Brighter Days Ahead — Best Products For Tackling Hyperpigmentation And Evening Skin Tone
One of the most commonly cited skincare-related gripes: dark spots and uneven tone. If you’ve had a bad breakout (and, to compound the problem, suffered from a lapse in judgment that inspired you to pick, squeeze, and manhandle those blemishes), suffered from chicken pox as a kid, or exposed yourself to the sun without taking the necessary precautions (ahem, sunscreen!), you may have patches of skin that are darker than the rest of your complexion. The medical term for this condition (which is itself caused by an increase in melanin) is hyperpigmentation.
Though the causes of hyperpigmentation vary (certain prescription drugs note this as a side effect, for example), sun exposure is one of the most common culprits of since the melanin produced by the skin absorbs the sun’s ultraviolet rays, often leading to brown “sun spots.” In fact, darkened areas can become even more pronounced when in contact with the sun’s UV rays, so daily sunscreen use is key in order to both avoid and treat hyperpigmented skin.
Fortunately, there are several topical, over-the-counter skincare products that can help to diminish the appearance of these pesky brown spots, even your skin tone, and boost overall radiance. Below, you’ll find some of our favorite products for brightening skin — from foaming cleansers to targeted spot treatments, daily moisturizers, face masks, and potent serums. Here’s to a brighter tomorrow!
Korres Wild Rose 24-Hour Moisturizer SPF 6, $35. Available at KorresUSA.com
If you want to steer clear of products packed with pharmaceutical ingredients, this is a fantastic all-natural alternative. The Korres Wild Rose 24-Hour Moisturizer has a deliciously light texture, like margarine that’s been left at room temperature for a half hour or so, but there’s no lingering greasiness — only a soothingly soft visage. The smell, meanwhile, has the unbridled romance of the rose bloom, but it’s a soft, velvety scent, much lighter and milkier than, say, the fragrance of the Jurlique Rose Hand Cream. Olive oil and Imperata Cylindrica extract keep the skin hydrated (the latter is a desert plant that retains water and can help to regulate cellular moisture equilibrium), while the vitamin E found in grape seed extract protects the skin from free radicals and potential sun damage. In terms of brightening ingredients, the key players here are: vitamin C-rich wild rose oil, which helps to combat hyperpigmentation and accelerate cellular regeneration for a more radiant complexion; pure vitamin C, perhaps the most potent skin brightener found in nature; and phytic acid, which has an antioxidant effect and so helps to protect the skin.
The moisturizer has an SPF 6 factor, which is fairly adequate for winter, when days are shorter and UV rays tend to be potent, but I’d advise layering on sunscreen when using this moisturizer in the spring or summer (and reapplying the sunscreen every two hours). As far as results, you should see some improvement in overall luminosity and tone, but it’s a gradual process, one that will be most noticeably after several months of consistent use.
Origins Brighter By Nature Skin Tone Correcting Serum, $39.50; Origins Brighter By Nature SPF 35, $42.50; and Origins Brighter By Nature High-Potency Brightening Peel With Fruit Acids, $37.50. Available at Origins.com
This full range of products is designed to treat skin discoloration, incorporating the following plant and mineral ingredients: the red seaweed Palmaria Palmata, cucumber extract, and apple extract, all of which reduce the appearance of dark spots; apple and cucumber extracts; turkey tail mushroom, said to strengthen the body’s immune system and to lighten skin; peony, an antioxidant-rich skin brightener; salicylic acid, which helps to exfoliate and combats acne; and Japanese basil leaf, which soothes existing irritation; yeast extract, which can break up dark spot clusters; and sunflower seed cake to moisturize skin and strengthen its natural barrier.
The Origins Brighter By Nature range includes the High-Potency Brightening Peel with Fruit Acids, a jar filled with disposable, moist pads made of rayon (which is itself a fiber made from plant-based cellulose), all of which are soaked with a complex blend of antioxidant-rich superfruits like goji berry, blueberry, cranberry, pomegranate, and grape seed extracts, as well as salicylic acid to exfoliate dead skin and reveal brighter, undamaged skin. Other ingredients include Japanese basil leaf, apple extract and cucumber extract to even skin tone, as well as aloe and caffeine to calm inflammation.
The Brighter By Nature Skin Correcting Serum, meanwhile, is the most potent product in the range, loaded with yeast extract to break up brown patches of skin and vitamin C to lighten these areas, resulting in overall brighter skin, as well as salicylic acid to slough away dead skin cells. The serum is, of course, best used in conjunction with the new Brighter By Nature SPF 35 Skin Tone Correcting Moisturizer, which itself fights prior skin damage with a blend of vitamin C, turkey tail mushroom, and cucumber and apple extracts.
Clinique Even Better Clinical Dark Spot Corrector, $49.50 for 1.0 oz., and Clinique Even Better Skin Tone Correcting Moisturizer SPF 20, $42.50. Available at Clinique.com
If I had to recommend only one range of products to brighten skin, I’d vouch for Clinique’s Even Better collection. The groundbreaking Even Better Skin Tone Correcting Moisturizer SPF 20 was first launched in October 2009, and was quickly lauded for its effectiveness in correcting hyperpigmentation. The moisturizer counts on ingredients like: skin lightening ellagic acid and vitamin C; soothing apple extract; an advanced yeast blend that breaks up dark spot clusters, transforming them into microparticles and making them less visible to the eye; sucrose, which works as a humectant, drawing moisture to the skin and maintaining optimal hydration levels; turmeric extract, which is packed with antioxidants to fight free radicals; and a blend of linoleic acid and wheat and olive extracts to hydrate, soften, and strengthen skin.
The Clinique Even Better Clinical Dark Spot Corrector, meanwhile, was launched in March 2010, as the long-awaited heavyweight fighter in the hyperpigmentation battle. The lightweight serum features Clinique’s CL-302 complex, which consists of five brightening agents: glucosamine and salicylic acid to exfoliate skin and expedite cell turnover; blackout yeast extract to break up and diffuse clusters of brown spots; ascorbyl glucoside, a vitamin C derivative that brightens skin; and an extract derived from the Southeast Asian plant Dianella Ensifiora (Border Silver), which is also believed to reduce the appearance of overly pigmented skin. Other ingredients include Trametes Versicolor Extract, a mushroom extract that also helps to break up dark spot clusters, and Curcuma Longa Turmeric Root Extract, which features antioxidants that can protect the skin from free radicals and from sun exposure (which could eventually exacerbate hyperpigmentation problems). For best results, use the serum twice daily before moisturizing.
Awake Nano Lotion White, $35. Available at Vlana.com and at Henri Bendel in NYC.
Ahh, my dear, dear friend. I’ve been using this products — a well-kept secret in the beauty community — for 10 years now, and I’d search high and low to get my hands on it if need be. I first discovered the Awake Nano Lotion White in 2001, during a routine visit to Henri Bendel. After a particularly informative conversation with the sales rep behind the counter, I decided to give this product a try. Every night, before bed, I poured some of the cloudy liquid into the silver bottle cap (that quantity more than suffices to cover the face), then positioned one of Awake’s Pop-Up Masks inside the cap. The Pop-Up Masks are the size of a small tablet when dry but, upon contact with the liquid, they expand, springing up like a Slinky as they absorb the moisture. Once the paper mask pops up, you just unravel it and position it on the face, aligning your mouth, noise and eyes with the corresponding cut-outs. The mask will feel gentle and cool against the skin, and the botanical ingredients (such as peony root extract) will help to minimize the appearance of dark spots. From my experience, results should be visible within 6 weeks.
Boscia Luminizing Black Mask, $34. Available at Sephora.com
This mask looks like glossy petroleum when you first squeeze it from its ultra sleek tube and apply it onto your face, but don’t worry: this is not some tar-like, impossible-to-dilute, toxic substance. When you first apply the Boscia Luminizing Black Mask, making sure to avoid the eye and mouth areas, the mineral-rich Calcium Montmorillonite Clay in the formula draws out dirt and oil from deep inside pores, while also exfoliating dead skin cells. Antioxidant-rich Maritime Pine Bark Extract protects skin from free radicals and softens the skin surface, while witch hazel kills acne-causing bacteria and reduces inflammation. Lastly, vitamin C brightens the skin and also reduces visible aging signs. When the mask fully dries, you can peel it off, starting at the hairline and jawline, revealing a more luminous, clearer complexion. Just be careful when peeling it off since it can tug at the skin a bit, particularly along more delicate areas.
Clarins Bright Plus Intensive Brightening Smoothing Serum, $68; Clarins Bright Plus Brightening Hydrating Day Lotion SPF 20, $59; and Clarins On-the-Spot Brightening Corrector, $35. Available at US.Clarins.com
According to recent studies, the cells that cause hyperpigmentation, melanocytes, are located at the base of the epidermis, and they have “arms” dubbed dendrites that extend up to the skin’s surface, so that their “fingers” become dark splotches on the face. Clarins’ Bright Plus HP line was developed to contain the growth of dendrites, hence preventing dark spots from surfacing. According to research conducted by Clarins Laboratories, the sea lily plant effectively inhibits dendrites’ growth so that they can’t deposit melanin on the skin’s surface. Alchemilla and raspberry extracts also help to brighten skin, while white tea protects the skin from free radicals and UV rays, and oat sugars tighten the skin for a younger overall appearance.
The new products include the Bright Plus HP Smoothing Serum and Bright Plus HP Brightening Hydrating Day Lotion, which work best when used in conjunction as both a responsive ad preventative measure, and the Bright Plus On-the-Spot Brightening Corrector which features a rollerball tip that delivers a targeted treatment so you can attack existing brown spots.
Lavera Wild Rose Cleansing Milk, $19. Available at Lavera.com
Taking a cue from Korres, organic skincare line Lavera developed a range of wild rose-centered products aimed at moisturizing and brightening skin. Gentle and creamy, the Wild Rose Cleansing Milk features organic wild rose to improve skin tone; moisturizing, conditioning, and antioxidant-rich sweet almond oil, coconut oil, shea butter, jojoba oil, sunflower seed oil, and rapeseed extract; and soothing aloe and orange blossom.
L’Occitane Immortelle Brightening Cleanser, $24; and Immortelle Biologique Very Precious Regenerating Concentrate, $58 Available at USA.LOccitane.com
One of my all-time favorite face washes, this light, foaming cleanser helps to brighten the complexion with a combination of vitamin C-rich satsuma mandarin, a Japanese mandarin fruit extract that inhibits melanin synthesis; soothing chamomile;parsley; raspberry and strawberry extracts, which boast astringent and exfoliating properties; gentian, a purifying, astringent-enabling, perennial mountain plant; and immortelle oil, which combats the skin’s aging process by boosting cell turnover, stimulating collagen production, and improving circulation.
The Immortelle Biologique Very Precious Regenerating Concentrate, meanwhile, speeds up the skin brightening process with its use of vitamin C-packed grapefruit extract and sweet orange oil, while also moisturizing skin with evening primrose oil and borage oil, both of which help to diminish the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.
La Roche-Posay Mela-D Dark Spots, $48 for 1 fl. oz. Available at LaRoche-Posay.us
If you’re battling a severe case of hyperpigmentation, you may need to bring out heavier artillery, resorting to more potent chemical ingredients. The paraben-free, hydroquinone-free La Roche-Posay Mela-D Serum delivers clinical-level results thanks to a one-two-three combination of pharmaceutical ingredients: Lipo-Hydroxy Acid (LHA), found in a 0.2% concentration, a molecule that facilitates targeted, cell-by-cell exfoliation, helping to dissolve dark spots; a 5.7% concentration of glycolic acid, a common exfoliating agent which helps to slough away dead skin, reveal newer and more virginal layers of skin, and stimualte cell renewal; an a 1% concentration of kojic acid, which inhibits the harmful activity of melanin-producing tyrosinane enzymes. The kojic acid is the key player in terms of actually fighting hyperpigmentation, but it’s the exfoliation process enabled by the other two ingredients that makes the kojic acid all the more effective.
Pur˜lisse Pur-Bright Ultra Skin Brightening Serum, $76. Available at Purlisse.com
As with most Pur˜lisse products, this serum is a fantastic alternative for women with sensitive or temperamental skin since it includes soothing, gentle avocado oil and squalane. Free of hydroquinone, a controversial ingredient in many skin lighteners which has been linked to cancer (and which the FDA has been attempting to ban since 2006, the serum relies on vitamin C and brightening plant extracts like neem oil, and prune and lotus extracts.