There is a common thought amongst people of color: hyperpigmentation is impossible to treat in darker skin tones. The truth is that while it is more difficult to treat or erase hyperpigmentation (such as dark spots left behind from inflammation and skin conditions like melasma), there are treatment options available that can help reduce the appearance of these areas.
Skin Lightening Products – this treatment plan can help to lighten dark spots/areas on the skin, even in darker skin tones. These products may be serums, creams or pads that contain one or more topical skin lightening ingredients such as hydroquinone or kojic acid. Your dermatologist will determine the best plan for your skin, but these products are usually used short-term. In skin of color, it is also especially important to remember to protect your skin from the sun because UV rays are even more likely to darken skin making the discoloration worse.
Chemical Peels – Peels are another great option for treating hyperpigmentation in all skin types, including skin of color. Chemical peels –in particular, in-office peels- penetrate deeply into the outer layers of skin to peel away these layers of dead skin cells to reveal younger, brighter skin underneath. In a series, skin pigmentation problems tend to lighten. If the hyperpigmentation is caused by acne or another such inflammatory skin problem, peels can also help prevent or reduce the occurrence of these issues leading to less PIH (post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation) in the future!
Regardless of the treatment option you and your dermatologist may choose, prevention is key to reducing the appearance of current spots and preventing new ones from developing.
Sun Protection- Protecting your skin from the sun is incredibly important in prevention! If you Google a chart of the Fitzpatrick Skin Type Scale (do so now!), you will notice that darker skin types rarely or never burn, but tan rapidly. What this means in the case of hyperpigmentation is that those dark spots are quick to become darker. If you are trying to treat them with either option above, your skin will be even more susceptible to this. Please remember to always wear your sunscreen (Broad-Spectrum SPF 30+), cover up with clothing, and limit time in direct sunlight.
Anti-Inflammatory Medications- If you have hyperpigmentation due to acne inflammation or other similar conditions, your physician may recommend a topical medication with anti-inflammatory properties such as Tazorac or Retin-A. Dark spots left behind from acne breakouts are due to the skin’s inflammatory response to the acne rather than the acne itself per se, so an acne treatment that is also anti-inflammatory can reduce this response, thereby reducing any PIH.
Be Gentle – If your skin is having any sort of inflammatory response, even if it is not due to a chronic condition but rather a reaction to a specific irritant, be gentle with your skin. Avoid irritating skin further by scratching, picking or using harsh exfoliants. Apply ointments or moisturizers as needed to avoid further inflaming the skin.