When you look at your skin, do you notice any patches that are darker than the rest of your body?

If so, you have hyperpigmentation, a common skin condition that’s usually not harmful. Hyperpigmentation can happen when extra pigment — called melanin — deposits in your skin.

People of any age, sex, or race can experience hyperpigmentation. It’s most commonly caused by:

While there are many products on the market that may treat hyperpigmentation, if you’re looking for a natural way to lighten these spots, you may want to consider aloe vera.

Aloe vera has been found to have many health benefits for the skin, from helping to heal wounds to moisturizing.

There’s a small amount of scientific evidence suggesting that applying aloe vera to your skin may help reduce the appearance of hyperpigmented areas, though it won’t completely get rid of these darker spots.

Per the limited number of existing studies, certain chemicals in aloe vera may have skin-lightening properties. These chemicals are called aloin and aloesin.

They may reduce the appearance of hyperpigmentation by destroying existing melanin cells and preventing further formation of melanin in the skin.

In one animal study, scientists found that aloin destroyed melanin cells in pigmented cells taken from tadpole tails.

In another study on cells, scientists found that aloesin prevented hyperpigmented laboratory-produced human skin from producing more melanin.

Scientists have also studied the effects of aloesin in preventing hyperpigmentation in people. UV radiation — or sunlight — is a major cause of hyperpigmentation.

In this study, a group of people with hyperpigmentation were exposed to ultraviolet radiation on their inner forearm.

Treatments were administered 4 times a day. Members of the group were divided into subgroups based on the type of treatment that was applied to their arm.

  • Members of the first subgroup received aloesin.
  • Members of the second subgroup received arbutin (hydroquinone).
  • Members of the third group received both aloesin and arbutin.
  • Members of the fourth subgroup received no treatment.

Those who received skin treatments showed less pigmentation compared to those who received no treatment.

And those who received the aloesin-arbutin combination treatment showed the most reduced pigmentation.

You can use aloe vera straight from the plant, or you can purchase aloe vera as a gel in your local drugstore or health food store.

Preparing gel from the plant

Aloe vera gel is a thick and sticky liquid inside the pointed leaves of the plant. To get to the gel inside a plant:

  1. Find a mature plant that’s several years old. Older plants may contain higher levels of aloin and aloesin.
  2. Remove a few thick leaves from the outer part of the plant, using scissors and cutting them near the stem, next to the base of the plant. Make sure these leaves do not show signs of mold or damage. They should be green and smooth, with consistent coloration.
  3. Wash and dry the leaves you cut.
  4. Cut off the prickly parts on the edges of the leaves.
  5. Use a knife or your fingers to scrape the inside gel off of the thin outside leaf. This gel is what you’ll apply to your skin.
  6. Cut the gel into slices or cubes for storage in the fridge. Take out and use as needed.

Applying aloe vera gel

Whether you’re using aloe vera from the plant or a store product, rub a thin layer on the hyperpigmented area of skin you’d like to treat up to several times a day.

While there’s no established dose for aloe vera, studies suggest this is an effective and safe dose for aloe vera gel.

Both aloe vera gel from the plant and gel from a drugstore are considered safe for most healthy people to apply directly to their skin.

There’s little risk of trying aloe vera if you want to reduce the appearance of your hyperpigmented skin.

However, note that aloe vera may not completely reduce the appearance of dark spots. It’s also possible to be allergic to it. If a rash develops or your skin is irritated, discontinue use.

There are other natural options when it comes to treating your hyperpigmentation at home, including:

Apple cider vinegar

Apple cider vinegar contains acetic acid, which research suggests can lighten dark spots on the skin.

You can mix apple cider vinegar with an equal amount of water and apply to dark patches on your skin for a few minutes before rinsing off with warm water. You can apply this solution to your skin up to 2 times a day.

Azelaic acid

According to research, azelaic acid may even out the appearance of hyperpigmentation in people with acne over 16 weeks.

You can find topical azelaic acid gel in most drugstores. Use as directed per the package instructions.

Black tea water

An animal study suggests that black tea can lighten hyperpigmented skin in guinea pigs when applied 2 times a day, 6 days a week, for 4 weeks.

If you want to try this at home, make strong black tea by letting it steep and cool for at least two hours. Then apply it to hyperpigmented areas of your skin with a cotton ball.

Chemical peel

Chemical peels involve applying acids to the skin to remove uppermost skin layers that contain extra pigments.

Researchers say most chemical peels sold in drugstores are effective and safe ways to reduce pigmentation when applied as directed, even for people with a darker overall complexion.

Green tea extract

Studies show that green tea extract may be able to lighten hyperpigmented skin. Use it as directed on the package.

Hydroquinone

Hydroquinone, also called arbutin, has been found to lighten hyperpigmented skin, especially when combined with other skin-lightening chemicals. It’s available over the counter in creams.

Kojic acid

Kojic acid comes from a fungus that research suggests can break down melanin in the skin and prevent more melanin from forming, lightening dark spots. You can find creams containing kojic acid in most drugstores.

Niacinamide

Niacinamide is a type of vitamin B-3 that research shows prevents skin darkening and also lightens dark spots on the face. Look for creams containing niacinamide in your local drugstore.

Orchid extract

There’s some evidence that orchid extracts can lighten hyperpigmented skin when used daily for 8 weeks. Find orchid extract in products like:

  • masks
  • creams
  • scrubs

Red onion

According to scientists, dried red onion skin contains an ingredient called allium cepa that can lighten hyperpigmented skin. You can purchase creams with this ingredient over the counter.

Retinoids

Retinoids come from vitamin A and can be used to reduce hyperpigmentation when used over a long period of time, according to researchers.

But keep in mind, retinoid cream commonly causes side effects like skin redness.

You can find retinoids in the form of retinol, which is a common ingredient in skin care creams.

Vitamin C

In research, vitamin C cream has been found effective at reducing hyperpigmentation caused by sun exposure when applied 5 days a week for 7 weeks.

While there’s little scientific evidence that aloe vera can reduce the appearance of hyperpigmented areas of skin, many people report that it works to lighten dark spots.

What’s more, aloe vera is unlikely to cause side effects and is considered healthy for the skin.