As Brits, we can’t help but be sun worshippers when the rays touch our vitamin D-deprived skin.
Sunshine has the extraordinary ability to make us feel good - physically and mentally - and yet is the number one cause of skin damage and can have a huge impact on our complexions.
One such effect is hyperpigmentation where the increased production of melanin leaves spots or patches in a deeper shade than our usual skin tones. So common is this that 43 per cent of women in the UK are concerned about it.
Incorporating topical skincare products is one way to speed up the renewal process and minimise the appearance of discoloration - and this goes hand in hand with treating acne scars too. The latter is hugely complex and is very dependent on the scar in question but for the more superficial appearing ones, you can add gently exfoliating products to your routine that could, in the long run, return your complexion to its original state. It is worth stressing that patience is required here, especially if the scarring is deep under the skin’s surface.
We called on the expertise of Dr Derrick Phillips, a top dermatologist from the Cadogan Clinic to decode hyperpigmentation and acne scarring.
What is hyperpigmentation?
Hyperpigmentation is the term used to describe brown to grey patches of darker skin that can occur on the face or the body. It occurs due to overproduction of the pigment melanin, which is usually produced to protect the skin cells from damage from ultraviolet light. When hyperpigmentation is generalised and occurs after sun exposure, it is called a tan. Smaller areas of hyperpigmentation can occur on areas that are exposed to the sun for many years such as the back of the hand, where they are called ‘sun spots’ or solar lentigines.
What are the causes of hyperpigmentation?
Hyperpigmentation can occur anywhere on the skin, face or body and appear at any time. There are some more common causes such as:
Hyperpigmentation of all kinds is related to sun exposure. UVA is an important cause and exacerbating factor however, it is now known that hight energy visible light (i.e. blue light), is an important factor, particularly in skin of colour.
In some individuals, inflammation of the skin leads to small dark spots of hyperpigmentation called ‘post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation’. This is more common in black and brown skin.
Melasma is a condition in which hyperpigmented patches occur on the forehead, cheeks and upper lips. It is also known as ‘pregnancy mask’ as it is related to oestrogen and often occurs in relation to pregnancy or use of a combined oral contraceptive pill.
How can you counteract hyperpigmentation?
The most important step is to use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with UVB, UVA and high energy visible light coverage. The pigment can be treated using enzymes that block pigment production (tyrosinase inhibitors), chemical peels and tablets. It is best to see a dermatologist who is able to assess the type of hyperpigmentation and prescribe a treatment that is suitable for your needs and skin type.
Do topical skincare products work for hyperpigmentation?
Topical treatments remain the cornerstone of management of melasma. Tyrosinase inhibitors like azelaic acid and niacinamide, hydroquinone and medical grade retinoids can all be used with good therapeutic outcomes.
What are the different types of acne scars and how to do encourage healing?
Acne scars occur due to abnormal healing after the spots have resolved. Over-exuberant healing leads to too much collagen being produced and elevated scars (hypertrophic or keloid). When there is an overproduction of destructive enzymes and not enough collagen, depressed or atrophic scars can form. Atrophic scars include ice pick scars, boxcar scars and rolling scars.
Hyperpigmentation can also occur in skin of colour following resolution of spots. In fairer skin people, injury to blood vessels during the healing process can lead to persistent redness, also known as post-inflammatory erythema.
Possible treatments include microneedling, chemical peels, laser resurfacing and the TCA cross technique, to name a few.
What ingredients should you look out for?
Vitamin C helps to brighten the skin, protects against free radicals and stimulates new collagen formation.
Hydroquinone derivates are well established skin brightening treatments but should be used under the supervision of a trained dermatologist.
Retinol and related compounds are exfoliating and can reduce the appearance of fine lines and pigmentation. Those with sensitive skin should start on a lower strength product and gradually build up over time.
Shop the best products for hyperpigmentation and acne scarring below
Murad Rapid Dark Spot Correcting Serum
The results speak for themselves with Murad and its Rapid Dark Spot Correcting Serum. With continual use, you should notice dark spots fading in colour after just a few applications. The serum texture of the product, which should be used daily after cleansing and toning and followed by moisturiser, encourages cell turnover with a brightening and glow-enhancing effect. It combines the subtle exfoliation of glycolic acid with the antioxidant resorcinol to even out skin tone and smooth skin at the same time. The texture is light so can be layered under makeup if needed.
The brand’s InvisiScar Resurfacing Treatment (£35) should also be on your radar.
Buy now £75.00, FeelUnique
Sunday Riley U.F.O. Ultra-Clarifying Face Oil
When it comes to blemish busting, salicylic acid is the ingredient you need on your radar - and it just so happens to take a starring role in this face oil from Sunday Riley. The powerhouse has a chemical exfoliating effect to tackle past, present and future breakouts. There’s also hexylresorcinol and liquorice contained within the formula that helps with discolouration and tea tree and black cumin seed oil for the antibacterial properties. If that all sounds like an overload on the skin, fear not. Neroli and chamomile offer a soothing antidote. The oil is lightweight in texture but packs a real punch to fight off acne by clarifying the skin (the clue is in the name).
Buy now £34.00, Cult Beauty
Kate Somerville Microbiome Blemish Mark Fading Gel
Why is it always before a big event or an important milestone that a flare up occurs? Banish the blemishes and their after effects with Kate Somerville and this gel that will be a stalwart in your bathroom cabinet. It is a fairly potent, concentrated formula that works quickly with a combination of niacinamide that is renowned for its anti-inflammatory properties, salicylic acid and a prebiotic complex to counteract dryness and leave your skin feeling soft and smooth. A little goes a long way.
Buy now £58.00, Kate Somerville
Peace Out Dark Spots Serum
Peace Out was created by the founder Enrico Frezza in a response to his own struggles with acne. The brand takes a no-nonsense approach to blemish busting with powerhouse products that are simple to use.
This serum combines AHAs and active ingredients to tackle dark spots and give a radiance boost to dull complexions. Whether it’s discoloration, age spots, pollution damage or hyperpigmentation, the combination of Tranexamic Acid, Kojic Acid and Alpha-Arbutin gets to work to lighten and brighten.
For a more targetted treatment, try the brand’s Dark Spots patches.
Buy now £24.00, Beauty Bay
The Ordinary Lactic Acid 10% + HA 2% Superficial Peeling Formulation
In a bid to even out and improve your skin’s texture, The Ordinary has formulated this formula with AHA hero lactic acid - known for its exfoliation properties - and Tasmanian pepperberry to calm inflammation. While it feels lightweight on the skin, it packs a serious punch in encouraging regeneration that improves the appearance of both hyperpigmentation and acne scarring. But don’t be put off by the word ‘peeling’ in the product’s name. Even those with sensitive or dry skin can incorporate this into their routines as it combines the aforementioned ingredients with hyauloric acid with its renowned hydrating benefits. Don’t use during pregnancy.
Buy now £6.90, lookfantastic
Glow Recipe Guava Vitamin C + Ferulic Dark Spot Serum
Tackling texture, tone and clarity is this supercharged serum from K Beauty favourite Glow Recipe. The South Koren-born label uses fruit and fruit-derived ingredients as the brand signature. It’s guava that takes a starring role in this product, which is comined with some seriously buzzy components. The cocktail includes anti-ageing vitamin A, radiance boosting vitamin C, free radical fighting ferulic acid, nourishing vitamin E and resufacing acids to bring you smooth and glowy skin with the minimisation in hyperpigmentation.
The pastel pink hue might not give the impression that this is a hard-working and efficacious product but you’d be sorely mistaken to judge a book by its cover.
Buy now £41.00, Cult Beauty
SkinCeuticals Advanced Scar Control
In a 12 week study, this product was found to improve the appearance of scars by up to 29 per cent as well as even out skin by 33 per cent. As part of SkinCeuticals’ science-backed collection comes the Advanced Scar Control, an allantoin-based product that calms irritation, while also benefitting skin texture, discoloration and uneven complexions. Alongside this ingredient is silicone where in gel form, it creates an invisible layer to optimise the healing process.
Buy now £87.99, Face the Future
Paula's Choice Clinical Discoloration Repair Serum
This super serum contains just about every ingredient worth knowing - and we’d expect nothing less from Paula’s Choice. The brand takes a science-first approach to bring results and that runs true for the Discoloration Repair Serum. The hardworking product uses tranexamic acid, niacinamide and a natural retinol alternative bakuchiol to give dark spots a radiance boost, while also preventing future ones from occuring. The texture, while appearing creamy, is lightweight and can seamlessly be worn under makeup.
Buy now £36.80, Paula's Choice
The INKEY List Mandelic Acid Treatment
Pesky pimples have met their match with this treatment from The INKEY List. It’s a spot treatment that also works to reduce the appearance of hyperpigmentation and post acne scarring. Taking a key role is mandelic acid, an exfoliating AHA derived from bitter almonds that can even be used on sensitive skin. It is combined with retinol, a potentially surprising conocotion that just works on fine lines, wrinkles, dark marks and will also leave skin looking brighter. Apply at night and follow by SPF come morning.
Buy now £9.99, Cult Beauty
111SKIN Y Theorem Repair Light Serum NAC Y2
This multi-tasking hero from 111SKIN is a reparative, high performance product that has got you covered whether its sun damage, acne scarring, or inflammation. It has a light, water gel-like consistency that smoothes over the skin with a cooling effect and melts immediately on contact. It spotlights the brand’s NAC Y2 complex, a signatue of the label that was created in conjuction with space scientists and contains collagen and elastic to shield against external aggressors. This is combined with brightening liquorice root, the anti-inflammatories calendula and niacinamide as well as hyaluronic acid for added moisture.
Buy now £190.00, lookfantastic
VERSO Dark Spot Fix
This product from VERSO does what is says on the tin. It acts as a targeted treatment, which you apply direcly onto the dark spots in question to counteract discolouration and marks to leave an even complexion. At the heart is the highest dose of Retinol 8 Complex that you’ll find across the range so there’s benefits to fine lines and wrinkles too as it works to stimulate your skin’s natural production of collagen.
Buy now £85.00, lookfantastic