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Shining the Light on Natural Ingredients to Treat Hyperpigmentation

Posted: March 26, 2014

Although it is one of the most common skin conditions, hyperpigmentation can be difficult to treat and often leads to a negative impact on a person’s psychological well being. Characterized by a darkening of the skin due to an increase in melanin (the natural substance that gives skin its color or pigment), hyperpigmentation is commonly treated with topical treatments with varying degrees of success. While hydroquinone has been the gold standard of treatment for hyperpigmentation for decades, some people would rather use a more natural-based product to try to lighten skin affected by dark patches. Now, new topical ingredients—including some that are plant-based—are offering more treatment alternatives showing promise for this tricky skin condition.

American Academy of Dermatology expert

Information is provided by board-certified dermatologist Rebat M. Halder, MD, FAAD, professor and chair in the department of dermatology at Howard University College of Medicine in Washington, D.C.

Why hyperpigmentation occurs

Halder explained that there are three main causes of hyperpigmentation:

New ingredients expand topical treatment options

Since hyperpigmentation is such a prevalent skin condition and can affect people of all skin tones in varying degress, research is continuously being conducted on new ingredients that can safely and effectively lighten dark spots on the skin. Halder stressed that the mainstay of treatment for hyperpgimentation is year-round sun protection—using a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher to maximize the benefit of any skin lightening product.

Halder provided details on some of the newer ingredients, including some derived from plants, which are being used in topical treatments for hyperpigmentation in the United States. They include the following:



Ellagic acid

Lignin peroxidase

In addition, studies have shown that these four ingredients pose little or no allergy risk, so they might be more tolerable to consumers who are allergic to other natural lightening agents. If an allergic reaction occurs, Halder explained that consumers should discontinue use and see a board-certified dermatologist for treatment.

The following three ingredients have also shown promise as skin lighteners, but they can cause an allergic reaction in some individuals:


Kojic acid


AAD expert advice

“Those affected by hyperpigmentation who would like to use a topical treatment to lighten their skin should consult a board-certified dermatologist who can help separate fact from fiction in terms of product claims," said Halder. "It's important to remember that even topical treatments backed by science do not work overnight, as it takes time and consistent use to product a noticeable improvement. Consumers should aslo be cautious about odering skin-lightening products via the Internet, as the country of origin for the active ingredients might be unknown—raising questions as to the purity or effectiveness of these ingredients, as well as the product's overall quality."