Everything You Need to Know About Hyperpigmentation & The Best Ingredients to Treat It

Everything You Need to Know About Hyperpigmentation & The Best Ingredients to Treat It

Hyperpigmentation is a b*itch, and it can really come between a person and their self-esteem. But what I’ve learned over time is, like all other persistent skin troubles, tackling hyperpigmentation entails some trial and error. Its universally common instigators include:

  1. Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (aka PIH) think acne scars or the marks left behind after popping and picking at scabs, zits, and pimples.
  2. Then there is melasma, the Regina George of the lot my #1 arch-nemesis; typically patches of symmetrical brown or grey discolorations that appear on both sides of the face. 
  3. And last but certainly not least, sun damage the most obvious and most detrimental. Consider this as your daily reminder to lather on that SPF. 


Now, onto the ingredients. 


A question I encounter pretty often is, what are the best ingredients for treating hyperpigmentation? There are several, and today I’ll be covering 10 of them:


Retinoids: This is THE holy grail skincare ingredient. Retinoids are overachievers that work wonders for fine lines, wrinkles, acne, and uneven skin tone. These potent treatments help tackle the root cause, tyrosinase, slowing down the excess production of melanin. However, use them with caution, especially if you have sensitive skin – making sure to incorporate them slowly and gradually into your skincare routine to curb irritations. And because retinoids are super-sensitive to the sun, they’re best applied in the PM for desirable results (but it’s also critical that you follow through with a daily broad-spectrum SPF in the AM). 


There are some incredible over-the-counter retinoids out there in different varieties for all types of budgets. RoC’s Retinol Correxxion Deep Wrinkle Night Cream, $25, is a top-rated budget buy, and I also love Skinceuticals’ retinol face creams, which will cost you between 70 and 90 bucks.




Niacinamide: Niacinamide has had its year in the spotlight in 2020, being one of the most-buzzed-about all-in-one ingredients on the market. However, it has also been marketed and pushed as “more is more” when in fact, less is more. Ideal concentrations that hit the sweet spot of what this little gem can do are between 2-5%. Anything higher might inflame and irritate your skin in the process. So when considering starting with niacinamide, it’s best to begin on the lower spectrum, working your way up as your skin builds a tolerance.


The Inkey List 10% Niacinamide Serum, $7.


Kojic Acid: a byproduct of fermented Japanese sake (a rice wine). In skincare, it’s known as a brightening agent, clinging onto copper ions to inhibit excess pigment production in the skin. Concentrations should never exceed 4%, or you increase the risk of irritations.


[Product image with embedded ‘shop here’ link] TBC


Licorice Root: a rising star ingredient that’s recently gained popularity as a noteworthy dark spot remedy. Like retinoids, it inhibits tyrosinase activity and delivers anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits, too.


[Product image with embedded ‘shop here’ link] TBC


Hydroquinone:  a skin-evening agent that’s gotten some bad PR in the past due to misconceptions surrounding cancer concerns. However, to this day, a link between cancer and hydroquinone in humans has never been found, so it’s completely safe to use and other skin professionals will agree when I say it’s the gold standard, particularly for melasma and post-inflammatory pigmentation. It’s extremely effective in lightening pigment, but I do not recommend it for prolonged use. Rather use it on and off for no more than four to six months, depending on your skin’s response. I often advise two months on and one month off.


AMBI Skincare Fade Cream, $7.


Arbutin: is derived from the bearberry plant and is a gentler alternative to hydroquinone. 5% arbutin is considered the safest for sensitive and uneven skin tones. 


[Product image with embedded ‘shop here’ link] TBC


L-Ascorbic Acid: This active vitamin C is known for its pigment-evening properties. Ideally, you should use a concentration of 10%-20% for optimum skin glow results. 



Skinceuticals C E Ferulic with 15% L-Ascorbic Acid, $166.


Tranexamic Acid: disrupts the pigment production process by blocking interactions between melanocytes and keratinocytes. It’s quite gentle, so you can use it up to twice a day and in combination with other skin brightening blends like your topical vitamin C.



Skinmedica Lytera 2.0 Pigment Correcting Serum, $154.


Azelaic Acid: is another all-rounder. In addition to treating dark spots, it’s great for tackling acne scarring and rosacea as its anti-inflammatory. When used with a retinoid, it can deliver hydroquinone-level skin benefits, and if you top this combo off with an exfoliating acid too…*chefs kiss* (but only do this if your skin can tolerate it).



Paula’s Choice 10% Azelaic Acid Booster, $36.


And last but not least, sunscreen a final step that applies to ALL the pigmentation faders spotlighted above. You know the drill, a broad spectrum UVA/UVB is key, with an SPF of 30 or greater. 


A few of my favorite white-cast-free sunscreens include:


Supergoop! https://myshlf.us/p-20128

Skin Ceuticals https://myshlf.us/p-20129

Black Girl Sunscreen https://myshlf.us/p-20803

Peter Thomas Roth https://myshlf.us/p-20802

Krave Beauty https://myshlf.us/p-20801

Supergoop! https://myshlf.us/p-20799





https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=79rIVH-4ZQU https://www.instagram.com/p/CJYmOSpDF0o/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link

Your Complete Guide to Vitamin C For a Skin Glow Up Like No Other

Your Complete Guide to Vitamin C For a Skin Glow Up Like No Other

Vitamin C — probably one of my all-time favorite skincare ingredients. And if the hundred million gazillion scientific studies out there are anything to go by, it’s been proven to work time and time again, offering a multitude of regenerative benefits for your skin. And this doesn’t mean you should now chug a liter of OJ or drench your skin in some freshly-squeezed lemon juice (please DON’T). Much like all other skincare ingredients, there are various ways to reap all kinds of skin-loving rewards when using a topical vitamin C.


Four reasons why you should add vitamin C to your beauty stash:


You’re probably familiar with the well-known perks that come along with this anti-ageing powerhouse, but how exactly does it give you a youthful and glowing complexion?…


#1: It’s a potent antioxidant.


For those wondering, WTF is an antioxidant even? They are substances that provide skin with free radical protection, slowing down cell damage caused by environmental stressors. This includes the sun, pollution, and even tobacco smoke (secondhand smoke exposure is the devil!), and this can all contribute to the breakdown of collagen in your skin. Sadly, we can’t run away from free radicals, they are everywhere but what vitamin C does, and does so well, is neutralize them, keeping them in check.


#2: It can protect your skin from sun damage.


And I tread lightly when saying this as far too often, vitamin C is misconceived as a substitute for SPF. It is not — it does not absorb or reflect UV rays as your sunscreen does. Rather, it regulates inflammation and redness caused by the sun, making it the perfect companion for your SPF. Think of vitamin C and sunscreen as Oprah and Gayle or Mary Kate and Ashley — they work even better as pairs.


#3: It’s a collagen builder.


Vitamin C is a cofactor for prolyl hydroxylase and lysyl hydroxylase. In user-friendly English?? These are two enzymes that play a crucial role in the synthesis of collagen — and don’t we all love a good collagen boost!


#4: It does wonders for pigmentation.


Copper is a key element in the formation of melanin pigment cells. So what vitamin C does is lessen the concentration of copper in the skin, resulting in a more evened-out complexion.


Onto the nerdy stuff…


The formulations


Typically, vitamin C is categorized into two forms: active and inactive. Under the active classification is l-ascorbic acid. When it comes to concentrations and the efficacy of this type of vitamin C, the gold standard for visible results is about 8-20%. So it’s pretty potent, which is great, but one major downside is that it’s unstable AF and can easily oxidize or alter. Some of its wavering factors include high temperature, high PH, metals, oxygen, and even exposed light and air. Therefore it’s a vitamin C that requires a little more TLC, and I always advise purchasing it in small doses that you can use up much faster. 


The rest of the vitamin C’s fall under inactive or ester forms — these become active once applied onto the skin, and they’re a whooole lot more stable. Sodium ascorbyl phosphate (SAP) is a holy grail of mine as it offers similar perks as l-ascorbic acid, mainly antioxidants, and collagen-boosting and pigment-evening properties. Research has also shown it can regulate sebum production and acne inflammation, making it a worthy choice for acne-prone skin types. 


A few SAP-infused blends I swear by:


The All-Rounder: U Beauty Resurfacing Compound, $88 for 15ml.



The Flawless Fader: Olay Regenerist Brightening Vitamin C Fragrance-Free Serum, $44.



The Superhero: No 7 Protect & Perfect Intense Advanced Serum, $23.



In the video series below, I touch on a few other vitamin C types that should be on your radar. From tongue-twisters magnesium ascorbyl phosphate and tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate — I’m deciphering them all! Notes app ready?



AM vs PM: A Step by Step Guide to Skincare Layering

AM vs PM: A Step by Step Guide to Skincare Layering

No matter how many products you utilize in your AM and PM routines, the sequence in which you apply them makes the most difference to your skin. Believe it or not, there is such a thing as a correct order in skincare cocktailing. If you’re a zero f*cks given type of person who tends to freestyle your regimen depending on your mood or the extremity of a morning rush, you could end up doing a major disservice to your skin. And I get it, squeezing a 15 minute routine into 5 minutes is a literal Olympic sport, but when you apply products improperly, you can render your entire routine useless, which I’m sure you’ll agree is not ideal.

The golden rules to skincare layering


You want to ensure that your skin gets the full benefits of your products, so your individual layers should afford each formula a moment to shine. Always apply liquids with the thinnest consistency first, like your serum, to allow the actives to penetrate deeper in the skin, then following this up with your richer creams. So avoid beginning with thicker formulations as the dense barrier formed by a moisturizer will end up blocking your serum from getting to where it needs to be, which we don’t want to happen. Also, remember that water always comes before oil, and your active ingredients (which spearhead all the magic in your regimen), should be prioritised in the early steps of your routine.

Layering up in the AM


Step 1: Water

Skip the cleanser and wash your face with water instead, this way you won’t strip your skin of its natural oils. Since you thoroughly cleansed your skin shortly before catching some zzz’s, a splash of water is more than enough to get rid of small overnight impurities, leaving you with a perfectly cleansed base. 


Step 2: Serum

Serums carry the weight of your entire routine on their tiny little backs and do one hell of a job boosting skin health. They are potent concentrations filled with nutrients and all kinds of skin-transforming antioxidants to tackle a fixed concern like acne, dullness, or uneven tone. I advise sticking to a vitamin C serum in the AM as it helps amp up the benefits of your sunscreen and protects your skin in the process.


Step 3: Spot Treatment 

These are usually acne or dark spot targeted treatments, from gels, creams to pimple patches, that help soothe and reduce blemishes.


Step 4: Eye Cream

There’s a long-standing debate on whether eye creams are really necessary, and my answer is yes. The undereye area is the thinnest and most delicate skin on the face, so you want to ensure volume is maintained, and this is achieved through a daily dollop of dense moisture (and some SPF) to keep collagen levels intact. 


Step 5: Moisturizer 

This is like a superfood smoothie that also works like a protective film on top of skin, locking in all the other skin-renewing products beneath while further boosting hydration. 


Step 6: Sunscreen

I know I’m stating the obvious here, and I may sound like a broken record, but in case you forgot, sunscreen should ALWAYS be the last step in your routine. Besides it being the most important step in your routine, period when it comes to preventing UV-induced skin dilemmas, it’s also pretty much your skincare’s little sidekick — boosting skin health overall.

Switching it up in the PM


Step 1: Cleanser

After a full-day holding up your facebeat and dealing with all kinds of environmental stressors, a good-quality cleanser will reset your skin, rinsing away all makeup, oil and grime for a fresh base.


Step 2: Chemical Exfoliant 

This should be utilized 3-4 times a week (at most!) to prevent your skin from having a meltdown. Also be cautious when using an exfoliant with a retinol as this is something your skin needs to ease into. I honestly advise avoiding this combo altogether and rather leave it to the advanced skin nerds.


Step 3-6: The evening calls for a cocktail party and on the menu is a nightcap mix of serum (3), spot treatment (4), eye cream (5) and moisturizer (*6), which I apply in this order.


*Step 7: Retinol 

Every derm and skincare lover’s favorite wrinkle-reversing miracle worker. Today, you’ll find an array of formulations available in various potencies to suit your skin needs. Overall, retinol works wonders in revving up cell turnover and collagen production.


*Keep in mind that step 6 and 7 are interchangeable, depending on your level of sensitivity. Apply them in either two ways:

  1. Use retinol after moisturizer. If your skin is on the sensitive side, a moisturizer will act as a buffer to minimize irritation. 
  2. Alternatively, use retinol before moisturizer — this way a moisturizer can help boost its effects.


Step 8: Face Oil 

Choosing an oil is quite tricky as they’re not necessarily one-size-fits-all blends. Marula and jojoba are best for dry skin, while rosehip is better suited for oily types. I’m not the biggest fan of these as they can disrupt your sun protection in the daytime, but they’re a great protective and hydrating covering to use before you hit snooze. 



Reference: https://www.instagram.com/p/CONc_SUjvU9/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link

Hyaluronic Acid 101: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

Hyaluronic Acid 101: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

Let’s chat about hyaluronic acid, shall we? The beauty buzzword that never seems to die. At one point, it was even dubbed ‘the key to the fountain of youth’ — a sentiment that led to many literally drenching their skin and cabinets with the stuff. From serums, day creams, night creams, and mists — hyaluronic acid’s lengthy catalog of topical skincare cameos has reached a newfound level of depletion, and as much as I despise having to be the Debbie Downer, I’m here to pull the plug on this madness.


Debunking All Things HA


It’s been touted as skincare’s ‘it’ ingredient — the unrivaled moisture magnet that can supposedly freeze all telltale signs of aging and give you the dewiest complexion, too. I mean, we all love a two for one beauty deal, but are these legitimate facts or just overhyped promises of dreams and miracles? To decipher it all, let’s go back to the basics…


Hyaluronic Acid and Its Alter Egos


…there’s plenty of them, as HA comes in various forms:


  1. Hyaluronan is in vivo, in other words, naturally in our skin — in tissue and fluid. 
  2. Hyaluronic acid is pretty much the same thing, an alias of sorts. But don’t confuse it with an exfoliating acid as it’s far from it. Its pH is acidic hence the ‘acid’ element.
  3. Hydrolyzed Hyaluronic Acid is HA in its synthesized form, broken down into smaller molecules.
  4. And lastly, Sodium Hyaluronate — the cheaper, salt version of HA that companies utilize to save a couple of coins, skimping out on the quality that they deliver to you. Rummage through all your hyaluronic acid-enriched skincare items right now, and I can guarantee that the vast majority of them will have this as an ingredient. 


So what exactly is HA?


In scientific jargon, it’s what we call a glycosaminoglycan — a sugary carbohydrate molecule that gives your dermis structure, and its plump and squishy glazed-donut-like bounce. It’s said that native HA, located in our bodies, can hold up to 1000 times its weight in water. And I know, advising you to ‘drink water’ is such a cliché but seriously, once you get your H2O intake in check, your skin will reap all the skin-plumping rewards of native HA. 


In addition to this, hyaluronic acid plays a pretty vital role in wound repair, as it accelerates blood supply to the area, allowing it to heal and regenerate from within. But…and there’s always a but…the molecular size of the hyaluronic acid that you’re using is what determines its efficacy — a piece of advice that the skincare industry continuously (and conveniently) forgets to touch on.  


Why size matters.


Most brands have told us the same old sugar-coated fairytale — how their HA has the lowest molecular weight in the market that penetrates the deepest layers of the skin, plumping and banishing all fine lines and wrinkles to have you aging in reverse like Benjamin Button. 


This is where the little white lies come in. 


In its native or natural state, hyaluronic acid has a high molecular weight, which is why it wouldn’t be able to absorb through the skin if applied topically. So to “solve” this dilemma, scientists hydrolyzed it – meaning they broke it down into smaller particles that weigh a lot less, which is what we refer to as ‘low molecular weight HA.’ But the untold truth is (and this may spoil your day, so apologies in advance), the low molecular weight HA in our skincare stashes doesn’t even pass through your epidermis…………it stays there, rent-free, and doesn’t even come close to the dermis where your native HA resides. 


Today, two of the most common misleading HA claims are:


#1: It penetrates deep within. 

False: Science has shown that in spite of the molecular size used, topical hyaluronic acid will always sit on the top layer of the skin.


#2: It’s hydrating.

False again: How many times have you heard how HA is like a thirst-quenching drink for your skin? The truth of the matter is, it’s not. Hyaluronic acid is a humectant, so it actually draws moisture from the skin and increases transepidermal water loss — this is literally written in fine print in dermatology publications. Surely, if HA was as hydrating as some companies claim, it would work to safeguard skin from moisture loss, allowing water to remain in the epidermis and not evaporate? 

Another critical detail brands fail to mention (everytime) is that humectants like HA should be used in conjunction with an occlusive ingredient. What this does is work as a protective barrier on the skin, ensuring hydration is locked in and not lost.


So we’ve covered all the good(-ish) and the bad, and it’s now time for the downright ugly…


Where exactly does topical HA get its water?


One thing that is correct about HA claims is that it’s a moisture magnet — but not in a good way, as it literally slurps up and empties your cells of its water, plumping itself like a sponge in order to build volume and resilience. And over time, as HA’s water content evaporates, your skin becomes really dehydrated, too. The counterargument to this is often “what if I just seal it with a moisturizer?” Then…why use it in the first place? 

The alarming amount of miseducation around HA has also spearheaded a belief that it can be incorporated into ALL steps of your routine. But this excessive use can be the driver behind several skin woes like dryness, redness, and irritation. If you’re a proclaimed hyaluronic acid “junkie” and have been struggling to suss out the source of your recent skin freak out, take a good glimpse at your skincare routine. HA is not a saint, and it’s not the devil either. But like most things, too much of anything can be just that: too much! 

If you find yourself having dehydrated skin and can’t seem to quit the instant gratification effect that HA delivers for you, I then suggest limiting it to just a single step of your skincare routine. 


Your skin (and wallet) will thank me later.


Watch my full 411 on all things HA below:


A Dermatologist’s PM Skincare Routine & Their Holy Grail Picks For Pigmentation

A Dermatologist’s PM Skincare Routine & Their Holy Grail Picks For Pigmentation

So today, I will be giving you guys a glimpse into my nighttime routine. As I’ve said, again and again, a thorough skincare ritual before you hit the sack is non-negotiable. This simple task can aid in preventing breakouts, inflammation, wrinkles, and other unwanted skin woes. During the course of the day, your skin accumulates all kinds of buildup and gunk, and the last thing you want is ​​dirt, makeup, and oil clogging up your pores, coming between you and the skin of your dreams. A worthy tip? Always do your nighttime routine as soon as you step into your home. I know how exhausting work can get, but doing your skincare in the early evening will give your products a little more extra time to work.


My biggest skin concern right now is pigmentation scroll down as I showcase my step-by-step PM regimen with holy grail product picks for uneven tone:


Step 1: Makeup Removal

I love micellar water Bioderma’s Sensibio H2O is a bathroom cabinet staple of mine, but if you’re on a tighter budget, Garnier is a fairly good alternative. Soak your reusable cotton pads with cleansing water, using this to remove all face and eye makeup. Remember to be extra gentle with the eye area so avoid pulling or rubbing the skin back and forth unless you want a few fine lines to perk up later. 


Step 2: Cleanser

I 10/10 recommend the Vanicream Gentle Facial Cleanser it’s a great and affordable formula for sensitive skin types that doesn’t leave your skin feeling stripped. Also, remember to change your face towels every two days as they can become breeding grounds for bacteria, which can then catalyze acne flare-ups and infections, and I’m sure you don’t want that. 


Why is double cleansing so important?

With a single cleanser, as good as it may be, there will always be some residual spots or layers left behind. One product can only do so much this is why I double up on my cleansers to ensure skin is left fresh and free of grime. Do a white towel test, cleansing makeup off the back of your hand with micellar water only, and then use a combination of micellar and your favorite face wash, and you’ll see a visible difference between the two.


Step 3: Chemical Exfoliant

I recently discovered Environ’s Tri-Bio Botanical Revival Masque, and I can’t get enough. Its key ingredients include lactic and mandelic acid, and it’s formulated specifically for uneven tone. You can keep it on your skin for roughly 10 minutes or so, or you leave it on overnight. Because this is an exfoliator, I use it about twice a week. Once washed off, the skin glow it leaves is elite. 


Step 4: Serum

Next, I apply Differin’s Dark Spot Correcting Serum, which has 2% hydroquinone (currently the highest concentration you can get over-the-counter) if you missed my previous blog post on hyperpigmentation where I speak about this game-changing ingredient, check it out here

. Hydroquinone is a really effective skin-evening agent that lightens and clears up pigmentation and age spots. You can find this serum at CVS, Target, Walmart, and Ulta. 


Step 5: Eye Cream

Kate Sommerville’s +Retinol Firming Eye Cream is my current go-to. It will tingle or sting a bit at first but don’t panic this is totally normal as it does contain retinol. Retinol-infused products are best used in the evening. I call this R&R (short for rest & retinol) as they make skin highly sensitive to UV rays, so applying them before bedtime is the safest route, and don’t forget to lather on a daily broad-spectrum SPF (30 or higher) in the daytime.


Step 6: Prescription Azelaic Acid 

I use 15% azelaic acid, this is an ingredient that helps with pigmentation, and I apply it quite generously on the face. If you’re unable to see a derm to prescribe this, a great OTC option is Paula’s Choice 10% Azelaic Acid Booster, which also includes salicylic acid and licorice root.


Step 7: Retinol

A313’s Vitamin A Pomade is a great retinol ointment you can find it at Walmart or on Amazon. It does spread a lot over the face, so a little goes a long way. On the days I don’t use the Kate Sommerville retinol eye cream, I will then extend this to the under eyes as well. 


Step 8: Moisturizer

Because the A313 is such a thick occlusive, I end up not needing that much moisturizer. However, when it comes to the neck, I do apply moisturizer more densely. The neck is an area that is often neglected, and it requires just as much TLC. Always apply moisturizer first on the neck, then proceed with your retinol to minimize any irritation.


See my full tutorial below with a very special guest:





Garnier https://myshlf.us/p-38748

Bioderma https://myshlf.us/p-38644

Vanicream https://myshlf.us/p-38645

Environ https://myshlf.us/p-38746

Differin https://myshlf.us/p-38647

Kate Somerville https://myshlf.us/p-38650

A313 https://myshlf.us/p-38649

La Roche-Posay https://myshlf.us/p-38747

Check out the full list of products here: https://shopmyshelf.us/collections/4915

Copyright 2020 - Dr Idriss - All Rights Reserved. PILLOWTALKDERM is a trademark of Shyroh LLC.