These Lesser-Known Ingredients Are Key to Fighting Hyperpigmentation

These Lesser-Known Ingredients Are Key to Fighting Hyperpigmentation
Photo: ImaxTree.

The rise of bespoke brands shows no signs of slowing down. And while the personalized trend appears to be more popular within hair care (Prose, Function of Beauty), it’s definitely making noise on the skin-care end, too. Let’s get right to it. 2018 marked the arrival of yet another brand. However, what makes Proven Skincare a standout is the fact that it’s backed by MIT award-winning artificial intelligence technology.

This is how it works: Should you want to try your very own customizable lineup, you’ll start by taking a skin assessment to identify all of the factors that will go into creating your products. It includes everything from your most common concerns (such as acne, discoloration, excess oil) to the type of environment you live in. After that, your products—a day moisturizer, night cream and cleanser—arrive, and for as long as you’re signed up, your products evolve with you. For example, if you move or become pregnant, your products will be updated to reflect your new needs or location.

Given the fact that it downsizes my daily routine to just three products, I knew I had to try it. And though it’ll take some time before I notice any significant improvement in my skin—because these things take time—I was immediately intrigued by a slew of ingredients in my cleanser and night cream. Hyperpigmentation has always been a challenge for me, and over the years, solutions have been limited to the usual-suspects vitamin C and hydroquinone. Unfortunately, those aren’t effective for everyone, which brings me to these under-the-radar ingredients that do the same job and perhaps bring better results.

MORE: The 11 Best Vitamin C Serums For Glowy, Bright Skin

glowing skin makeup These Lesser Known Ingredients Are Key to Fighting Hyperpigmentation



According to Ming Zhao, CEO and cofounder of Proven Skincare, arbutin is a natural derivative of the bearberry plant, also known as nature’s gentler hydroquinone, an over-the-counter or prescription bleaching agent used for skin lightening. 

“Arbutin is similar to hydroquinone in that it blocks the enzymes in your skin that controls melanin production, but it does so without being harsh on the skin,” she says. “It essentially limits the production of extra melanin (brown pigment) in your skin to produce a brighter, more even skin tone.”

Arbutin is safe for all skin types and is an especially great option for anyone concerned about ochronosis. This is a rare depigmenting effect that’s caused by overuse of hydroquinone. 

Kojic Acid

Chemical exfoliants, or ingredients that loosen dead skin cells with acids, are typically derived from fruits and vegetables. Kojic acid is one we don’t talk about enough. It’s a natural byproduct created during the fermentation of sake (rice wine) and when applied topically, locks melanin (brown pigment) production for a clear, even-tone appearance.

It’s named after the Japanese “koji” fungi used to make it. And according to Zhao, it’s also a powerful antioxidant with anti-aging and collagen-protective effects.

“Kojic acid can be used safely by any skin type. Since it’s also a strong antioxidant, we recommend kojic acid for anyone exposed to UV damage, pollution or any other external sources of oxidation,” she says. “It’s great for big city dwellers, but will benefit anyone with hyperpigmentation or blotchy skin tones.”

MORE: The Ultimate Guide for Every Type of Skin Exfoliation

clear skin These Lesser Known Ingredients Are Key to Fighting Hyperpigmentation


Tranexamic Acid

OK, so you now know about kojic acid, and perhaps you’ve heard arbutin name-dropped in your dermatologist’s office, but we can guarantee tranexamic acid is the best skin brightener you’ve never heard of.

According to Zhao, it’s a form of an amino acid (protein fragment) called lysine and was originally used as an oral blood-clotting medication. So how did it end up being used in skin-care products? Researchers noticed that it carried a weird side effect: It actually improved the appearance of melasma (hormonal skin darkening) too.

“Based on this, scientists decided to examine what tranexamic acid does to the skin when applied topically, directly to areas of hyperpigmentation. The rest is history,” she says. “It’s a great skin brightener with a high safety profile, and it’s one of the few ingredients recommended for melasma. It also improves skin roughness and damage caused by UVA/UVB, pollution and other environmental factors.”

Tranexamic acid can be used by anyone, but given the fact that melasma is the most difficult form of hyperpigmentation to treat, this is a major breakthrough.

MORE: How to Know the Difference Between Dark Spots and Sun Spots

The Caveats

The great news is that generally, there are no dangerous side effects to using any of these ingredients. However, cocktailing with complementary skin-savers is a must. “Skin brighteners always work better and faster in combination with AHAs like azelaic acid and mandelic acid, which are in some of our cleansers,” says Zhao. “Skin brighteners such as arbutin block melanin production, but you won’t see the results until the surface layer of your skin turns over.”

At the same time, it’s extremely important to have a dedicated sun-protection plan. “Melanin has a function in your skin: It protects from UV damage. When you reduce your melanin production with skin brighteners, your skin can become more vulnerable to UV exposure, so it’s wise to use SPF constantly.”

This could take 30 to 60 days, depending on your age. When you apply AHAs, this renewal period is expedited, and you’ll see brighter skin more quickly than if you just use something like arbutin alone.

The Long Run

As noted before, remember that results don’t happen overnight. Since our skin turns over about every 28 days, depending on your age and health, it could take a few cycles of cellular turnover before seeing results since pigmentation tends to extend deep into the skin.

Whether you’re using Proven products or other brands with these ingredients, Zhao recommends using them consistently for at least three months before deciding whether to continue. Obviously, the longer you stick with it, the better your results will be.