How To Treat Hyperpigmentation On Dark Skin
Hyperpigmentation on dark skin is something with which I am very familiar. As a young adult, I suffered from acne and of course, hyperpigmentation, specifically PIH (post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation.) Attempts to seek assistance with my issues were unsuccessful. I had many professionals tell me they did not feel comfortable helping me because they did not have the experience working with skin, “like mine”. That experience spurred my interest in, and love for, esthetics and healthy skin.
Contrary to what I was told and what many people believe, treating hyperpigmentation on dark skin is not impossible. In fact, with a little background knowledge, treating hyperpigmentation on dark skin can be a calling card for you! It can truly set you apart.
How do we treat hyperpigmentation on dark skin? Is there a difference between treating light skin tones and darker skin tones, when addressing hyperpigmentation? Are there special ingredients we should all know about? What about products? Exfoliation? Chemical Peels?
I am here to help offer suggestions for all of these.
Chemical Peels As A Treatment for Hyperpigmentation on Dark Skin
It is very common to have a potential client message and ask how to book a chemical peel to treat their hyperpigmentation.
PRO TIP: I only offer peels to my regular clients. It is important that I am familiar with the client’s skin. It’s also important to ensure that skin is properly prepped. It is also important to know products are being used for home care and how well a client will comply with home care instructions.
Chemical peels can be used to treat hyperpigmentation on dark skin. However, peels alone may not be enough to get the job done. There are some types of peels that work well for this purpose, and some that are not recommended.
Prepping a client’s skin properly with a small series of professional treatments to determine their skin’s reactivity, sensitivity, and challenges is very important. I love to prep with less-invasive treatments like nanoneedling, hydrodermabrasion, or microcurrent. Additionally, I will perform a few “no downtime mini-peels” to prep the skin.
Looking for recommendations for peels? We have 10 Chemical Peels We Love!
Popular Acids For Treating Hyperpigmentation On Dark Skin
Here are some ingredients to look for when selecting products for treating hyperpigmenation on dark skin:
- Azelaic Acid
- Phytic Acid
- Glycolic Acid
- Lactic Acid
- Mandelic Acid
The Gold Standard for Treating Hyperpigmentation On Dark Skin
Mandelic acid is derived from bitter almonds, it has a large molecular weight, keeping its molecules higher in the skin’s stratum corneum than other acids. Glycolic acid, with a much smaller molecular size, can penetrate much more deeply into the skin, affecting pigmentation farther down.
Why Does Molecular Size Play Such An Important Role?
One of the main differences in the structure of dark skin tones versus lighter skin tones is in the length of the dendrites that carry pigment to the keratinocytes. In darker skin tones, the dendrites are longer, placing pigment closer to the skin’s surface than in lighter skin. Mandelic acid stays where it is needed, nearer to the surface. When treating hyperpigmentation on dark skin, that is precisely where it is usually located!
Too often, clients with dark skin are accustomed to get a peel every so often to address their pigmentation because they have never seen an Esthetician who could address things another way. As we all know, proper skin care is far more than periodic peels. Peels are great to address old pigmentation, though, especially after addressing / stopping the reasons they had the hyperpigmentation to start with.
4 Tips on Home Care To Address Hyperpigmentation on Dark Skin
1. Chemical Exfoliation As A Treatment For Hyperpigmenation on Dark Skin
Manual exfoliation is most client’s favorite way to exfoliate, because it’s generally kind of exfoliation that they know about. Educating clients with darker skin tones on the dangers of over exfoliation is critical. Excess mechanical stress will cause hyperpigmentation on darker skin tones, not to mention the texture problems and scarring that too much scrubbing can cause.
For these reasons, I typically do not recommend an exfoliant scrub for my clients with darker skin tones. I have found that it is easier and safer to have the client perform their home exfoliation chemically. Here’s Our Favorite At-Home Chemical Peels
2. Products To Recommend for Hyperpigmentation on Dark Skin
The products recommended for home care are important. When recommending a product for a client, think of the reason you are recommending it to them. Select product(s) that have the ingredients in them to accomplish your client’s goals. Simply seeing that a product is an intended “brightener” is not enough. There are many pathways to pigmentation, so making sure you “take the right path” will be important to arriving at your intended destination.
3. Tyrosinase Inhibitors For Treating Hyperpigmentation on Dark Skin
In the case of hyperpigmentation on dark skin, I recommend very specific ingredients. Let’s start with tyrosinase inhibitors, these ingredients stop tyrosinase and tyrosine from forming pigment. This means that new pigmentation formation will be inhibited.
Some examples of tyrosinase inhibitors are:
- kojic acid
- l-ascorbic acid.
These ingredients will slow down the formation of new pigment by slowing the tyrosinase.
4. SPF For Hyperpigmentation On Dark Skin
Now let’s block new pigmentation signaling from the sun’s rays. That’s right, SPF! Although many of my clients with dark skin do not think they need sun protection, nothing could be farther from the truth. All of my clients use a physical sunblock, with titanium dioxide and zinc oxide. If the SPF you use has other actives, that makes them product a chemical sunscreen. Chemical sunscreens work by absorbing the sun’s rays and converting them to heat in your skin. This can be damaging when treating hyperpigmentation in dark skin because heat leads to inflammation, which leads to more hyperpigmentation.
Nichelle’s Tips on Treating Hyperpigmentation on Dark Skin
I typically use chemical peels as the last step in treating hyperpigmentation in clients with dark skin. When their old skin sloughs off naturally, they get to see a radiant complexion underneath. They are always surprised, though, when the hyperpigmentation they came to see me for does not return the way it always had before. It does not return in the same way because we have already addressed the pathways through which the hyperpigmentation occurred.
Before treating hyperpigmentation in dark skin, you should at least know these things about your client: dietary habits, sleep habits, dietary supplements, current home care routine, water intake, stress level, and any allergies they have. In one way or another, all of these data points can contribute to hyperpigmentation. Asking questions of your client SHOULD help you isolate the cause of the hyperpigmentation. If it does not, keep asking questions!
(For example, a client is seeing you for hyperpigmentation and texture on their face. You discover they have been using witch hazel full strength as a toner because they read an article somewhere. In this case, you can treat and peel the client’s skin all you want. As long as they are toning their face that way, they are creating the hyperpigmentation as fast as you can get rid of it.)
Keep in mind, a client coming to see you for hyperpigmentation should expect to go home with new home care, so set that expectation early. They should not expect to clear their skin’s issues with the same products and routine that created it. This seems fairly obvious, but making sure this conversation occurs is vitally important.
All in all, treating hyperpigmentation on dark skin involves: knowing your pigmentation-fighting ingredients and recommending them accordingly, having a great intake/onboarding process so you know your client’s profile and can identify the pathway through which the hyperpigmentation is occurring, and educating the client along the way. The education is really the key here. Your client having an understanding of the gameplan for addressing their hyperpigmentation, as sell as their role in the treatment (home care, etc) will ensure an amazing book of Before & Afters!
Guest Blogger – Nichelle Mosley
Nichelle is an award winning North Carolina board certified aesthetician and certified laser technician. Nichelle specializes in treating diverse skin tones with life changing results. Nichelle sees esthetics as a way to celebrate our differences, and empower her clients to be their most confident! Nichelle’s clients seek her expertise with hyper-pigmentation, sun damage, acne, rosacea, anti-aging, or just some self care.
Queen City Beauty Gruop!
She owns Queen City Beauty Group and Wellness in Charlotte, NC. She is the inventor of the Queens Cloth, a daily gentle, reusable exfoliating mitt. Nichelle is developer of her own private label, Rooted Queen Skin Care, and she has a new product line out in 2020, Queen City Beauty Co!
Nichelle’s Awards & Achievements
Nichelle was a finalist in the international skin competition -2018 Skin Games for Acne Management, and she won the 2019 Skin Games in the Age Management Category.
Nichelle’s expertise in skin care products has also seen her consulted multiple times by O, Oprah Magazine!