Hyperpigmentation: How To Prevent & Treat Dark Marks

Posted by Invity team on 4th Jun 2024

Hyperpigmentation: How To Prevent & Treat Dark Marks

Hyperpigmentation – dark patches, melasma and post-acne marks distinct from your natural skin colour – affects millions of people worldwide at some stage of their life. It’s most common in women and it affects all skin tones and ages.

While medically harmless (it may be a warning sign of UV damage and hormone imbalance, however), hyperpigmentation can cause emotional distress, and it can be difficult to treat.

The magic formula to regain even-toned skin: know what type of pigmentation you have + prevention + ongoing maintenance + protection.

Pigmentation 101: How It Protects Our Skin

Our skin pigmentation (its natural colour) comes from melanin pigment, produced by melanocytes in our skin. The types of melanin and amount produced determines our skin tone.

Importantly, it acts as our body's natural sunscreen, protecting our skin cells from ultraviolet (UV) damage. Pale skin has little to no natural sun protection, while the darker your skin tone, the better the protection.

How pigmentation works

When our skin is exposed to the sun’s UV rays, melanocytes crank up melanin production, which we see as a tan. This extra pigment absorbs and scatters UV rays, preventing them from damaging deeper skin layers and cell DNA.


There are no quick fixes 

for hyperpigmentation:

Treatment consistency is key


What is Hyperpigmentation?

Hyperpigmentation is the blanket name for types of uneven skin pigmentation, where areas of skin are darker than your natural skin tone.

It occurs when things go wrong with the pigmentation system, and melanocytes produce too much melanin in darker patches.

The reason it’s difficult to treat is that there are different causes and types of hyperpigmentation. Effective management depends on understanding the cause, type of pigmentation you have and how severe it is.

Causes of Hyperpigmentation

Several factors can contribute to hyperpigmentation:

  • Sun exposure: The leading cause of hyperpigmentation. UV rays stimulate the production of protective melanin. But, if melanin production is overwhelmed – either from unprotected exposure or long and intense sun exposure – we get sunburn. In lighter skins, this shows up as blistering, burning and redness. But UV damage affects all skin tones. It can damage our skin cells, causing inflammation, premature ageing, hyperpigmentation or even skin cancer.
  • Hormonal changes: Fluctuations in hormones can trigger hyperpigmentation, especially when combined with UV exposure.
  • Medications: Some medications can increase skin sensitivity to the sun and make hyperpigmentation more likely. Common ones include certain antibiotics, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs like ibuprofen), and isotretinoin (Accutane).
  • Inflammation and skin injury: Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH), occurs where skin has healed from an inflammatory process or injury, more commonly in people with darker skins. Inflammation causes melanocytes to go into overdrive, causing a dark spot.

Types of Hyperpigmentation

Dark Spots aka Sun Spots aka Age Spots


These small, flat areas of hyperpigmentation are known medically as solar lentigines. They resemble large freckles that can vary in colour from light brown to black. They often appear on sun-exposed areas, even if sun exposure was years ago, usually on the face, hands, shoulders, and arms.


They’re caused mainly by sun damage accumulated through your life. From age 30, sun exposure, ageing and genetics disrupt melanin production, resulting in uneven pigment. It takes years for this accumulated damage to become visible on the skin’s surface, when our cell turnover slows down, so age spots often emerge in your 50s; earlier if you’ve been a sun worshipper.

Who gets it?

It’s more common in people with fair skin and those with a history of significant sun exposure.

Melasma aka butterfly mask aka mask of pregnancy


Brown or greyish patches on the face. It is often symmetrical and appears across the cheeks, forehead, bridge of the nose, upper lip, or chin (why it’s often called ‘butterfly mask’). It can be superficial – in the epidermis, which makes it easier to treat, or deep-seated (in the dermis), which makes it more difficult, needing medical treatment.


A combination of factors is thought to cause it:

Hormonal fluctuations: Changes in oestrogen and progesterone with pregnancy, birth control use, fertility treatment, menopause or any imbalance can be triggers.

Sun exposure: Sun exposure can make it worse. 

Genetics: People with a family history are more prone.

Who gets it?

Incidence of melasma can range from 1.5% to 40% in different populations.[1]

It can occur in people of all skin tones, but it's more common in women with darker skin tones, especially those of Asian, Hispanic, and Middle Eastern descent and people who live in sunny countries.[1] 

It’s also more common in women who are pregnant (hence ‘mask of pregnancy’), going through menopause and those with a history of hormonal changes.

Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH)


This typically appears as flat pigmented patches. The colour depends on your skin tone and depth of the discoloration, ranging from red, purple, brown to blue-grey.

It can occur anywhere on the body after inflammation or injury to skin.

The good news is that PIH is usually temporary, but it can take months or even years for the discoloration to fade completely without treatment and sun protection.


Inflammation or injury can trigger excess melanin production, causing dark marks after the skin heals.[2]

Who gets it?

Anyone, but it’s especially common in darker complexions and people who get a lot of sun.

It is very common on acne scars, after eczema and psoriasis flare-ups, cuts, burns and insect bites.


Melasma is more common in women

with darker skin tones


Harmless Dark Spot or Cancer?

One caution! Please keep an eye on any dark freckles on your skin. Most are harmless. However, if you notice a dark spot (especially a new one that crops up) with irregular borders, uneven shape, uneven colour, or which grows rapidly, please see a dermatologist to be safe. This is especially important if you have had sunburns as a child and spend a lot of time in the sun.

It might be malignant melanoma, a serious and aggressive form of skin cancer. The WHO reports a rise in melanoma rates globally over the past few decades, particularly in fair-skinned populations, most likely due to increased sun exposure and use of tanning beds.[3]

Please see a dermatologist if you are at all concerned, as early detection is crucial for successful melanoma treatment.


How to Treat Hyperpigmentation

The most important thing to know is that there are no quick fixes – hyperpigmentation treatment is a long journey and consistency in treatment is key!

It may take several weeks or months to see results from treatment for hyperpigmentation. Be patient and consistent with your sun protection and skincare routine.

#1 Prevention

To avoid PIH from acne

It’s important to treat the skin to prevent or minimise acne and target inflammation. Maintain good skin hygiene and avoid picking at your skin.

All skins need sun protection

Sun protection is essential for preventing the UV damage that will cause melanin problems, as well as making hyperpigmentation worse:

  • Stay out of the sun from 11am to 4pm.
  • Always wear a broad-spectrum (UVA and UVB protective) sunscreen SPF 30 to 50+, even on cloudy days.
  • Wear a hat and protective clothing.
  • This is especially important if you’re treating your hyperpigmentation. Any sun exposure will trigger your melanocytes to produce more pigment. And some ingredients like exfoliating acids and retinoids will make your skin more sensitive and prone to burning.

#2 Treatment

Use the right skincare

For milder forms of hyperpigmentation and to support your prescription treatment, use gentle skincare that contains the right ingredients to prevent and repair hyperpigmentation.

    Choose a non-irritating cleanser that doesn’t strip your protective skin barrier, with gentle exfoliating fruit acids and soothing ingredients
    Use an serum with gentle exfoliating acids to speed up cell renewal and slough off old, pigmented skin cells

Youth Activating Exfoliating Serum

with Polyhydroxy acid (PHA)

    Targeting melanin overproduction to fade existing dark spots and prevent new ones forming. Proven effective ingredients include retinoids, vitamin C, kojic acid and licorice root
    For all types of pigmentation: 

    Youth Activating Retinoid Serum with retinoid and retinoid alternatives. Use only at night and always wear sunscreen during the day to prevent skin    sun-sensitivity and sunburn.

    For age spots:  our multi-action 

    Youth Activating Cream Concentrate to address age spots and visible signs of ageing such as sallowness, and wrinkles while strengthening, nourishing, and protecting skin.

    Use sunscreen every single day, 24-7/365!

Youth Activating Invisible Mineral Sunscreen offers lightweight SPF 50 PA+++ protection, plus NAD, Sodium Hyaluronate, and antioxidant-rich botanicals to soothe, protect, and hydrate the skin without causing ashiness or oiliness.


Make it even easier

Our Brighten & Illuminate Essentials Kit has what you need for all types of hyperpigmentation – Youth Activating Retinoid Serum, Youth Activating Cream Concentrate and Youth Activating Invisible Mineral Sunscreen.

Besides reducing and preventing dark spots, the three products work together to calm inflammation, enhance radiance, even out skin tone, nourish, hydrate, and deliver exceptional UV protection. Suitable for all skin types.

#3 Talk to the professionals

Do you have severe pigmentation? Are you unsure whether you have age spots or melasma, or if that dark freckle is something to worry about? It's always best to consult a dermatologist for proper diagnosis and treatment advice.

  • Dermatologists are able to treat severe hyperpigmentation using prescription-only options such as oral medication, topical prescription creams and medical laser.
  • Skincare professionals have a number of treatment options available, including chemical peels, microneedling and laser therapy (Fractional laser and Intense Pulsed Light), and microneedling.

It is important to only have these treatments from qualified professionals with a good reputation, to avoid scarring or even more PIH. And sun protection is critical afterwards to avoid rebound hyperpigmentation.

Find Confidence in Your Skin

We hope you have a better understanding of hyperpigmentation, especially your own. You can now take control of your skin health and feel confident and beautiful in your own skin.


[1] International Journal of Women's Dermatology: “Melasma: an Up-to-Date Comprehensive Review”

[2] Mayo Clinic: " Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH)

[3] World Health Organization: "Radiation: Ultraviolet (UV) radiation and skin cancer"