How to Treat Post-Summer Hyperpigmentation

From key ingredients to look for to in-office treatments to try, a dermatologist breaks down what you should know

Dark spots, freckles,hyperpigmentation
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Even if you slather your body in sunscreen each time you step outside during the summer, it's not uncommon to notice some dark spots by the time autumn rolls around.

"Most patients come to their dermatologists with concerns about hyperpigmentation after summer. The most common culprits are post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH) and melasma, which are both triggered by UV exposure and heat," says Dr. Kathleen Viscusi of the Dermatology and Surgery Specialists of North Atlanta.

While PIH looks more like the pesky pigment spot that sticks around after a pimple heals, melasma (also triggered by hormones) causes larger patches often darker around the mouth, forehead, cheeks and chin.

"Women with deeper skin tones, specifically Fitzpatrick skin types III-VI, are the most affected by these because of increased melanin production," says Dr. Viscusi. "But, maskne has been a recurring issue in all of my patients, which has led to ongoing PIH around the mouth area."

To get dark spots under control, Dr. Viscusi says looking for one or two key ingredients in a product will make a big difference.

"You can find great options in all different product formats including moisturizers, toners and serums — ingredients are the real kicker when it comes to pigmentation. Look for ingredients such as azelaic, kojic or glycolic acids, retinoids and Vitamin C," she says.

Shoppers may be overwhelmed with all the options in the skincare aisle when it comes to treating dark spots. But luckily, many brands combine ingredients with Vitamin C for maximum potency. "A serum with 10% to 20% Vitamin C concentration is often recommended, but combination serums that also include tocopherol (Vitamin E), ferulic acid (a pH-lowering superstar that increases absorption) and hyaluronic acid are the best options," says Dr. Viscusi.

She adds, "When it comes to long-term skincare, Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant because it defends against UV damage, minimizes dark spots and creates an overall brighter complexion."

serums for post-summer hyperpigmentation

Buy It! Glow Recipe Guava Vitamin C Dark Spot Serum, $49;; Eadem Milk Marvel Dark Spot Serum, $68;; La Roche-Posay Vitamin C Serum, $39.99;; Hyper Skin Brightening Dark Spot Vitamin C Serum, $36;; Dr. Dennis Gross Advanced Retinol + Ferulic Texture Renewal Serum, $72;

A great retinoid (Vitamin A) can help, too. "It has a plethora of benefits ranging from acne treatment and cell turnover to allow improve pigment irregularities," says Dr. Viscusi. Your dermatologists can prescribe one, or an over-the-counter retinoid can be purchased at the drugstore from Differin. To ease into the ingredient, which can sometimes initially irritate skin, look for "retinol" (a more gentle Vitamin A derivative) on ingredient lists.

Of course, at-home treatments can only do so much for discoloration. So if stubborn spots won't seem to go away, it may be time to visit your derm for an in-office treatment.

"Chemical peels are a great introductory treatment for those looking to target dark spots. You can start with anything from a very light peel to a medium or deep one depending on your needs," says Dr. Viscusi. "Peels essentially remove layers of skin to even out the tone and texture."

Peels can range anywhere from $150 to $350 per treatment, but for a "more aggressive approach," Dr. Viscusi suggests a broadband light laser treatment which can range from $500 to $750 for the entire face. "It's the world's most powerful IPL (intense pulsed light) device on the market. The treatment reduces unwanted melanin by using photothermal energy to gently heat the upper layers of skin and stimulate the regeneration of cells," she says.

No matter the method you choose, whenever treating hyperpigmentation, one thing is always non-negotiable: "It's crucial to protect it from the sun, because UV rays will worsen the discoloration on the skin," says Dr. Viscusi.

Her go-to SPF recommendation for patients is Isdin Eryfotona Ageless Broad Spectrum SPF 50. "This one contains DNA enzymes which are clinically proven to repair sun damage," she says. "I suggest this to everyone, from the golfer who spends hours in the sun to the office worker who spends their day at a computer, and the stay-at-home parent who feels like they never leave the house."

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