of the most effective professional treatments for hyperpigmentation in all skin tones. However, there’s a double edged-sword as both these treatments can also irritate skin of colour and hence worsen hyperpigmentation if not used correctly. That’s why it’s important to seek these treatments from a qualified professional experienced in treating darker skin tones.

Chemical Peels

Chemical peels work by applying a solution to the skin that causes it to exfoliate and eventually peel off. This process removes old skin which contains the unevenly deposited pigment and reveals new even toned skin underneath. However, for darker skin tones, caution is needed as certain types of chemical peels like glycolic and TCA as well as deeper peels can cause hyperpigmentation if not used correctly. As such, you should find a practitioner that has experience in treating skin of colour with peels. They will choose the best and safest peel and protocol for your skin. they may also help you prepare your skin for the peel and offer aftercare to reduce post inflammatory hyperpigmentation.

Laser Treatments

Lasers target and break down excess pigmentation to give an even skin tone. However, certain lasers can cause more harm than good in darker skin tones due to the risk of thermal injury. When considering laser treatments, choose a clinic that is experienced and preferably specialises in treating skin of colour. They will have lasers that are safe for darker skin tones, for example like the Nd:YAG laser, and will employ protocols that reduce the risk of post inflammatory hyperpigmentation.

Whilst hyperpigmentation can be a challenging skin issue to tackle, especially in darker skin tones, there are various effective treatment options available. Its important to choose skincare products that are known to work on skin of colour. Its also critical to see a skin professional who is experienced in treating brown and black skin if you’re consider treatments like chemical peels and lasers. Regardless of the treatment option you choose, keep in mind that treating hyperpigmentation in any skin tone takes time. Improvement is generally seen over months, not days or weeks. Persistence is key and patience will get you everywhere.

We know that treating hyperpigmentation in darker skin tones presents unique challenges. At City Skin Clinic, our doctors are experienced in treating skin of colour. We provide prescription skin products that are effective for treating hyperpigmentation in darker skin tones which we deliver straight to your door. Book a virtual consultation with one of our doctors who will create a personalised treatment plan for you.


Authored by:

Dr Amel Ibrahim
Aesthetic Doctor & Medical Director
Founder City Skin Clinic
Member of the Royal College of Surgeons of England
Associate Member of British Association of Body Sculpting GMC Registered - 7049611

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