Hyperpigmentation is quite common and affects millions of people. Though usually harmless, skin discoloration and pigmentation can cause esthetical concerns and influence your self-esteem. So what is hyperpigmentation? In short, it is darkening of the skin that usually appears in small irregular patches, sometimes covering large areas of skin. It typically occurs on the face, neck, décolleté, and shoulders. But in some cases can affect other body parts as well. Scroll down to see which best chemical peel for hyperpigmentation made our top 10 list.
What Causes Hyperpigmentation?
In general, hyperpigmentation appears when our skin cells start producing larger amounts of melanin (pigment that’s responsible for skin color), which makes skin appear darker in some areas. This process is a natural reaction of the skin cells as they protect themselves from excessive sun exposure, blue light, skin damage, and hormonal changes. As a matter of fact, it can be inherited or acquired. Also, there are few types of hyperpigmentation that mainly differ by what caused it.
Types Of Hyperpigmentation
- Age spots (aka sun spots, dark spots, solar lentigines) small or large clusters of dark pigmented spots that appear after sun overexposure usually in adults.
- Melasma (aka chloasma) large irregular brown-greyish patches of darkened skin that are usually caused by hormonal changes.It mostly affects pregnant women, individuals who take birth control pills, and those with darker skin.
- Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation usually occurs after skin inflammation or skin damage like acne wounds, eczema, cuts, burns, etc.
- Drug-induced hyperpigmentation is triggered by some chemical topical treatments of skin, or certain medications like tricyclic antidepressants and antimalarial drugs.
How To Prevent & Treat Hyperpigmentation?
Although not always possible, hyperpigmentation preventative measures include minimizing sun exposure, wearing a sun hat and sunglasses, applying sunscreen with SPF 30+ daily, using topical antioxidants like vitamin C that provide photoprotection.
The treatment of hyperpigmentation is based on removing pigment from skin’s outer layers, increasing cell turnover, and decreasing the production of melanin. This is done with the help of skin lighteners, skin brighteners and resurfacing procedures like chemical peels, microdermabrasion, microneedling and lasers. Also, there are several natural and botanical ingredients proven to be effective as lightening and depigmenting agents. These include azelaic acid, soy, aloesin, ascorbic acid, flavonoids, ellagic acid, licorice extract, niacinamide, mulberry, and green tea extract.
In reality, treating uneven pigmentation and reversing hyperpigmentation takes time, and there is no quick solution, so be patient. However, formulations that include a combination of several skin lightening agents is proven to be the most effective.
Most Effective Skin Lighteners
According to the scientific research these are the most effective skin lightening, depigmenting and pigment lifting agents (*percentages indicate safe concentration of acids for home use).
- Hydroquinone (2%) is the best skin lightening agent and most effective for hyperpigmentation. It decreases the production of pigment, but can be toxic at high concentrations and if used for a prolonged time (3-4 months). In fact, it is banned in some countries, but not in the U.S. Moreover, a 4% strength can be found in prescription creams, and 2% available in over-the-counter products.
- Retinoids are effective in treating pigmentation since they reduce melanin production, fade hyperpigmentation and increase cell turnover.
- Azelaic acid (10-20%) is a leave-on exfoliator that helps to fade discolorations and post-acne marks, and evens out skin tone and texture. It also has anti-aging properties, provides antioxidant benefits and has been proven to reduce skin sensitivity. Additionally, azelaic acid works great with retinol, AHAs, and BHAs.
- Kojic acid (1-4%) is primarily used as skin lightener due to its effectiveness in reducing pigmentation like age spots, post-acne marks, scars, and sun damage. Moreover, its antioxidant properties enhance its depigmenting effect.
- Glycolic acid (15-30%) is naturally occurring AHA found in sugar cane. It is one of the most popular acids used in skincare due to its exfoliating and anti-aging properties. And it is also used in the treatment of hyperpigmentation since it helps to remove dead skin cells, accelerate skin turnover, and stimulate collagen production.
- Lactic Acid (10%) is derived from milk and is another popular and powerful AHA. Besides having anti-aging properties, it is also an excellent pigment-fighting ingredient used to target age spots, hyperpigmentation, and uneven skin tone and texture. Since it is gentler than glycolic acid, and might work better for sensitive skin.
- Vitamin C (10-20%) is a popular antioxidant that helps to fade hyperpigmentation and brightens the skin. It also has photoprotective properties and prevents skin from future formation of dark spots, and causes less irritation than hydroquinone. For best results, look for magnesium ascorbyl phosphate, which is one of the most stable forms of vitamin C.
- Salicylic acid (2-6%) – naturally occurring BHA derived from the sweet birch, wintergreen leaves and willow tree bark. Besides being used in acne treatments, salicylic acid is also an effective remedy for post-acne scars, mild pigmentation, freckles, melasma, photodamage and overall improvement of skin texture. It stimulates natural exfoliation and is safe for all skin types including dark skin.
- Arbutin (3%) is a nontoxic natural derivative of hydroquinone obtained from the leaves of the bearberry, cranberry, pear or blueberry plants. In fact, this skin lightener is safer than hydroquinone, and is effective in lightening dark spots, diminishing appearance of acne marks and scars, improving skin tone, and preventing future hyperpigmentation and discoloration.
- Licorice root is known for its skin lightening, depigmentation, and anti-inflammatory properties. This plant extract is effective in removing excess melanin, and is a great lightening agent for treating sun damage, acne scars, dark spots, and melasma.
- Antioxidants have a wide array of skin-benefiting properties including skin brightening and photo-protective. Also, topical antioxidants help prevent and reduce sun damage and visible light induced hyperpigmentation, lighten different types of hyperpigmentation, and even out and brighten skin tone.
10 Best Chemical Peels For Hyperpigmentation (2021)
Chemical peels are becoming very popular nowadays as means of aesthetic improvement, especially when treating uneven skin tone and hyperpigmentation. They come in different formulations and can contain one acid or a combination of several alpha hydroxy acids (AHA) and/or beta hydroxy acids (BHA). Ideally, the best chemical peel for hyperpigmentation should contain a mixture of few acids, few skin lightening agents, and hydrating ingredients.
In general, the strength of chemical peels depends on the concentration of the active ingredients. Using chemical peels frequently and in high concentrations might cause skin irritation, dryness and skin peeling. Thus, it is important to use topical hydrating products like serums and moisturizers in conjunction with chemical peels.
If you are a beginner to AHAs and BHAs, start by using chemical peels with lower concentrations. For example, 5%-10% AHAs, and/or 0.5% – 2% BHA, and gradually make your way up as your skin builds tolerance to the acids. Above all, please avoid temptation to use chemical peels in high concentrations (30% and more), as they are not meant for home use and can burn your skin. It is important to remember that chemical peels increase skin’s sensitivity to the sun. So it is highly recommended to use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF 30+.
Herbivore Botanicals Prism Exfoliating Glow Facial
not for beginners
This exfoliating facial is made with a blend of highly concentrated acids and will work better for those who had prior experience with chemical peels. The 20% fruit based strong acids (AHA) include glycolic, lactic, tartaric and malic acids. And 5% plant based BHA is derived from the willow bark.
Designed for all skin types, it effectively exfoliates dead skin, brightens complexion, clarifies and minimizes pore size, reduces hyperpigmentation, and improves skin texture. Overall, this weekly facial is made with natural and clean ingredients, and has jelly-like texture. Also comes in a form of exfoliating serum with 12% AHA + 3% BHA.
DERMAdoctor Kakadu C Intensive Peel Pads
AHA & BHA
vitamin C & E
Loaded with antioxidants, and dark spot fighting and brightening ingredients, these intensive peel pads treat existing pigmentation and protect skin from further photodamage. The exfoliating blend of AHAs and BHAs include glycolic, lactic, mandelic, malic acids, as well as other fruit and plant derivatives. Aditionally, the peel is packed with powerful combination of vitamin C, vitamin E, and ferulic acid known for their potent brightening and photo-protective properties.
This intensive daily peel might be the best chemical peel for hyperpigmentation as it promotes cell turnover, exfoliates, fades dark spots, lightens pigmentation, protects from free-radical damage, hydrates, calms and balances complexion.
The Ordinary AHA 30% + BHA 2% Peeling Solution
for experienced users
Best chemical peel for hyperpigmentation on the budget! It is quite strong since the concentration of AHA’s blend is 30% consisting of glycolic, lactic, tartaric and citric acids, as well as 2% of salicylic acid (BHA). However, this exfoliating solution is also infused with calming and healing ingredients like Tasmanian pepperberry, hyaluronic acid, and vitamin B5, which help with post-exfoliation skin irritation.
Recommended to be used once or twice a week. Also, keep in mind that this type of peel is not safe for sensitive skin or those who are new to chemical peels.
Drunk Elephant T.L.C. Sukari Babyfacial
This potent, pro-quality weekly facial does an excellent job resurfacing skin, improving skin tone and texture, fading discolorations, and brightening the appearance of skin. The 25% AHA blend includes glycolic, tartaric, lactic and citric acids, and 2% BHA includes salicylic acid. Also, this exfoliating solution includes antioxidants like green tea, pomegranate, pumpkin ferment, apple extract, milk thistle, passion fruit, cactus, and niacinamide, which protect skin from free radicals, pollutants, also sooth and rejuvenate skin. Additional feature – it’s made with clean, non-toxic natural ingredients.
Paula’s Choice 10% Azelaic Acid Booster
10% Azelaic acid
safe for sensitive skin
Formulated as a targeted treatment for hyperpigmentation, dark spots, and uneven skin tone, this lightweight oil-free booster is an effective solution for those with sensitive skin and rosacea. It is designed without AHAs, which can cause skin irritation. Instead, the main skin lightening and depigmenting ingredients are 10% azelaic acid, licorice root extract, and salicylic acid that work together to fight the signs of hyperpigmentation.
Bonus feature – this skin booster also reduces blemishes and acne. It has lightweight lotion-like texture and non-greasy formulation. Overall, it’s best chemical peel for hyperpigmentation for sensitive skin. Recommended for daily use as a serum or in conjunction with your serum or topical cream.
Eminence Organics Bright Skin Licorice Root Exfoliating Peel
This brightening facial peel is made with all natural and organic ingredients and is one of the best chemical peel for hyperpigmentation, dark spots, skin discoloration and scar marks. The peel solution contains a blend of AHAs (lactic and mandelic), which gently exfoliate and brighten skin. In addition, this active peel includes skin lightening and depigmenting ingredients like natural hydroquinone complex, licorice root, azelaic acid, niacinamide, and antioxidants.
Overall, this peel will benefit the most those who have uneven skin tone, hyperpigmentation, or aging and sun damaged skin. This effective treatment is a leave-on, and can be used 1-3 times a week on cleansed and toned skin.
Caudalie Glycolic Peel
good for beginners
In 10 minutes you can visibly brighten dull complexion, diminish signs of hyperpigmentation, and restore radiance. This peel has cream-like texture and is designed with glycolic acid, which exfoliates and brightens. While papaya enzymes brighten skin and minimize pores, Caudelie’s exclusive ingredient Viniferine reduces dark spots, evens out skin tone and has powerful skin lightening and brightening properties.
This radiance-boosting and skin renewal peel is designed for all skin types, and recommended to be used twice a week. It is great for diminishing visible dark spots, improving skin’s texture and tone, and promoting radiance.
Dr. Dennis Gross Clinical Grade IPL Dark Spot Correcting Serum
10% vitamin C
This potent exfoliating serum is formulated specifically for the treatment of hyperpigmentation, dark spots, and skin discoloration. Some of the active skin lightening and depigmenting ingredients include 10% L-ascorbic acid, kojic acid, arbutin, licorice root, and azelaic acid. Also, this serum is loaded with AHAs like lactic, mandelic and glycolic acids, as well as powerful antioxidants, and natural and botanical depigmenting ingredients. Mild to medium skin burning sensation is possible since this serum is quite strong.
Overall, it targets hyperpigmentation by exfoliating pigmented skin cells, fading dark spots and discoloration, improving uneven skin tone, and protecting skin from environmental aggressors. Intended as an all over daily treatment.
Derma E Overnight Peel
good for beginners
Budget-friendly skin-brightening exfoliating peel that works while you sleep. The 5% blend of glycolic and lactic acids (AHAs) helps improve the appearance of age spots, lighten hyperpigmentation and even out skin tone. While, jojoba seed oil hydrates and calms skin, vitamin C and green tea extract brighten the skin and provide powerful protection from sun damage.
This effective overnight peel formulated with natural ingredients. Not only it rejuvenates the skin without irritation, but also reveals younger-looking and brighter skin. And, the formula is gentle enough to be used by those who just start introducing AHAs to their skin. Best chemical peel for hyperpigmentation for beginners.
Eminence Organic Skin Care Strawberry Rhubarb Dermafoliant
This mild yet powerful exfoliator is formulated with salicylic acid (derived from organic strawberries) and lactic acid, which gently remove dead skin cells, improve skin texture and brighten the appearance. Additionally, the rice powder and chickpea flour work together to absorb excess oil and smooth skin texture. And rich in antioxidants rhubarb and strawberry extracts help to brighten the skin, while potent BioComplex improves overall appearance of skin.
Unlike most exfoliants, this dermafoliant comes in a form of dry powder, and gets activated when combined with water. All in all, it is worth the price as it’s designed with high quality natural and organic ingredients, and lasts for a long time.
So, as you can see there are many great options of over-the-counter products that target pigmentation. If you are looking for the best chemical peel for hyperpigmentation, choose the one that is formulated with few beta and alpha hydroxy acids, skin lightening agents, and moisturizing ingredients. Also remember that it might take about 2-3 months for the result to be more visible.
√ Find out how enzyme peel can even out your skin tone.
√ Which one is better: chemical peel or microdermabrasion?
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