You may be able to treat hyperpigmentation with over-the-counter (OTC) skin acids and retinoids. A dermatologist can also perform procedures that may help reduce its appearance.

Hyperpigmentation is a medical term used to describe darker patches of skin from excess melanin production. This can be caused by everything from acne scars and sun damage to hormone fluctuations.

If you’re dealing with hyperpigmentation, know that you aren’t alone. Hyperpigmentation is a common skin condition, and there are a number of different treatment options available.

Keep reading to learn more about your options, including what to expect from procedures like microdermabrasion, and more.

Face acids, or skin acids, work by exfoliating, or shedding, the top layer of your skin.

Whenever you exfoliate your skin, new skin cells emerge to take the place of the old ones. The process helps even out your skin tone and makes it smoother overall.

Many face acids are available OTC at beauty stores and drugstores. Popular options include:

Who should try this?

Face acids work well for mild hyperpigmentation on fairer skin tones.

What products can you try?

Look for an acid content of 10% or less. Higher concentrations can increase your risk of side effects and are best left to professional peels performed in-office.

Derived from vitamin A, retinoids are among some of the oldest OTC skin care ingredients used. Their small molecular structure allows them to penetrate deep into the skin and treat the layers below your epidermis.

Retinoids can come in either a prescription or OTC formula. However, OTC versions tend to be weaker. If you don’t see any results after a couple of months, talk with your dermatologist about the prescription retinoid tretinoin (Retin-A).

If you don’t already have a dermatologist, the Healthline FindCare tool can help you find a physician in your area.

Who should try this?

OTC retinoids may be safe for all skin tones, but you should double-check with your dermatologist if you have darker skin and plan on using these products long term.

It’s also important to note that retinoids are more often used to treat wrinkles than hyperpigmentation. This means that retinoids may not be the best first-line treatment.

What products can you try?

If you have multiple skin concerns, you may be interested in trying:

  • Differin Gel: Previously available by prescription only, this retinoid helps address both acne and hyperpigmentation.

A chemical peel uses acids at stronger concentrations to treat the desired area of skin. They reduce the appearance of hyperpigmentation by removing the top layer of your skin (epidermis). Deeper versions may also penetrate the middle layer of your skin (dermis) to produce more dramatic results.

Although many chemical peels are available OTC, you might consider getting a professional-grade peel at your dermatologist’s office. These are more powerful, and they yield quicker results.

Due to their strength, in-office peels may also increase your risk for side effects. Talk with your dermatologist about your individual risks.

Possible risks with both at-home and in-office chemical peels include:

  • redness
  • irritation
  • blistering
  • infection
  • scarring
  • allergic reaction

If you’re out in the sun on a regular basis, chemical peels may not be the best treatment option for you. Chemical peels cause your skin to be more sensitive to the sun’s rays.

If you don’t adequately apply sunscreen and use other UV protection, the sun may worsen your hyperpigmentation. You’ll need to take extra precautions for at least one week after your last chemical peel.

Who should try this?

Chemical peels may work if you have:

They also work best for fairer skin tones, and they may provide faster results than face acid products.

What products can you try?

If you’re looking for a professional-grade peel to use at home, consider a glycolic acid peel from Exuviance. This product may be used up to twice a week. It can also help reduce the appearance of wrinkles.

If you have a darker skin tone or want a stronger peel, talk with your dermatologist. They can discuss the professional peels that they have available and help you decide on the right peel for you.

A laser peel (resurfacing) treatment uses targeted beams of light to reduce hyperpigmentation.

There are two types of lasers: ablative and non-ablative.

Ablative lasers are the most intense, and they involve removing layers of your skin. Non-ablative procedures, on the other hand, target the dermis to promote collagen growth and tightening effects.

Ablative lasers are stronger, but they may cause more side effects. Both destroy elements in your skin to ensure that new skin cells grow back tighter and more toned.

Who should try this?

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to skin resurfacing.

Ablative lasers may work better for people with fair skin. For some people, non-ablative versions may cause the skin to darken instead of lighten.

Your dermatologist will work with you to assess your discoloration and overall skin tone to select the best option for your skin.

IPL therapy is a type of non-ablative (fractional) laser treatment. Also known as a photofacial, IPL therapy stimulates collagen growth within the dermis. It usually requires multiple sessions.

IPL is used for overall pigmentation issues, but flat spots especially respond to this treatment. It may also help reduce the appearance of wrinkles, spider veins, and enlarged pores.

Who should try this?

According to the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery (ASDS), IPL works best for people with fair skin.

Microdermabrasion is an in-office procedure used to treat hyperpigmentation that affects the epidermis only (superficial scarring).

During the procedure, your dermatologist will use a drill-like handheld tool with a wire brush or another abrasive attachment. The tool is then swiped across your skin to rapidly — but gently — remove the epidermis.

You may need multiple sessions to achieve your ideal result.

Who should try this?

Microdermabrasion works best on superficial scars. Your dermatologist can help you determine whether this treatment is right for you.

It also works well for people with fairer skin.

Dermabrasion also involves the removal of your epidermis, but its effects continue down to a part of your dermis.

While dermabrasion is sometimes used to smooth out wrinkles, the procedure has been historically used to address texture concerns. These include:

As with microdermabrasion, your dermatologist will use a drill-like handheld tool with a wire brush or other abrasive attachment. They’ll move the tool across your skin to rapidly — but gently — remove your entire epidermis and the top part of your dermis.

Who should try this?

Dermabrasion may be a good option if you’re looking to decrease pigmentation at a faster rate than microdermabrasion.

It works best for fairer skin. However, further hyperpigmentation as a result of the procedure can occur with all skin types. The new patches of hyperpigmentation may lighten after about eight weeks.

Lightening creams are over-the-counter (OTC) treatments that work with select ingredients to help decrease pigmentation. Many of these creams are available in stronger prescription forms.

They’re usually applied once or twice a day to help lighten the skin over time. Topical treatments for lightening also come in gel form.

Common ingredients found in OTC lightening products include:

Who should try this?

Lightening creams or gels work best for flat spots, such as melasma or age spots. They’re effective for patches of discoloration on most skin types.

Online retailers make it easy to access beauty and skin care products that you wouldn’t otherwise be able to access. You should only purchase products from retailers and manufacturers that you trust.

What products can you try?

OTC products are accessible (and sometimes more affordable) options for hyperpigmentation, but these can take longer than professional treatments.

Look for creams with ingredients like niacinamide.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends using caution when purchasing OTC skin lighteners, as they may contain traces of mercury.

Skin tone can play a role in the intensity and length of hyperpigmentation treatments. As noted by Dr. Cynthia Cobb, DNP, APRN, WHNP-BC, MEP-C, people with fair, medium, and dark skin tones can use some of the same therapies, but people with darker skin need more time for the treatment to work.

Fair skin responds well to most hyperpigmentation procedures.

The following might be off limits if you tan easily or have darker skin:

  • high-beam lasers
  • IPL therapy

Medium skin tones may find the following options helpful:

  • chemical peels
  • microdermabrasion

Darker skin might benefit from:

  • glycolic acid
  • kojic acid
  • OTC lightening creams
  • microdermabrasion
  • lower-strength chemical peels
  • laser treatments, but only when used at lower intensities over a larger number of sessions

Topical treatments generally take longer to produce visible results. Patience is key with any treatment option.

Your dermatologist can help you identify the cause of your hyperpigmentation and work with you to develop an appropriate treatment plan.

No matter what treatment you ultimately choose, it’s important to protect your skin from further sun damage and hyperpigmentation.

Wearing sunscreen every day is a must. You should apply sunscreen every morning — even when it’s cloudy! — and reapply as needed throughout the day. Be sure to use sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher.