top of page
  • Writer's picturePenn Smith

Clearing and preventing HYPERPIGMENTATION: My suggested protocol and product recommendations.

Updated: Apr 6, 2023



The word 'hyperpigmentation' is not one I remember ever hearing when I was young (I certainly never recall my mother cursing her 'hyperpigmentation' when she was my age!!) Twenty years ago, we thought being 'sun kissed' or even the downstream more mottled brown color that would appear as we aged was a sign of a 'healthy glow'. My how times have changed!


Interestingly, Google searches for 'hyperpigmentation' have increased 400% in the past ten years. Thanks to science and accessibility of information, we now know that sun exposure, that 'healthy glow' (and subsequent hyperpigmentation) isn't healthy at all.


Okay, that's enough of the sad/bad news! What can we do today to mitigate the damage that's been done and bring forth skin that has a uniform appearance and a genuine healthy glow? A LOT. Read on for my straight forward, no-nonsense approach including a weekly protocol (for ALL BUDGETS.)

But before I get into the approach and the protocol, my number one tip with hyperpigmentation: find a routine and set of products and STICK WITH IT. Really. One month simply isn't enough time for this complex process to be addressed (let's remind ourselves of how long it took for this hyperpigmentation to accumulate!!) Generally, I'd say that it takes 2-3 months to begin to see shifts in hyperpigmentation (and that's ONLY if we're halting the process of new pigmentation starting - by using SPF!!!). One other thing - take photos!! It can be so rewarding to see our hard-earned progress and I LOVE it when people share these photos in my private Facebook group.

BACKGROUND

There are three main types of hyperpigmentation.

  1. Sun damage

  2. Melasma - when hormone fluctuations contribute to pigmentation issues

  3. Post inflammatory hyperpigmentation - when a physical assault (e.g. picking a pimple) causes pigmentation

The above types have different underpinnings that I won't go into here (although certainly worthwhile doing research and or talking about with your dermatologist if you want to learn more.) The important thing is that they share similar treatment paths.

While we see pigmentation as a 'superficial' issue, in actual fact, the issue starts deep in the skin layers and sometimes takes years to 'break through' to the surface as that characteristic mottled discoloration. So our approach to battling hyperpigmentation needs to be multifaceted.

To keep it simple, I've outlined five categories that you need to have covered in a simple yet comprehensive plan to target unwanted pigmentation. Then I've added two 'bonuses' that can help but aren't necessary. Finally, if you scroll all the way to the bottom you'll see the specific seven day protocol (morning and night) that I suggest for addressing hyperpigmentation.

THE FIVE STEPS

1. PREVENT: An ounce of prevention really is worth a pound of 'cure'

Without doubt, PREVENTING hyperpigmentation is the most important step we can take to mitigate/manage the issue.


Depending on the cause of the hyperpigmentation, we have different measures. If you have PIH, the number one thing is not to pick at pimples. I know it's hard to resist, but picking and popping does more harm than good. If you have hormone-based hyperpigmentation, you may want to talk with your health care provider to see if there options to balance your hormones - but for sure SPF is your biggest ally. Finally, if your hyperpigmentation is caused by previous and/or current sun exposure, you'll want to have a comprehensive plan for blocking the sun's rays which should include protective clothing and hats in addition to SPF.

  1. SPF

  2. Photo protective clothing/hats

  3. Seeking shade

Some of my favorite sunscreens

US

Tatcha Silk Sunscreen https://shop-links.co/chiX7he4soO

Drmtlgy Universal Tinted Moisturizer https://www.drmtlgy.com/products/universal-tinted-moisturizer-spf-46?ref=3831425.7cc41f code Penn gets 20% off

Neova Silc Sheer https://amzn.to/3zhkexr


UK


Some of my favorite hats and photo-protective clothing

US

UK


2. INHIBIT: Prevent the pigmentation from forming at the deeper skin levels

Effectively there are two categories here. The first is hydroquinone. I've used hydroquinone in the past to 'cut through' some very tricky pigmentation - it worked amazingly well. While it isn't without downsides, it is the 'gold standard' for pigment reduction. Hydroquinone interferes with melanin production by the melanocytes by inhibiting the enzyme tyrosinase. Decreasing the number of melanocytes means less hyperpigmentation. Currently in the US hydroquinone requires a prescription. You might consider one of the online dermatology services if you don't currently have access to a dermatologist and would like to explore hydroquinone.


In the second category, we have non-prescription based pigment inhibitors. In the past several years, researchers have validated a number of ingredients that suppress the formation of pigmentation, some of which have been successfully used in different cultures for years. Studies show that a 'cocktail of these inhibitors, used twice daily, is the best approach.

Some of my favorite pigment inhibitors

US

RevivSerums ULTIMATE serum GF (with Arbutin, a fantastic pigment inhibitor)

https://revivserums.com/PENNYSMITH code PENNYSMITH for a discount

Dearskin Tranex https://amzn.to/3lhN0WE

Queen 7-1 brightening serum (please be aware that there IS a scent!) https://amzn.to/3lgUM31

UK

Dearskin Tranex https://amzn.to/3MKOIfn

Inkey List Tranexamic Acid Serum https://amzn.to/3Nvno4E




3. INTERRUPT: Antioxidants to the rescue

Since our own production of antioxidants in the skin is reduced with aging, topical application can be useful not only to fight off those nasty reactive oxygen species 👾 but also to help disrupt melanin pathways that lead to hyperpigmentation. While there are many antioxidants out there for working to mitigate the damaging effects of the sun, my picks are Vitamin C and Astaxanthin. The effects of both Astaxanthin and Vitamin C on hyperpigmentation suppression have been well researched. Effectively, both of these antioxidants are helping to quell the inflammation caused by UV rays, helping to ensure metabolic pathways are able to recover from the assault of the radiation. (I recommend using antioxidants in the morning.)

Vitamin C

US

Skyn Iceland Astaxanthin Serum https://amzn.to/3MMwTfS or

Code Penn20 for 20% off


Epicuren ORAC (antioxidant cocktail that also hydrates dry skin….a super powerhouse product) also at SkinbeautifulRX


UK

TrueSkin Vitamin C Super Serum https://amzn.to/3lDK32M


4. INCREASE RENEWAL: Accelerate cell turnover

RETINOIDS are pigmentation inhibitors in their own right but they also encourage more frequent cell turnover - speeding up the cellular regeneration, revealing healthier cells sooner - closer to when we we younger. The trick with retinoids is to get to that 'sweet spot' where they boost cellular turnover without triggering inflammation. I find that using a retinoid every 72 hours gives me the benefit without any redness or flakey fallout.

I have a detailed blog on Retinoids if you want to learn more but the most important thing to remember is 'slow and steady to avoid inflammation'


US

Avene RetrinAl on Amazon: https://amzn.to/3lElB14 or


Code Penn20 get 20% off!


CeraVe Retinol (a fantastic budget pick)


Tretinoin (prescription)


UK



5. REVEAL: Clear the surface

Alpha hydroxy acids can help make sure that skin that's sitting on the surface gets whisked off at a healthy rate. Glycolic can also help stimulate collagen below and lactic can help to hydrate. These days I'm using a multi acid cleanser and lactic based toner once or twice a week. All AHAs tend to improve skin texture - so huge overall wins on top of treating hyperpigmentation.


Again, take care to avoid inflammation - find your sweet spot, don't rush it.


US

Summer Fridays Toner https://shop-links.co/chjkf5ZhniB


Biologique Recherche P50 1970V https://amzn.to/3MQiYp1


Ren ready steady glow (a favorite for years!)


UK



BONUS STEPS: Both deep and superficial

6. SKIN HEALTH: DNA Repair enzymes

I have discussed DNA repair enzymes many times over the last couple of years. Essentially DNA repair enzyme products can help to repair old sun damage on a cellular level. In my opinion they are a wonderful addition to a basic hyperpigmentation skin care routine. By using them at night we can repair and help to promote clear skin.


My FAVE DNA repair enzyme products are from Photozyme and Neova. There are other brands that offer great DNA repair enzyme products as well! ❤️



7. FAKE IT: Tan in a bottle

Self-tan can help us look sun-kissed while we keep our skin healthy and beautiful. Not only that, it can help give the illusion of more uniform skin by 'normalizing' the appearance of pigmentation. For those who love a sun-kissed glow, I think this final step is critical. For me, looking in the mirror and seeing 'tanned' me looking back makes me smile. Maybe this is because my skin appears more uniform. But I think it also has something to do with the happy memories I've spent with friends and family at the beach, camping or cruising around the lake on the boat - being away from the stresses of everyday life. Looking sun-kissed somehow elicits in me that joyful feeling we get when we take time off outdoors to just be happy 🙂.


My favorite self tanner:

Coco & Eve Self Tanning Kit (so so good!!)


MY SUGGESTED WEEKLY PIGMENT CLEARING PROTOCOL

Monday:

AM

Vitamin C or astaxanthin (or both if you'd like!! That is what I do)

Pigment inhibitor

*Moisturizer

*Sunscreen

*Sometimes my moisturizer IS my sunscreen. This is up to you and your skin!


PM

Cleanse (consider double cleansing to remove all that sunscreen)

(DNA repair enzymes if you choose to use them)

Pigment Inhibitor

Moisturizer


Tuesday

AM

Pigment inhibitor

Moisturizer

Sunscreen


PM

Double Cleanse

Dna Repair enzymes

Pigment inhibitor

Retinoid

Optional moisturizer can be added right before or after the retinoid


Wednesday

AM

Vitamin C or astaxanthin (or both)

Pigment inhibitor

Moisturizer

Sunscreen


PM

Double cleanse

(DNA repair enzymes if you choose to use them)

Pigment Inhibitor

Moisturizer

This is the night that I may also do a hydrating mask. I like to do at least one day a week where I REALLY pamper my skin with moisture/hydration. If I mask I do it after cleansing and then go on with the routine above.


Thursday

AM

AHA toner or wash (or both)

Pigment inhibitor

Moisturizer

Sunscreen


PM

Double cleanse

DNA repair enzymes

Pigment Inhibitor

Moisturizer


Friday

AM

Vitamin C or astaxanthin (or both)

Pigment inhibitor

Moisturizer

Sunscreen


PM

Double Cleanse

Dna Repair enzymes

Pigment inhibitor

Retinoid

Optional moisturizer can be added right before or after the retinoid


Saturday

AM

AHA toner or wash (or both)

Pigment inhibitor

Moisturizer

Sunscreen


PM

Double cleanse

(DNA repair enzymes if you choose to use them)

Pigment Inhibitor

Moisturizer


Sunday is optional- you can repeat Thursday if your skin is sensitive or Friday if you are not. Listen to your skin and always err on the side of gentle :))



A couple notes:

Some people can use vitamin C every day. Some people can only tolerate a couple times a week-and that is ok too! Some people may want to do one additional day of AHA, some people may only do once a week. It depends on your skin. It is always the goal to keep the skin free from flakes and redness as much as possible! So always revert to “less is more”!

This is just a basic routine. You MAY want to add other products like essences, hydrating serums, other antioxidants, growth factors, specialty products etc.. Just remember to follow the simple rule of thinnest to thickest and most clear to most opaque when you are layering and you will be good!



XXPenn


Pigment inhibiting/pigment improving ingredients (look for these ingredients in your products):

Tranexamic acid

Niacinamide

Kojic acid

Licorice root

Arbutin

Glutathione

4-butylresorcinol

Hydroquinone

l-ascorbic acid

Vitamin C derivatives (more on this soon)


FTC: Links in this post are affiliate ~ Please note that all links on this page are affiliate and I participate in the Amazon Associates program which is an affiliate program. Any time you see an Amazon link it is affiliate. If you choose to use my links please know that I appreciate it!


Disclaimer: This post is not intended to provide diagnosis, treatment or medical advice. Content provided on this blog is for informational and entertainment purposes only. Please consult with a physician or other healthcare professional regarding any medical or skin related diagnosis or treatment options. Information on this website should not be considered as a substitute for advice from a healthcare/skin professional. The statements made about specific products throughout this website are not to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent disease. It is important that you check labels to determine if a product is right for you. Before starting any treatment at home consult a health care or skin care professional to determine if it’s right for you.






22,772 views8 comments

8 commentaires


Yvette Ward Manzelmann
Yvette Ward Manzelmann
20 mars 2023

Yvette Manzelmann <yvette@rrea.com>11:15 AM (12 minutes ago) to penn.skin.care Dear Penny, I am a 61 year old esthetician in Houston, Texas and have been since 2008. I have watched your videos and I thank you for making them. I have a Vitaminic Concentrate made by Pevonia. I absolutely love it. My question is: Would it be ok to nano needling this product into my face once a week? These are the ingredients: Carthamus Tinctorius (Safflower) Seed Oil, Squalane, Tocopherol (Vit. E), Retinyl Palmitate (Vit. A), Azulene, Citrus Nobilis (Mandarin Orange) Peel Oil. Your help is greatly appreciated.

J'aime

Casey Denieuwe
Casey Denieuwe
26 janv. 2023

Hi Penn! Just had a question, for your sample routine, how do we know what kind of ingredients can’t mix together, like glycolic acid and retinol or vitamin c

J'aime

Anaya Winget
Anaya Winget
04 oct. 2022

Ordered dermal MD INTIMATE lightening serum It is a non sticky & non greasy SERUM. It blends very well into the skin. It really helps me to get 2-3 tone lighter skin of my inner thighs It has a beautiful fragrance which I love a lot. It makes skin glowing, & lighter💯💯

J'aime

Ann Gross
Ann Gross
15 août 2022

I have been using your protocol since the blog post. My skin feels so good. Can I increase the retinol use to more times per week?

J'aime

Mark Brown
Mark Brown
10 août 2022

At Plush Tan we offer a wide range of beauty services such as:Eyelash Lamination,Eyelash Tinting,Brow Lamination,Brow Tinting + Shaping.

J'aime
bottom of page