Best Skin Lightening Cream for Hyperpigmentation 2019

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Best Skin Lightening Cream for Hyperpigmentation

Best Overall Pick

A popular dark spot corrector with 10+ brightening ingredients.

Meladerm by Civant Skin Care is a dark spot corrector featuring science-backed ingredients like niacinamide, licorice root extract, kojic acid, alpha arbutin, and vitamin C, to name just a few. The company has continued to improve its formula since 2003! Meladerm is effective on all types of hyperpigmentation and includes a 30-day money back guarantee.

Runner-Up Pick

A powerful, dermatologist-tested cream for stubborn dark spots.

La Roche-Posay offers a quality dark spot corrector cream featuring Phe-Resorcinol (a powerful skin exfoliant) and LHA (lipohydroxy acid) that works to improve uneven skin tone and hyperpigmentation. Formulated with an ultra light texture, this serum blends seemlessly into your skin to remove melanin deposits and brighten overall skin complexion.

Best for Uneven Skin Tone

Azelaic acid brightens only hyperpigmented skin.

Another great option by The Ordinary that specifically addresses uneven skin tone. Azelaic acid targets hyperpigmented skin without affecting normal skin. Great for improving the overall appearance of patches of discoloration and uneven skin tone. 

Best Budget Pick

A budget-friendly retinol cream for smoother, brighter skin.

One of the few brands I recommend on Amazon, Amara Organics has stellar reviews on almost all their products. This retinol cream reduces skin discoloration by increasing cell turnover and inhibiting melanin production. Also provides skin hydration with vitamin E, jojoba oil, and shea butter. Comes with a money back guarantee with no questions asked and no return required.

Best Value for the Money

High vitamin C levels may help with severe hyperpigmentation.

The Ordinary has a reputation for quality products at affordable prices. Featuring 23% pure vitamin C (L-ascorbic acid), this is not your everyday cream! It’s actually vitamin C powder suspended in a water-free squalane base that prevents vitamin C oxidation. The result is a heavy cream suitable for severe hyperpigmentation.

Best for Dry Skin

A great moisturizing cream featuring a vitamin C derivative.

Featuring 22% sodium ascorbyl phosphate (vitamin C derivative), this cream brightens skin and reduces dark spots while improving hydration with hyaluronic acid, shea butter, and jojoba oil. The addition of 2.5% niacinamide also helps increase cell turnover. The reviews have been fantastic and it includes a 90-day money back guarantee.

What is Hyperpigmentation?

Hyperpigmentation is often described as dark spots, discoloration, or uneven skin tone. 

But did you know there are different types of hyperpigmentation

These include age spots, melasma, acne scars, and freckles.

Age Spots

Age spots or “liver” spots are small dark areas of discoloration. They are caused by years of sun damage and are typically found on the face, hands, and arms. 

Melasma

Sometimes called the “mask of pregnancy”, melasma appears as dark patches of discoloration on the forehead, cheeks, nose, and chin. 

It is believed to be caused by hormonal changes, such as pregnancy or birth control

Acne Scars

These are brown or dark spots that form after a pimple clears up. 

If you have red marks, however, you might have post-inflammatory erythema (PIE). This is not the same as hyperpigmentation! 

RELATED:

Freckles

Freckles are red or brown spots caused by sun damage, usually at an early age. People with light skin tones and red or blonde hair are more likely to have freckles

What Causes These Dark Spots?

Despite their differences, there’s one thing that connects these together. 

Excess melanin.

Melanin is a pigment found in our skin cells. It determines our skin color and protects us from the sun’s ultraviolet radiation (UV rays).

Too much melanin, however, can lead to unwanted dark spots! This can be triggered by sun exposure, inflammation, and hormones.

If you remember only one thing from this article, remember that:

Hyperpigmentation = Excess Melanin

How to Treat Hyperpigmentation

Remember how hyperpigmentation is caused by excess melanin? Well, the logical solution is to reduce the amount of melanin in our skin cells.

Many treatments do this indirectly by blocking an enzyme called tyrosinase (responsible for producing melanin).

By deactivating tyrosinase, our skin cells gradually store less melanin. This helps fade the appearance of age spots, melasma, and acne scars.

Always use sunscreen and avoid sun exposure at peak hours (10am to 4pm). That’s because a single day of sun can undo months of treatment!

Buyer's Guide to Skin Lightening Creams

Woman Holding Shopping Bags

With so many options available, how can you find the best skin lightening cream for hyperpigmentation

We recommend looking for ingredients with strong clinical research.

Here’s what you need to know.

1. Hydroquinone

Often called the “gold standard”, hydroquinone is found in many skin lightening creams. You can find 2% hydroquinone in over-the-counter (OTC) treatments while 4% is by prescription only.

Hydroquinone works by inhibiting tyrosinase and slowing down melanin production. This gradually improves the appearance of dark spots and uneven skin tone.

For the past decade, the safety of hydroquinone has been debated. The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has a long history with hydroquinone. 

Back in 1982, the FDA tentatively concluded that hydroquinone was safe to use as a bleaching ingredient in skincare products. 

Decades later, in 2006, the FDA reversed its position and proposed to ban all OTC 2% hydroquinone products. The key concerns were: 

  • Studies by the National Toxicology Program showed “some evidence” linking hydroquinone to cancer in rats, and 
  • Anecdotal reports of exogenous ochronosis (skin darkening or disfiguration) associated with prolonged use of hydroquinone in African American women

Since then, the FDA has not made a final decision. However, some companies have already shifted from hydroquinone to ingredients such as vitamin C, retinol, niacinamide, and plant-based extracts.

The jury is still out on hydroquinone. But with so many good alternatives, I’d recommend avoiding this ingredient if possible. Better to be safe than sorry!

Hydroquinone is the "gold standard" of skin lightening ingredients. In 2006, the FDA proposed to ban OTC 2% hydroquinone over safety concerns.

2. Vitamin C

Vitamin C is one of the best ingredients for treating hyperpigmentation. 

Studies show that vitamin C inhibits tyrosinase and reduces melanin levels. This helps fade age spots and acne marks over time.

But vitamin C also protects your skin from the sun’s UV rays, thanks to its antioxidant properties. This helps prevent dark spots from forming in the first place.

For severe hyperpigmentation, look for L-ascorbic acid (LAA). It is the most studied and most effective type of vitamin C.

For mild hyperpigmentation, look for vitamin C derivatives. These are less potent than LAA but have a longer shelf life and are more suitable for sensitive skin.

RELATED: 

Vitamin C is a popular brightening ingredient that can prevent dark spots.

3. Retinol (Vitamin A)

Retinol is a popular anti-aging ingredient. It is the strongest type of retinoid (a class of vitamin A derivatives) available in OTC products.

Retinol promotes cell turnover. This means dead skin cells are removed faster along with the melanin stored in them. It also inhibits tyrosinase activity which reduces the level of melanin in our skin. 

In short, retinol can help reduce hyperpigmentation and improve the overall health of your skin. 

The most common side effect is skin irritation.

Retinol is an anti-aging ingredient that also helps with hyperpigmentation.

4. Niacinamide (Vitamin B3)

Niacinamide is a form of vitamin B3 found in yeast and root vegetables.

This ingredient works differently from the others. Niacinamide prevents new skin cells from receiving melanosomes (a storage unit for melanin). This has a similar effect to inhibiting tyrosinase and can help fade dark spots over time.

Niacinamide (Vitamin B3) prevents skin cells from receiving melanin.

5. Alpha Hydroxy Acid (AHA)

You’ve likely heard about AHAs like glycolic acid and lactic acid. These are commonly used in chemical peels but also found in creams and serums.

AHAs help with hyperpigmentation by “ungluing” the bonds between dead skin cells. This speeds up cell turnover and gets rid of the excess melanin stored in them. 

RELATED: 

AHAs help with hyperpigmentation by exfoliating dead skin cells.

6. Kojic Acid

Kojic acid is a natural ingredient derived from fungi. It can inhibit tyrosinase and might also have antioxidant properties.

The effectiveness of kojic acid is unclear. Some studies indicate comparable results to 4% hydroquinone while other studies show contradictory results. 

But adding kojic acid can boost the brightening properties of a broader ingredient list.

Side effects include irritation, contact dermatitis, and skin redness.

Kojic acid is a natural brightening ingredient.

7. Azelaic Acid

Azelaic acid is a promising ingredient that is also derived from fungi.

A few studies show that azelaic acid can help treat acne, melasma, and post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. One study noted that 20% azelaic acid was more effective than 4% hydroquinone during the 2nd month of melasma treatment.

Azelaic acid works by inhibiting tyrosinase and may also have antioxidant properties. 

The main advantage is that azelaic acid only works on hyperpigmented skin. It targets abnormally active melanocytes with minimal effect on normal skin. Melanocytes are the cells that produce melanin. 

Side effects of azelaic acid include itchiness, redness, and scaling.

Azelaic acid only brightens hyperpigmented skin.

8. Arbutin (Alpha + Beta)

Beta-arbutin is a derivative of hydroquinone found in herbs like bearberry. You’ll often see this labelled as bearberry extract. 

Studies show that beta-arbutin can improve dark spots and uneven skin tone.

Alpha-arbutin, on the other hand, is a synthetic derivative that’s even more effective than beta-arbutin. This makes it an excellent brightening ingredient.

Alpha and beta arbutin are excellent brighteners.

9. Mulberry

This ingredient is derived from dried mulberry leaves. Traditional Chinese medicine has used mulberry leaves for centuries to treat diabetes.

There is only one research study on mulberry. The authors found that treatments with mulberry extract produced significant improvement in melasma patients.

Mulberry may have skin lightening properties.

10. Licorice Root

Licorice root has two extracts that are helpful for hyperpigmentation. 

The main extract is glabridin. In one study, researchers found glabridin was 16 times more effective than hydroquinone!

The second extract is liquiritin. This is a plant flavonoid with anti‐inflammatory properties. Liquiritin helps with uneven skin tone by distributing melanin more evenly.

Licorice root has two extracts that help with hyperpigmentation.

Our Recommendations

Best Overall Pick

A popular dark spot corrector that features an extensive list of brightening ingredients.

Meladerm is one of the most popular products for hyperpigmentation. It was launched in 2003 by Civant Skin Care as a dedicated product line for treating age spots, melasma, acne scars, and uneven skin tone.

What makes Meladerm different? 

Here are some of the advantages:

  • An extensive list of brightening ingredients 
  • No hydroquinone, mercury, steroids, or harsh ingredients
  • A commitment to clinical research and high quality manufacturing

The company claims there are over 10 active brightening ingredients. We’ve analyzed the ingredient list for you and picked these out:

  1. Niacinamide (Vitamin B3)
  2. Morus Alba (White Mulberry) Root Extract
  3. Glycyrrhiza Glabra (Licorice) Root Extract
  4. Arctostaphylos Uva-Ursi (Bearberry) Leaf Extract
  5. Kojic Acid
  6. Alpha Arbutin
  7. Sodium Ascorbyl Phosphate (Vitamin C Derivative)
  8. Undecylenoyl Phenylalanine (Sepiwhite™)
  9. Phenylethyl Resorcinol (SymWhite®)
  10. Achillea Millefolium Extract (GigaWhite™)

As you can see, we already covered most of these ingredients in our buyer’s guide. So we know there’s strong clinical research behind them. 

The last three ingredients are unique to Meladerm. According to Civant Skin Care, Sepiwhite, SymWhite, and GigaWhite are all plant-based extracts with brightening properties. 

I like the company’s commitment to clinical research and high quality manufacturing as well.

Meladerm uses air-less dispensers to prevent ingredient oxidation.

Finally, customer reviews for Meladerm have been quite positive. You can find many reviews on both the company’s website and independent review aggregators.

Read our full review here.

Pro Tip: It’s best to purchase Meladerm directly from Civant Skin Care. You’ll get the lowest price and a 30-day money back guarantee.

PROS

  • Extensive list of science-backed brightening ingredients
  • No hydroquinone, mercury or other harsh ingredients
  • Commitment to clinical research and high quality manufacturing
  • 30-day money back guarantee

CONS

  • More expensive than alternative hyperpigmentation creams
  • Some people experienced skin irritation or breakouts
  • Requires at least 2-3 months

Runner-Up Pick

A powerful, dermatologist-tested cream for stubborn dark spots.

La Roche-Posay offers a quality dark spot corrector cream featuring Phe-Resorcinol (a powerful skin exfoliant) and LHA (lipohydroxy acid) that works to improve uneven skin tone and hyperpigmentation.

Formulated with an ultra light texture, this serum blends seemlessly into your skin to remove melanin deposits and brighten overall skin complexion.

PROS

  • Dermatologist-tested
  • Allergy-free
  • Phe-Resorcinol and LHA help exfoliate stubborn dark spots
  • Brightens overall skin tone

CONS

  • Expensive

Best for Uneven Skin Tone

Azelaic acid brightens only hyperpigmented skin.

This is another great option by The Ordinary that helps uneven skin tone and mild hyperpigmentation.

Again, I think this is a reliable brand that delivers quality products at affordable prices. 

The main advantage of azelaic acid is that it targets hyperpigmented skin without affecting normal skin. Some ingredients, like hydroquinone, may cause a “bleaching” effect that lightens the entire area. 

This product is great if you have patches of discoloration and uneven skin tone. Azelaic acid calms down overactive melanocytes which results in more even looking skin.

PROS

  • The Ordinary offers quality products at incredible prices
  • Works on hyperpigmented skin 
  • More even skin tone

CONS

  • Limited research on azelaic acid

Best Budget Pick

Retinol helps improve skin tone, wrinkles and fine lines, and mild hyperpigmentation.

Amara Organics is one of the few brands on Amazon that I recommend wholeheartedly. Almost every product in their skincare line has received stellar reviews.

As a reminder, retinol helps improve skin discoloration by accelerating cell turnover and inhibiting melanin production.

This is a great everyday cream that is very hydrating thanks to hyaluronic acid, vitamin E, jojoba oil, and shea butter.

Amara Organics also offers a “hassle-free” money-back guarantee with no questions asked and no return required.

PROS

  • Helps fade discoloration
  • Exfoliates dead skin cells
  • Hydrating benefits 
  • Excellent reviews

CONS

  • Increased sun sensitivity
  • Some people experienced breakouts
  • Some people did not see results

Best Value for the Money

A high concentration of L-ascorbic acid can help with severe hyperpigmentation.

The Ordinary has a reputation for quality formulations at incredible prices. It’s honestly one of my favorite skincare brands.

This product is a heavy cream that contains 23% L-ascorbic acid (pure vitamin C) and 2% hyaluronic acid. 

Unlike your typical cream, this is vitamin C powder suspended in a water-free squalane base. Squalane is a plant-derived hydrocarbon with excellent hydrating properties.

This formula is designed to protect vitamin C from oxidation. L-ascorbic acid oxidizes when combined with water, air (oxygen), or heat.

The cream feels a little heavy and takes a few seconds to absorb. 

The Vitamin C Suspension 23% + HA Spheres 2% is an excellent choice for severe hyperpigmentation due to the high vitamin C content.

Side effects include a tingling sensation and redness.

PROS

  • The Ordinary offers quality products at incredible prices
  • Best for stubborn dark spots
  • High vitamin C concentration
  • Brightens skin tone

CONS

  • Heavy texture 
  • Slight tingling sensation

Best for Dry Skin

A good moisturizing cream featuring a vitamin C derivative.

The Body Merry Face Moisturizer Cream features 22% sodium ascorbyl phosphate (a vitamin C derivative), 20% hyaluronic acid, 2.5% niacinamide, and 2.5% Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10).

This product uses a vitamin C derivative that may help with mild hyperpigmentation. For severe cases, look for L-ascorbic acid as the active ingredient.

This cream also includes moisturizing agents such as shea butter, jojoba oil, hyaluronic acid, and aloe vera.

Overall, customers are very satisfied as shown by the high number of five-star ratings.

Body Merry also includes a 90-day money back guarantee.

PROS

  • Helps fade mild discoloration and uneven skin tone
  • Hydrating benefits
  • Excellent reviews

CONS

  • Some people experienced breakouts
  • Some people felt it was not moisturizing enough

The Bottom-Line

I hope our buyer’s guide helps you find the best skin lightening cream for hyperpigmentation. 

Our top recommendation is Meladerm by Civant Skin Care. It’s an effective product backed by clinical research and excellent customer reviews.

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Tom Qiao

I solve skin mysteries using simple science to provide you the best skincare advice!

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