10 best hyperpigmentation products, from creams to oils, that treat dark spots
Treating sun spots or other dark patches on your skin can be a real battle, find your new holy grail product in our roundup
Whether it's dark spots from suffering with acne, spending too much time in the sun or just genetics – hyperpigmentation is something that can impact everyone.
It's a skin condition that happens when melanocytes (the skin cells that make melanin) become damaged or unhealthy and then produce extra pigment during the healing process. This can happen to men and women at any stage of their lives.
There are three main types of hyperpigmentation: sun spots, which are most common in fair skin and appear from overexposure to the sun, often increasing with age.
Melasma, which looks like dark brown or grey patches and is common within Mediterranean, Hispanic, Middle Eastern, North African and Asian communities, and tends to spread during pregnancy or when taking hormonal contraceptives. And finally post-inflammatory (PH), which occurs after an injury to the skin, such as acne, and is most common with darker skin.
Once identifying your type of hyperpigmentation there are different ingredients best suited to treating these conditions. Dr Sarah Tonks, founder of The Lovely Clinic, tells us: “For dark spots it’s vitamin C plus arbutin, kojic acid and liquorice.
For melasma a combination of hydroquinone and tretinoin is the best and for post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation – time will help, this often fades of its own accord, otherwise you can use the above ingredients.”
Hyperpigmentation exacerbates during summer when melanocytes are working overtime so make sure you use at least an SPF 30 on your face and body every day.
These products were tested on people of different ethnicities aged between 20 and 60-years-old over a couple of months. We found all three types of hyperpigmentation reduced by as much as 30 per cent.
You can trust our independent reviews. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections, which are formed from real-world testing and expert advice. This revenue helps us to fund journalism across The Independent.
Paula’s Choice C25 super booster: £48, Look Fantastic
Best for: Sun spots & post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation
Founded by American businesswoman Paula Begoun, who creates all her products based on peer-reviewed research, this potent treatment cream is a high concentration 25 per cent ascorbic acid (Vitamin C) to brighten dark spots. There may be not much of it, but the results can be seen after one application. We would recommend using a fingertip amount at night because it has quite a thick powdery finish.
It also started tingling on first application, which some people might find too uncomfortable, the brand advises you to wash it off if it becomes too unbearable. What is evident is after just a week of using, there was an unmistakable difference in the appearance of both acne scars and dark spots and in general, the whole face looked a whole shade brighter.
Murad rapid age spot correcting serum: £63.75, John Lewis & Partners
Best for: Sun spots
Founded by dermatologist and pharmacist Dr Murad, this serum is a concoction of some of the key ingredients known to improve dark spots, namely niacinamide, hexylresorcinol and plankton extract. Along with vitamin C and oligopeptides, these ingredients work together to brighten skin and dissolve dark spots by encouraging cell turnover.
This serum is recommended for morning and evening use, however we found the solution a little too sticky for daytime wear, so we used as a night serum, massaging deeply into the skin. Murad claims to reduce the appearance of dark spots in a week, but we found it started working after two weeks, and this may be because of only using at night. However after a month of continued use, there was an overall brightening effect on all sun spots.
iS Clinical white lightening serum, 30ml: £101.99, Skin Oracle
Best for: Melasma
iS Clinical is made up of a team of world-renowned pharmacologists who develop results-driven products with cutting edge science. This serum is one of the most expensive in our roundup, but for a reason. Equipped to treat melasma in the shortest space of time (results showed a near to total fading of melasma in six days), it is designed as a night serum, but be sure to apply sparingly as the solution is potent.
It contains a brightening mushroom extract and alpha-arbutin with natural exfoliant sugar cane extract. It is hydroquinone-free, which is impressive as most melasma creams contain this substance that controversially has been linked to some quite severe skin conditions. Long-term, this serum actually helps skin to produce less melanin, which prevents the problem of discolouration in the future.
Barbara Sturm brightening face lotion: £128, Cult Beauty
Best for: Sun spots and post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation
Dr Barbara Sturm is a German doctor who has made her name in the field of non-surgical skin solutions. We would highly recommend this lotion for both sensitive skin as it contains zero parabens and sulphates, and oily skin sufferers as it’s so lightweight you barely notice it once it touches the skin. Aside from Vitamin C, this lotion doesn’t contain any of the classic ingredients normally found in a hyperpigmentation product but that shouldn’t deter you, it contains a mixture of Vitamin C and E, cress sprout extract to work on the sun spots, ginseng extract for battling free-radicals, and hyaluronic acid for moisture.
We did notice an instant glow as soon as the lotion hits the skin, and used every day for a month, we found dryness decreased and skin was brighter. We’d recommend as a preventative lotion for early hyperpigmentation rather than a corrective treatment. It’s not cheap, but like all of Dr Sturm’s treatments, this is about long-term benefits and not quick solutions.
Sesderma azelac RU liposomal serum: £26, Amazon
Best for: Melasma
The Spanish skincare brand’s global best-seller, this a serum made for results. Packed with a number of key ingredients for the treatment of melasma, including 4-butylresorcinol, azelaic acid, niacinamide, boldine diacetyl, retinol and vitamin C, this is designed to directly attack the melanocyte.
This is a liposome formula, which essentially means the active ingredients are encapsulated in spheres. Applied at night and massaged into the target areas, this is quite a sticky solution, so it is best to work well into the skin to avoid any discomfort before going to bed.
We found it helpful to use an electrical face brush to apply. While there wasn’t an initial change in the appearance of the dark areas, it started to work after a couple of weeks and did slightly fade the pigment. After a month of use, there was a real change in the overall shade of our tester’s patch of melasma.
SkinCeuticals C E ferulic: £109.95, Radiance Skincare
This award-winning acid, from a market leader in advanced scientific skincare, is a daytime Vitamin C antioxidant, designed to protect skin from environmental damage. Made with 15 per cent pure Vitamin C (L-ascorbic acid), 1 per cent vitamin E and 0.5 per cent ferulic acid, they work together to improve dark spots and lines and wrinkles.
Once opened the mixture itself darkens to an ambery tone and does have quite a distinctive acidic scent, which some people might not enjoy. But we applied four drops every day before an SPF and moisturiser and our skin feels bouncier and brighter. This is definitely one for people whose hyperpigmentation is at the beginning stages as it is not a corrective serum.
Eve Lom brightening cream: £75, Look Fantastic
Best for: Dark spots and post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation
Developed by facialist Eve Lom, the brand is known for its multi-award winning cleanser and now has an extensive range, which also includes make-up. But Dermapep is the only word to remember when raving about this cream. A patented complex in Korea, Dermapep, which blocks melanin production, is said to be 20 times more effective than its skin lightening competitors – arbutin and kojic acid – and we can see why.
After just a day, the results are striking with immediately brighter skin and by three weeks our skin was lighter and more even. It also ticks other boxes – the rose scent is soothing, the texture is silky and skin is hydrated all day.
The Ordinary alpha arbutin 2% + HA: £7, Beauty Bay
Best for: All types of hyperpigmentation
The chemistry-led beauty brand that prides itself on “clinical formulations with integrity” has created this acid, which directly works to reduce the look of hyperpigmentation. For anyone who is really on a budget, this is the only product you need. The two per cent alpha arbutin is a higher concentration than the standard one per cent used in other products.
It is slightly sticky, because of the hyaluronic acid, which is used to support the solution, but if you don’t mind it use a few drops day and night for the best results. Otherwise just use at night before bed. Over the course of a month, our tester’s hyperpigmentation patches slowly lightened. We wouldn’t recommend this for very sensitive skin as it could be a bit too harsh and lead to breakouts.
Korres wild rose 24-hour moisturising & brightening cream: £19, Zest Beauty
Best for: Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation
The Greek beauty brand that focuses on using natural ingredients and homeopathic remedies has created a 96.8 per cent natural formulation brightening cream to help treat hyperpigmentation using wild rose oil. High in Vitamin C, this is what works to correct the pigmentation while making the skin brighter. The fragrance-free cream is quite thick to touch but glides on effortlessly and actually dries completely matte and leaves the skin feeling soft and smooth.
Well-priced and suitable for vegetarians and vegans, this is a great option for anyone who has quite sensitive skin and doesn’t want to risk breakouts from using high potency AHAs. This does mean however that the results are not as visible within a few weeks of use and will need to be used for a good few months before the fading of pigmentation takes effect.
Ole Henriksen glow 2OH dark spot toner: £22, Boots
Made by a Danish skin cosmetician who was inspired to enter the world of beauty after developing cystic acne, this toner is ideal for anyone who would like to add an extra layer of treatment into their hyperpigmentation routine. It contains high potency glycolic acid and lactic acid alongside witch hazel water, lemon, sugar cane, licorice root, camomile and sandalwood extracts. What you get is a cleanser that tingles when it touches your skin, but still gentle enough to use every day. The brand recommends to be use this at night, before a moisturiser.
The sugary lemon scent is pleasant and after a few weeks of use, skin does look brighter. If your dark spots or acne scars are particularly bad, we wouldn’t recommend just using this toner because it might be some time before you see any results, however it is a great post-inflammatory treatment to add alongside your serums and moisturisers, and it is very affordable.
The verdict: Products for hyperpigmentation
For a cream that delivers the boost you need to start fading those dark marks effectively without breaking the bank it is Paula’s Choice C25 super booster. The tube might be small but it only needs to be used on the affected areas, making it last much longer. However if the hyperpigmentation is quite severe and you’re willing to spend that little bit extra, we would recommend the iS Clinical white lightening serum, which gets to work on those marks that you never think would ever budge.
IndyBest product reviews are unbiased, independent advice you can trust. On some occasions, we earn revenue if you click the links and buy the products, but we never allow this to bias our coverage. The reviews are compiled through a mix of expert opinion and real-world testing.