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Hyperpigmentation and Skin of Color

By: Jennifer Linder, MD
Posted: August 23, 2010, from the September 2010 issue of Skin Inc. magazine.

page 3 of 4

Many of the ingredients that are used to treat hyperpigmentation can be topically irritating. Therapeutic ingredients must be selected with care when treating clients with darker skin to avoid causing undue irritation that will worsen the condition rather than improve it.

To avoid stimulating pigment deposition, it is wise to use lower percentages of ingredients in blends to prevent melanogenesis, rather than one ingredient at a high percentage that could potentially be surface-stimulating. Hydroquinone is very effective at the low over-the-counter (OTC) percentage of 2%, especially when used in concert with other effective ingredients, such as lactic, kojic, ascorbic and azelaic acids, just to name a few. Care must be taken when using hydroquinone at 4% or higher on darker skin, as these are more irritating and can trigger post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. See Melanogenesis Inhibitors Appropriate for Darker-skinned Clients to identify which ingredients to look for when working with Fitzpatrick skin types IV–VI.


One of the most important steps in any daily care regimen or professional treatment is that of sun protection. A broad-spectrum moisturizer with an SPF of 30 or greater should be applied to all exposed areas every day and after any professional treatment. Although darker skin has more natural protection against UV exposure, this critical step cannot be omitted. With an understanding of the more reactive state of the melanocytes in clients with darker skin, along with blends of gentle, beneficial melanogenesis-inhibiting ingredients, great success can be achieved in treating Fitzpatrick type IV–VI clients.


1. PE Grimes, Aesthetics and Cosmetic Surgery for Darker Skin Types, Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Philadelphia, 2008 (pp 15–26)

2. (Accessed Jul 11, 2010)