Hyperpigmentation: How to get rid of dark spots and brown patches

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Uneven skin pigmentation is a common skin condition in which dark spots and dark patches appear on the face, hands and other parts of the body that are regularly exposed to the sun.

Learn about the different types of hyperpigmentation, what causes them and how to prevent brown patches in the first place. Though completely removing the signs of skin pigmentation is difficult, there are treatment options to help reduce it.

What is hyperpigmentation?

Hyperpigmentation results in flat, dark patches on the skin that can vary in size and colour.

Pigmentation refers to the colouring of the skin, and hyperpigmentation is the term used to describe areas of uneven pigmentation. This occurs when the skin produces more melanin, which is the pigment responsible for your skin’s colour.

Hyperpigmentation can affect your entire body or appear as darkened patches or spots that make the skin look uneven, and these spots are known as age spots or sun spots. Other types of hyperpigmentation include melasma and post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation.

While this affects people of all skin types, those with dark skin are normally more affected by hyperpigmentation marks than those with a lighter skin tone, because skin pigmentation is stronger in dark skin. This is harder to manage on darker skin, because brown patches tend to emerge with a higher pigment, and can take longer to fade.

Types of hyperpigmentation

While there are several types of skin pigmentation, the common ones are age spots, melasma and post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation:

  • Age spots: Also known as sun spots or liver spots, these are caused by exposure to the sun. These normally appear on older adults. For this reason, they appear mainly on body parts that are frequently exposed to UV light, such as the face, neck, décolleté, hands and arms.
  • Melasma: Larger patches of hyperpigmentation develop mainly on the face - specifically the mouth and forehead - though it can also appear on the stomach. Although it can affect both men and women, melasma is most common in women and is thought to be triggered by changes in hormone levels and pregnancy.
  • Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation: This occurs when a skin injury or trauma heals and leaves a flat area of discolouration behind, usually appearing on the neck or face. It’s commonly found among acne or eczema sufferers and can also be caused by cosmetic procedures, such as dermabrasion, laser treatment and chemical peels.

There are other factors that can cause patches of skin to become darker, such as scarring, birthmarks, solar or actinic keratoses and skin cancers, but these aren’t considered to be forms of hyperpigmentation.

When to seek medical advice about pigment spots

Consult your dermatologist or pharmacist if you’re concerned about any of your dark spots, or notice other symptoms alongside hyperpigmentation such as bleeding, itching, or a change in size or colour. A doctor will be able to identify the type of hyperpigmentation and cause.

Hyperpigmentation causes

While hyperpigmentation is usually harmless, brown patches on skin are more of a cosmetic issue for most people. Hyperpigmentation is caused by an increase in melanin, which is the natural pigment that gives our skin, hair and eyes their colour. A number of factors can trigger an increase in melanin production, including certain medical conditions or medications, but the main causes are sun exposure, hormonal influences, age and skin injuries and inflammation.

Sun exposure and hyperpigmentation

Sunlight triggers melanin production and is the number one cause of hyperpigmentation

Sun exposure is the primary cause of hyperpigmentation, as it is sunlight that triggers the production of melanin in the first place. Melanin acts as your skin’s natural sunscreen by protecting you from harmful UV rays, which is why people tan in the sun. However, excessive sun exposure can disrupt this process, leading to hyperpigmentation.

Once dark spots have developed, sun exposure can also exacerbate the issue by making age spots, melasma and post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation spots even darker.

Hyperpigmentation and hormones

Hormonal influences are the main cause of a particular kind of hyperpigmentation known as melasma, or chloasma. It is particularly common among women and is thought to occur when oestrogen and progesterone, the two key female sex hormones, stimulate the overproduction of melanin when the skin is exposed to sunlight. Hyperpigmentation can also be a side effect of certain hormone treatments.

Hyperpigmentation and age

As the skin ages, the number of melanin-producing cells, known as melanocytes, decreases. The remaining cells increase in size, however, and their distribution becomes more focused. These physiological changes explain the increase of dark spots in those over the age of 40. You can read more about how the skin ages in skin ageing.

Hyperpigmentation, skin injuries and inflammation

As its name suggests, post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation occurs following skin injury and inflammation, e.g. cuts, burns, chemical exposure, acne, Atopic Dermatitis and Psoriasis. Brown patches develop on the skin after the wound has healed.

Hyperpigmentation, disease and medication

Certain illnesses and medications are known to cause hyperpigmentation.

Hyperpigmentation is also symptomatic of a number of illnesses, such as certain autoimmune and gastrointestinal diseases, metabolic disorders and vitamin deficiencies.

It can also be triggered by chemotherapy drugs, antibiotics, tricyclic antidepressants, antimalarials and anti-seizure drugs, sometimes causing patches to be grey. More serious causes of hyperpigmentation include hemochromatosis and Addison’s disease.

Hyperpigmentation treatment

Sun protection and pigmentation

Using a broad-spectrum sunscreen every day can help prevent hyperpigmentation.
Eucerin Anti-Pigment reduces hyperpigmentation on the face, neck and hands.

Sun protection is the most significant step that you can take in helping to prevent hyperpigmentation in the first place. It is important to remember that the sun’s rays affect the skin even on cloudy days, and so it is vital that you give your skin the daily protection that it needs.

As well as reducing hyperpigmentation, Eucerin Anti-Pigment Day SPF 30 offers effective UVA and UVB (SPF 30) protection and prevents the formation of further sun-induced pigment spots. Used in combination with the Dual Serum, now in a mono-chamber pack but with same proven efficacy, as part of a holistic skincare routine will also help prevent and reduce pigment spots. 

Limiting the skin’s exposure to the sun will also help to reduce hyperpigmentation. When the skin is exposed to sunlight, apply and regularly reapply a sun protection product with a suitable SPF level (30 or higher) and has been specially formulated for your skin type and condition. Learn more about Eucerin’s range of superior sun protection products here and find out how much sunscreen you should apply here.

How to prevent hyperpigmentation

Unfortunately not all causes of hyperpigmentation can be prevented, but there are a number of ways to help reduce the chance of skin pigmentation from developing:

  • Try to keep out of the sun between the hours of 10am to 4pm, when the sun's UV rays are at their strongest
  • Sit in the shade or underneath an umbrella to minimise exposure
  • Wear protective clothing, such as sun hats and sunglasses
  • Use a sunscreen product daily, even in cooler months
  • Regularly moisturise your skin to restore the skin’s lipid (fat) barrier, providing further protection from the sun’s rays
  • Avoid scratching or picking at acne, scabs or spots, as this can lead to inflammation and darker pigmentation
  • Ensure your skincare products do not burn or sting, because irritation can increase hyperpigmentation, especially melasma

Treating dark patches on skin

While prevention is best, there are steps that you can take to make dark spots fade, and to prevent their reappearance, once they have appeared on your skin. There are certain ingredients and products that can help fade the appearance of skin pigmentation.

In some instances, dark patches of skin will eventually fade with proper sun protection. Some skin pigmentation requires more aggressive treatment, but there's no guarantee that the dark spots will fade completely.

Reduce hyperpigmentation with Eucerin Anti-Pigment

If you are looking for a hyperpigmentation cream, seek skincare products that have been formulated to address this concern and are clinically and dermatologically proven to be effective.

The Eucerin Anti-Pigment range has been specially formulated to mitigate against dark patches and age spots, with years of research dedicated to reducing hyperpigmentation for more even and radiant skin. Learn more in Behind the science of Eucerin Anti-Pigment.

Application of Eucerin Anti Pigment Dual Serum and Day Care SPF30 twice a day for 12 weeks. Example shown, individual results may vary. BDF Data on file.
The Eucerin Anti-Pigment range reduces dark spots and prevents their reappearance
Packshot of Eucerin Anti-Pigment Dual Serum
Eucerin Anti-Pigment Dual Serum effectively reduces the appearance of dark spots and helps prevent their re-appearance.

All products in the range – a day cream, night cream, serum, pigment control and spot corrector – contain Thiamidol, an effective and patented ingredient that acts at the root cause of hyperpigmentation by reducing melanin production. It has been clinically and dermatologically proven to reduce dark spots and prevent their reappearance. The first results are visible after two weeks, and the skin improves continuously with regular use.

Eucerin Anti-Pigment Dual Serum brings together Thiamidol and concentrated Hyaluronic Acid, one of skin’s moisturising substances, helping attract and retain moisture in the skin as an effective hyperpigmentation cream. The Dual Serum now comes in a mono-chamber pack, making it even easier to apply. The formula still has the same proven efficacy as it combines active ingredients Thiamidol and Hyaluronic Acid to prevent and reduce pigment spots.

Furthermore, with SPF 30 and UVA filters, Eucerin Anti-Pigment Day offers effective protection from the sun and prevents the formation of additional sun-induced pigmentation spots.

Whilst Thiamidol is Eucerin-patented, there are other active ingredients that are commonly used to treat hyperpigmentation, albeit with varying efficacy. These include: Arbutin, Kojic Acid, other Resorcinol derivatives, such as B-Resorcinol, and Vitamin C and its derivatives.

A dermo-cosmetic solution is non-invasive and can be used year-round, as part of your daily skincare routine, to reduce hyperpigmentation. It can also be used to extend the results of a dermatological treatment.

Dermatological treatments to remove hyperpigmentation

A chemical peel is one way to deal with hyperpigmentation and encourage the growth of new, evenly-pigmented skin.
Laser treatments have a similar effect to chemical peels, but the treatment can be applied more precisely.

Dermatological treatments such as chemical peels and laser therapy can help to reduce hyperpigmentation:

  • Chemical peels involve applying a chemical solution to the face, neck and hands to exfoliate the skin, i.e. remove dead skin cells. This, in turn, stimulates the growth of new skin. Read more about chemical peels in What are chemical peels and how do they work?
  • Laser therapies have much the same effect, but tend to be more precise. This is because the dermatologist has more control over the intensity of the treatment. These therapies involve ‘zapping’ the affected areas with high-energy light. The mildest treatments work just on the skin’s epidermis (surface layer), while the more intense treatments can penetrate the deepest layers of the skin. Find out more in Laser therapy: how should I care for my skin after treatment?

Dermatologists may also prescribe and/or use hydroquinone, which is still regarded as the most effective topical agent for reducing hyperpigmentation. It can, however, only be used for limited periods of time because, like other forms of chemical peel and laser treatment, it can irritate the skin and actually cause post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, especially in people with darker skin.

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