If you deal with hyperpigmentation, dark spots, and uneven skin tone, then you know that there is no over-the-counter miracle cure that easily gets rid of skin discoloration. If you are anything like me, you may have even tried a product or two and given up because you didn’t see results or didn’t see results fast enough. I’ve learned that you need to be patient and consistent when using skincare treatments targeted at reducing hyperpigmentation and dark spots.
You may see even better results when you use more than one product and use these products daily in your skincare routine. Using multiple products can get pricey quickly, but The Ordinary is a skincare brand that formulates several affordable products that target hyperpigmentation, dark spots, sun spots, and other discolorations.
Multiple products that work differently can be added to your arsenal to target hyperpigmentation in different ways. From increasing cell turnover to targeting the formation of hyperpigmentation, the following are the best products from The Ordinary for hyperpigmentation, dark spots, sun spots, uneven skin tone, and discoloration. But first, what is hyperpigmentation?
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What is Hyperpigmentation?
Hyperpigmentation is a skin condition that is characterized by darkened patches of skin. This discoloration occurs due to excessive melanin production in the skin. Melanin is a natural pigment. It gives human (and animal) skin, hair, and eyes its color.
Hyperpigmentation is commonly brought about by sun exposure, pregnancy, hormones, or certain medications and medical conditions. It also can be a residual effect of inflammation caused by acne or injuries to the skin.
Age spots, sun spots, and liver spots are types of hyperpigmentation that can be attributed to sun exposure and are commonly seen on hands, face and other areas of the body that are exposed to damaging UV rays.
Melasma is a type of hyperpigmentation that presents as patches of darkened skin. Melasma can occur from not only sun exposure but also by hormonal changes. It is often seen during pregnancy and can appear after taking birth control pills.
Melasma tends to be a little more difficult to treat than other types of hyperpigmentation due to the hormonal factors driving the condition. A dermatologist can help determine the best course of treatment.
Freckles are clusters of pigmented cells. They appear due to genetics and sun exposure.
The Best The Ordinary Products for Hyperpigmentation, Dark Spots, Sun Spots and Discoloration
These products from The Ordinary are not only budget-friendly but very helpful at targeting those pesky dark spots and hyperpigmentation. You obviously won’t use all of these products at once. For a sample skincare routine using some of these products, please see my post on how to build a skincare routine with The Ordinary products.
Patch Testing and Product Usage Instructions
The Ordinary recommends patch testing new products prior to using. Please see their guide to patch testing for more details. Some of these products should not be used on sensitive, peeling, or compromised skin. Please see the Ordinary’s website for warnings, conflicts and complete instructions on how to use and combine these products.
The Ordinary Direct Acids
Direct acids from The Ordinary exfoliate the top layer of skin cells to reveal brighter skin with improved skin texture. They also help break up pigmentation and dark spots. The Ordinary offers many exfoliating alpha hydroxy acids at different strengths to sweep away dead skin cells for a more radiant complexion and to improve the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.
Please note that direct acids will make the skin more sensitive to sunlight. It is important that you apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF of 30 or higher while using these products and for a week afterwards.
Glycolic acid has the smallest molecule size of all alpha hydroxy acids, meaning that it will penetrate deeper into the skin for a better exfoliation. The Ordinary Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution helps brighten the skin and improve skin clarity, tone, and texture with continued use. It also contains a Tasmanian Pepperberry derivative to reduce irritation associated with acid use.
Other Direct Acids from The Ordinary for Hyperpigmentation and Dark Spots
If glycolic acid is too strong for your skin, there are other alpha hydroxy acid options. Lactic acid is an alpha hydroxy acid that has a larger molecule size than glycolic acid. While it doesn’t penetrate the skin as deeply as glycolic acid, it is less irritating.
The Ordinary offers lactic acid serums supplemented with hyaluronic acid in two strengths: Lactic Acid 5% + HA and Lactic Acid 10% + HA. Both of these formulas contain a Tasmanian Pepperberry derivative to reduce irritation associated with acid use.
Mandelic acid is an alpha hydroxy acid that has a larger molecule size than glycolic acid and lactic acid and as a result, is typically less irritating. This acid may be appealing to those whose skin is sensitive to stronger acids. The Ordinary Mandelic Acid 10% + HA penetrates the skin more slowly than other acids which makes it suitable for most skin types. This formula also contains hyaluronic acid to hydrate and plump the skin.
Mandelic acid can help lighten dark spots and melasma. Like other alpha hydroxy acids, mandelic acid accelerates cell turnover and improves skin texture and radiance.
** Only For Experienced Users of Acid Exfolation**
The Ordinary AHA 30% + BHA 2% Peeling Solution contains 30% alpha hydroxy acids in the form of glycolic, lactic, tartaric, and citric acids to exfoliate the skin. The formula also contains 2% beta hydroxy acid in the form of salicylic acid. Salicyclic acid helps to remove congestion in the pores that may lead to breakouts. This weekly treatment helps to reduce hyperpigmentation, and improve skin texture, radiance, and fine lines with continued use.
This is a very strong formula and should not be used on sensitive, peeling or compromised skin. It is intended for experienced users of acid exfoliation only. This is a 10-minute rinse-off treatment that can be used weekly. Like other products from The Ordinary, please patch test prior to using and see The Ordinary’s website for complete usage instructions.
Azelaic acid is a tyrosinase inhibitor. Tyrosinase is an enzyme that stimulates melanin production. Azelaic acid interferes with melanin production, so it can prevent hyperpigmentation. Azelaic acid is helpful for acne as it is anti-inflammatory. In addition, it is an antibacterial that helps unclog pores.
The Ordinary Azelaic Acid Suspension 10% evens out skin texture, reduces the appearance of blemishes, helps to fade post-acne discoloration, brightens the skin, and improves skin texture. It also acts as an antioxidant and is an anti-inflammatory. This high concentration of azelaic acid is formulated in a lightweight cream-gel.
Arbutin is derived from plants such as cranberries, blueberries, and pears. Arbutin competitively inhibits tyrosinase, an enzyme that stimulates melanin production. It lightens pigmentation and generally works well for all skin types, including sensitive skin.
Unlike other active ingredients that help to reduce hyperpigmentation, arbutin does not cause sensitivity to the sun. There are two kinds of arbutin: alpha and beta. Alpha arbutin is considered to be more effective (and more expensive) than beta arbutin.
The Ordinary Alpha Arbutin 2% + HA contains a 2% concentration of alpha arbutin plus hydrolyzed sodium hyaluronate, a next-generation form of hyaluronic acid, to provide better hydration. Since alpha arbutin may degrade in water when formulated at the wrong pH, The Ordinary has formulated this product at a pH of approximately 4.9. This is the pH level that will minimize the degradation of alpha arbutin.
The Ordinary Vitamin C Products
There are so many benefits to using a skincare product formulated with vitamin C. Vitamin C is a potent antioxidant and is on a shortlist of skincare actives that brighten the skin and help to reduce the appearance of the signs of aging. Like alpha arbutin, vitamin C helps to reduce hyperpigmentation by inhibiting tyrosinase, an enzyme involved in melanin formation.
Vitamin C works to reduce the look of wrinkles, fine lines, dark spots, discoloration, and uneven skin texture and tone. Vitamin C protects skin against environmental aggressors such as free radical damage caused by sun exposure. It also supports collagen production.
Pure vitamin C comes in the form of L-ascorbic acid. There are a variety of vitamin C derivatives, which are usually less effective than L-ascorbic acid. The Ordinary offers 8 different types of vitamin C, so it can get confusing when trying to determine which kind will work best for your skin. Luckily, The Ordinary has a fantastic Vitamin C Guide that breaks it all down for you.
A Brief Summary of Every The Ordinary Vitamin C Product
Vitamin C Suspension 23% + HA Spheres 2%: A water-free and silicone-free suspension of 23% L-Ascorbic Acid powder plus HA Spheres 2% for smoothing the surface of the skin. This product has a somewhat grainy texture and feel on the skin.
Vitamin C Suspension 30% in Silicone: A water-free formula of 30% pure L-Ascorbic Acid in light silicones. Silicone provides a smoother skin feel of the product yet interferes with vitamin C exposure to the skin since silicone entraps vitamin C.
With this 30% suspension, you will get slightly less efficient exposure to Vitamin C than The Ordinary Vitamin C Suspension 23% + HA Spheres 2% formula. The higher vitamin C content of this product (30% vs 23%) will offset the reduced vitamin C exposure to the skin.
100% L-Ascorbic Acid Powder: A very fine, anhydrous, L-Ascorbic Acid powder that needs to be mixed with other skincare treatments prior to application. It should not be mixed with products containing niacinamide, peptides, direct acids, retinoids, or EUK 134 0.1%.
Ascorbic Acid 8% + Alpha Arbutin 2%: A water-free formula of vitamin C and alpha arbutin. This product is my pick for the best The Ordinary vitamin C product for hyperpigmentation because you get the benefits of both vitamin C, a potent antioxidant, and alpha arbutin. These actives brighten skin, reduce hyperpigmentation and dark spots, and reduce the appearance of the signs of aging.
Ascorbyl Glucoside Solution 12%: A water-soluble derivative of Vitamin C with a pleasant serum texture. Due to its high stability and comfortable texture and use, The Ordinary states that it is considered the gold standard of vitamin C derivatives. (This is my current favorite The Ordinary vitamin C product for daily antioxidant protection.)
Ascorbyl Tetraisopalmitate Solution 20% in Vitamin F: A highly stable, high-strength oil-soluble derivative of Vitamin C. This product is in an oil-base (jojoba oil), to moisturize and protect the skin. It also contains vitamin F and squalane that act as emollients. This vitamin C derivative would be ideal for those with dry skin.
Ethylated Ascorbic Acid 15% Solution: A water-free stable solution of 15% Ethylated Ascorbic Acid. It varies from other derivates, as it acts directly like Vitamin C. It has a similar molecular weight to pure vitamin C which provides faster visible results from the formula.
Magnesium Ascorbyl Phosphate 10%: A water-soluble derivative of Vitamin C. This formula has been shown to offer better specific skin brightening benefits than other Vitamin C derivatives.
Related Post: The Ordinary Anti-Aging Skincare Review
Niacinamide is one of my favorite skincare ingredients. It is a multi-benefit skincare ingredient that offers brightening and oil regulation along with many anti-aging benefits. For benefits regarding hyperpigmentation, niacinamide has been shown to prevent the transfer of pigment within cells and lighten dark spots and other discoloration.
The Ordinary Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 1%, one of The Ordinary’s best-sellers, is formulated to reduce the look of blemishes and congestion in your skin. Zinc salt of pyrrolidone carboxylic acid is also included in this formula at 1% to balance visible aspects of sebum activity.
If in addition to dark spots, you have oily skin and deal with breakouts, and/or have age-related skin concerns, The Ordinary Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 1% may be helpful in addressing multiple skin concerns at once.
The Ordinary Retinoids
Retinoids increase cell turnover rate and interfere with tyrosinase activity. Tyrosinase is an enzyme that contributes to melanin production. While prescription retinoids will be more effective at reducing hyperpigmentation and dark spots, over-the-counter retinoids can be helpful.
Please keep in mind that retinol can come with side effects, especially for those with sensitive skin. So it is very important to use it correctly. Since retinoids can be potentially irritating to the skin, they shouldn’t be used in conjunction with other potent actives like other retinoids, direct acids, and vitamin C. The Ordinary has a Regimen Guide which details usage instructions.
The Ordinary currently offers six retinoids in their product catalog. Three of the retinoids are varying strengths of retinol in a squalane base. The remaining three are Granactive Retinoids.
A Granactive Retinoid is a complex of solubilized Hydroxypinacolone Retinoate (HPR). HPR is a non-prescription ester of all-trans direct retinoic acid which provides better results in regard to the visible signs of aging when compared to retinol. This type of retinoid also avoids the irritation associated with other retinoids and retinol.
A Brief Summary of Every The Ordinary Retinoid Product
Granactive Retinoid 2% Emulsion (Moderate Strength, No Irritation): A 2% concentration of Granactive Retinoid, a complex of solubilized Hydroxypinacolone Retinoate (HPR), and a sustained-delivery form of pure retinol in a protective capsule system. This retinoid is in a creamy hydrating emulsion form. (This is my favorite retinoid from The Ordinary.)
Granactive Retinoid 2% in Squalane (Moderate Strength, No Irritation): A water-free solution that contains a 2% concentration of Granactive Retinoid in a lightweight squalane base. Squalane is a non-comedogenic emollient and is fast-absorbing and hydrating.
Granactive Retinoid 5% in Squalane (High Strength, No to Low Irritation): A water-free solution contains a 5% concentration of Granactive Retinoid in a lightweight squalane base. Squalane is a non-comedogenic emollient and is fast-absorbing and hydrating.
Retinol 0.2% in Squalane (Low Strength, Moderate Irritation): A water-free solution that contains 0.2% pure Retinol in a squalane base. Squalane is a non-comedogenic emollient and is fast-absorbing and hydrating. If you prefer retinol to Granactive Retinoids and haven’t used high strength retinol products in the past, The Ordinary recommends starting here.
Retinol 0.5% in Squalane (Moderate Strength, High Irritation): A water-free solution that contains 0.5% pure Retinol in a squalane base. Squalane is a non-comedogenic emollient and is fast-absorbing and hydrating.
Retinol 1% in Squalane (High Strength, Very High Irritation): A water-free solution that contains 1% pure Retinol in a squalane base. Squalane is a non-comedogenic emollient and is fast-absorbing and hydrating. Although high strength, this is the most irritating retinoid offered by The Ordinary.
Related Post: The Best The Ordinary Products for Dry Skin
When it comes to preventing hyperpigmentation, sun spots and other discoloration, the importance of sunscreen cannot be overstated. Melanin absorbs UV rays to protect the skin from damage. Sunlight causes these pigment making cells to overproduce resulting in hyperpigmentation.
The best solution is to apply a sunscreen of SPF 30 or higher to not only your face but areas of your body that will be exposed to the sun. Every. Single. Day.
The Ordinary offers a few different sunscreen products, but I prefer mineral sunscreens. The Ordinary Mineral UV Filters SPF 30 with Antioxidants provides mineral broad-spectrum SPF 30 sunscreen protection plus antioxidant support, hydration, and anti-irritation benefits.
Instead of nanoparticles, this formula uses a refined dispersion of micronized ZnO and TiO2 in flexible, high-volatility, non-comedogenic silicones. The result is a lightweight formula that uses ZnO to reflect light and absorb UV rays.
The formula’s Bio-Active Antioxidant Network neutralizes UV rays and its Bio-Sugar Complex provides short and long-term hydration. Skin Identical Lipids improve the skin barrier while preventing transepidermal water loss. A Tasmanian Pepperberry derivative soothes and calms stressed and irritated skin.
Related Post: The Best Drugstore Mineral Sunscreens
Final Thoughts on The Best The Ordinary Products for Hyperpigmentation and Dark Spots
I love that many of these products from The Ordinary for hyperpigmentation have multiple benefits and that you can address more than one skin concern at the same time. For instance, vitamin C and retinoids address many visible signs of aging in addition to helping to reduce hyperpigmentation, dark spots, and discoloration.
While The Ordinary offers many products that can help reduce the visible look of hyperpigmentation, dark spots, sun spots, discoloration, and uneven skin tone, what works for me may be different than what works for you. It may take some trial and error to get the results you are looking for.
One benefit with The Ordinary products is that they are very inexpensive and some are downright cheap. So if you need to try more than one, you can purchase multiple products at a very affordable price.
What are your favorite products from The Ordinary for hyperpigmentation and dark spots? I’d love to know…
Thanks for reading, and until next time..