Simply put—Black is beautiful. Every different hue, from cinnamon to sienna, golden caramel to deep cocoa, is radiant and unique. We have learned over time to love and embrace our complexions, and care for our skin and its unique needs—from the nostalgic scents of cocoa butter as a kid, to sun-kissed bronzed cheeks into adulthood. But for me, there was always a pesky little culprit that threatened to steal my skin’s shine. It’s name? Hyperpigmentation.

As is common during adolescence, I began to experience acne as a preteen. Sure, the bumps here and there were annoying and unwanted, but they typically went away after a week or so max. Nothing a little toothpaste and patience couldn’t remedy. But the remnants of the acne was far more difficult to cure and cope with, for scarring was almost always a result and lasted for months and months after the teeny pimple had been zapped away. And as if it weren’t bad enough that these bothersome dark brown spots were leaving their mark on my face, they were elsewhere too! My back and shoulders are no strangers to the evil discolorations. Imagine being a teenager and trying to do simple things like go to the pool, or wear a fun tank top in the summer when the only thing you can think about is your skin. Yea, not so fun.

For a while, I thought I was alone in this battle against my spotted skin. But after finally visiting a dermatologist as a young adult, I was able to gain a full understanding of this extremely common skin condition. During that session, I learned many of the causes, effects, and treatments associated with hyperpigmentation.

Hyperpigmentation is a condition that is caused by an increase in the skin’s melanin production. As you may already know, melanin is the pigment that gives color to skin and hair. Unfortunately, due to the high levels of melanin in our skin, individuals of color are highly susceptible to this common plight; the darker the skin, the more prone to discoloration an individual will be.

There are many factors that will trigger or intensify the appearance of dark spots and scarring. For me, Post-Inflammatory Hyperpigmentation (PIH) has been a direct result of acne. PIH is a discoloration that occurs following an inflammatory wound to the skin; this can include pimples, cuts, burns, picking, etc. When such a trauma takes place, skin cells are automatically triggered to regenerate and produce melanin in order to heal the wound. But the result is typically excessive levels of pigment that surpass the intensity and lifespan of the original spot. Aside from acne, certain drugs and antibiotics can also cause hyperpigmentation, as well as cosmetic procedures like laser hair removal and microdermabrasion. It’s important to note that dark spots are triggered, and extremely intensified, by direct exposure to sunlight, as well. Thus, lack of sunscreen use will only make matters ten times worst.

Luckily for us, hyperpigmentation is not permanent, and has several treatments—both natural and chemical. Without remedy, these flat darkened spots will naturally fade away over time. But this can be a very lengthy process. Natural solutions such as glycolic acid, cocoa and shea butters, and Vitamins A/C/E are great for targeting marks because they heal damaged cells. The results of such products are especially effective when used after gentle exfoliation of the skin.

Another popular option is a chemical lightening agent called Hydroquinone. Hydroquinone is available in varying potencies, typically 1-2% (over-the counter) or 3-4% (by prescription only). It works by blocking the enzymes responsible for melanin production. Thus, it should only be applied directly to the dark spots (otherwise, you will be lightening your regular skin as well). It is strongly advised that products with hydroquinone be used at night, as they can have reverse effects when exposed to sunlight; spots will actually become darker! Even once the creams have soaked into the skin overnight, sunscreen is an absolute must. Contrary to popular belief, we, too, need to protect our skin from the sun’s harmful UV rays.

Here are some products you can try to treat hyperpigmentation and help achieve flawless, even skin!

1. DDF Fade Gel 4, $56, Sephora.com
2. Black Opal Dual Complex Fade Gel, $11.09, amazon.com
3. Coco + Creme Favorite: Palmer’s Scar Serum, Vitamin E, $10.99, drugstore.com
4. Ambi Even & Clear Targeted Mark Minimizer, $10.49, ambiflawlessskin.com
5. Alpha Hydrox Spot Light Targeted Skin Lightener, $9.99, drugstore.com
6. Ambi Skin Discoloration Fade Cream, for Normal Skin, $5.99, ambiflawlessskin.com
7. Skin Success Eventone Fade Cream, $5.79, drugstore.com

  • http://sownbrooklyn.wordpress.com Wanett

    Let’s not forget the opposite side of this coin. Some people experience skin becoming lighter in spots. I have no clue what causes it to happen but I would love some insight on this as well.

    • Diane

      I have hypopigmentation as a result of tinea. I hate it. Hopefully a dermatologist can tell you what’s going on.

    • Tina

      I have hypopigmentation also. Six years, 3 biopsies, loads of ointments and creams, and several dermatologists later, I still don’t know what’s going on. I hate it, too. :(

    • Diane

      Yeah, it’s the worst. It came out of nowhere when I was a teenager. I was prescribed creams as well, but you probably already know how time consuming it is to use them. I haven’t been to a derm in a long time so I was trying over the counter stuff like Nizoral and Selsun Blue. It works for some people, but it takes months for skin color to return to its normal state.

    • Amina

      I’ve had it too for the past 19 years. Just like you, my derms through the years are pretty clueless as to the cause of this condition.

      The only thing that’s kept it at bay (for me) is African Black Soap/Dudu Osun. My arms an legs used to be covered in light spots (I didn’t wear shorts/skirts EVER during middle and high school), now I only have one or two tiny ones. Also, staying far away from creamy drugstore body washes (ie Dove, Olay, Suave etc) has helped.

    • Melody

      My friend’s skin started developing lighter spots. She went to her dermatologist who gave her some cream, some sort of steroid cream I think. It’s back to normal now. I suggest you visit a dermatologist as he might be able to offer something and have your skin back to it’s normal state.

    • Hana

      I’ve experienced this also, all through my teens. A dermatologist diagnosed me with Pityriasis alba. Using a good eczema cream like e45 and sunscreen prevents and eventually got rid of it for me.

  • GlamNiki

    My hyperpigmentation occurs around the bikini line, as a result of regular waxing. Are any of these products safe for use in such a delicate area?

    • Coco and Creme

      Yes, Niki! That is a very common problem area and most of these products will be just fine. If you have any worries, you can stick to the Palmer’s Scar Serum which has mostly natural active ingredients.

      Remember that with the bikini area, exfoliation and proper aftercare are key to avoiding marks from ingrowns. If used directly after the service is rendered, products like Tend Skin and Prince Reign’s are known to work wonders!

      ~ Chelsea of C&C

    • http://www.youtube.com/SuniDays87 SuniDays87

      How did you get rid of and clear away all of the hyperpigmentation on your back and shoulders and face??? I have that problem and am currently in the process of clearing it all away. So, I would like to know what actually worked for others.
      ~Thanks.

  • grw5459

    I agree with Wanett. I have been experiencing light areas around my mouth, and I’m not sure why!

    • mely

      Do you lick your lips a lot? If you do, apparently the enzymes in your saliva can cause the skin around your lips to lighten. Keep lipbalm handy for when your lips get dry and avoid licking the skin around your lips and you should be fine. Don’t know how to reverse the lightening though

  • Me27

    i suffer from hyperpigmentation due to my acne. I’ve been using Bio Oil to take care of it and it seems to work wonders for me.

  • fr

    This has been a god send article. I have had acne FOR years and the scars are nothing nice. Because its getting colder I am thinking about getting the scars lightened and I have been looking for the best cream. So I will give some of these recommendations a try. Thank you!

  • KB

    Omg, I am shocked to see a black fashion magazine encouraging its readers to use bleaching creams without giving them all the facts first! As someone who has studied the effects of creams that contain hydroquinone on black African women, I would never recommend that anyone use it!

    These creams often work against your skin by making it blotchier (yes, even if you use it as spot treatment). I encourage everyone to read more about hydroquinone’s effects before using it…Remember that companies who market these creams know very well of the negative connotations that surround bleaching. So now they are using different phrases to make the creams sound more positive…Different words, same creams! Be careful, ladies.

    • fr

      Thanks for the suggestion. Now, do you have any recommendations? It is a shame people cannot get rid of acne scars because bleaching creams have a negative view in the black community. I have heard about the effects of hydroquinone. And I have seen dermatologists who have recommended things that were equally as bad. I think the research you are doing is great, but instead up just bashing a cream, please give us recommendations of better and safer alternatives.

      Thank you!

    • KB

      Sure! If it’s acne scars, I’d suggest a mixture of lemon and A LITTLE bit of tea tree essential oil as spot treatment. Let it soak in your skin until it dries out, and wash your face later with cold water. I’d do honey facial treatments at least once a week (you can mix with lemon for this too!) Many Indians have used fresh lemons to lighten dark pigmentation for years. Remember it’s acidic so it may tingle!

      You can also use 100% unrefined cocoa butter all over your face and it will gradually even out your skin tone. This also works for pigmented stretch marks. I’d mix the unrefined cocoa butter with aloe vera gel and vitamin e as a daily moisturizer. Try not to use Palmer’s products because, while they do have benefits, you can probably achieve better results from using the natural ingredients as they are more potent that way…

      If you want to purchase a cream, get something with alpha hydroxy acids in it. Your derma probably recommended this already but these acids are amazing for removing dead skin cells and for increasing the production of collagen. Also very good for improving hydration and preventing clogged pores. I think Clutch suggested a product with alpha hydroxy acids, so maybe you should check that out?

      You can choose to use the bleaching creams if you want, I just think you should know there are other options that are safer. In fact, if you’re going to use a bleaching cream with hydroquinone, don’t use it on your face first! Use it on another part of your body to see how your skin reacts to it.

      I know that facial scars can be extremely frustrating, but just remember that no scar will go away over night. It sucks, but it takes patience!

    • http://www.beautyisdiverse.com Beauty Is Diverse

      And thanks for provided alternatives to help remove marks without using fade cremes. I use pure vitamin e oil , cocoa butter , castor oil etc. And they work well, it takes time but it still works.

    • fr

      Thank you, I will give lemon juice a shot!

    • http://www.beautyisdiverse.com Beauty Is Diverse

      “It is a shame people cannot get rid of acne scars because bleaching creams have a negative view in the black community. ”

      I totally agree , people of various ethnic backgrounds want to acheive even tone skin and or remove darks marks. Wanting to do so should not be looked down on.

  • Miss S

    Be careful using hyrdroquinone if you have sensitive skin.

    I have hyperpigmentation as a result of hormonal acne. I read that rubbing avocados on your face helped skin cell turnover, so I have been doing it for a few days. (I’m desperate and willing to try anything at this point).

    If you have breakouts around your period, you likely have hormonal acne, and the birth control pill may be able to help you. (It makes me sick).

    I also read that creams with retinol help blemishes and acne. I purchased a mini tube of retinol cream by Philosophy and used it nightly and I had way less breakouts than I normally do at that time of the month. Most of the ones over the counter don’t have a high concentration, but a dermatologist can prescribe a stronger one.

  • binks

    Thanks for this article, I have been plague with hyperpigmentation as well, and being light skin you can clearly see them it is like day and night on my skin. I am always a bit skeptical of creams because I used one that was so strong that it gave me headaches even after I stop using it so I would tell anyone to do research and test it out first or look into natural ingredients to help this problem

  • Lizz

    AMBI is a no! no! 4 me it lightened my complexion and worsened the discoloured areas,I now use a concoction of water,lemon juice,glycerin and/or tissue oil……castor oil is awesome but i hate the smell.

  • Mo Fab

    Hyperpigmentation comes and goes as our skin is challenged. Being acne prone and tired of using some of the great products listed in this article that made my skin negatively react I found other ways to improve my skin. Serum, Serum, Serum! Serums are EXCELLENT because they are lightweight, anti aging, and potent with nutrients for overall redefining and maintenance. It is a GREAT way to improve the texture and clear spots (obviously you have to research the best serum for your needs). Also, Ladies, don’t forget we still have to scrub and mask once a week along w/ plenty of water. I have had such improvements in my skin– Hydraquinone is not my friend. But Serums are– my recommendation: Marie Louise Cosmetics moistraiser

  • Alysha

    I LOVE AMBI SKIN CARE!!! OMG. I use the Foaming Facial Cleanser, the Exfoliating Wash and the moisturizer! They worked wonders on my skin. I started using them my sophomore year of college bc the stuff I had used previously seemed to be doing more harm than good- my skin was oily and broke out all the time. I remember going home for spring break after I’d been using Ambi for a few weeks and my parents staring me hard in the face. When I asked them if I had something on my face, they said no, but that my skin was glowing.

    I’ve never used the fade creams, because just the combination of the cleansers and moisturizer worked wonder for the acne marks I had all along my hair line and forehead. The texture of my skin is also fantastic. I love Ambi and can’t say enough good things about the cleansers and moisturizer.

  • Melody

    I suffer from hyperpigmentation on my neck and underarms. I hate it too. But during the past year I have been taking care of my skin and it’s working, slowly but surely. With my armpits, I now epilate instead of shaving. I exfoliate them everytime I’m the in the shower using exfoliation gloves, works wonders. I also actually moisturise my armpits now before applying deodarant.
    My neck, I will be seeing a dermatologist in the hopes of him prescribing something for me.

    I just have horrible skin really, all over my body. So the dermatologist it is.

  • Melody

    I just wanted to add, skin bleaching creams… I wouldn’t recommend them.

    See a dermatologist who will prescribe something for you instead of just getting some Ambi from the supermarket. These creams are not safe to use. Maybe they are okay to use moderately, but even so…

  • randy

    I suffer from Hyperpigmentation and I tried EVERYTHING! None of these stuff listed above didn’t work for me. It might work for somebody else. However, I tried M2 Skin Refinish and Miracle happened! You can get it at skinstore.com or skincarerx.com. It is made with malic acid. AHAs are a safest bet for hyperpigmention. Better and safer that Hydroquinone. If you can afford it Is Clinical Active Serum is amazing too and will change your life! Invest in your skin and you will see the results. Good luck ;)

  • Shelly

    Hyperpigmentation is something that I have struggled with for a while because of acne. Once the bump is healed a black spot takes it place. I went to a dermatologist and he put me on accutane it is the only thing that will stop me from breaking out. For the dark marks I am using the 10X Gel from Tonique http://www.toniqueskincare.com/10x_Intense_All_Natural_Skin_Whitening_Gel_p/estsec.htm and it is working. Another thing that I use is sunblock religiously now and I think that has helped too. My skin looks better than it has in a long time and while it is not completely perfect I can go out without makeup now so I am happy with that.

  • http://teachermrw.com teachermrw

    IMHO, black women need to STAY AWAY from the aforementioned products. The only way to actually remove dark spots from the skin is via regular weekly at-home exfoliation treatments of the skin, and the use of quality products containing vitamins C and E. At-home care should be combined with monthly salon treatments such as deep pore cleansing facials which include microdermabrasion or peels. The microderm and peels are mildy invasive, if at all, and don’t create any downtime from one’s work or personal life.

    • kimmy

      yo suntup idiont

    • Michelle

      @kimmy this is a serious please spare us your ignorance!!

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