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So, you got a zit and picked at it (seemed like a good idea at the time), but now you’re left with a dark spot that’s lingered for months. Or you’ve suddenly noticed more and more age spots popping up on your forehead. That’s hyperpigmentation, friends, and most likely, it has a lot to do with your hormones. Here’s everything you need to know about it, plus how to deal if you’ve got it. 

So, what is it?
Basically, hyperpigmentation is a discoloration caused by overproduction of melanin (the pigment found in your skin and hair). Age spots, melasma and those pesky dark spots that linger after a pimple (aka post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation) are common forms.

What causes it?
According to celebrity esthetician Renée Rouleau, there are two root causes of hyperpigmentation: inflammation and hormones. Heat, sun exposure, over-exfoliation and skin picking fall under the former; pregnancy, aging and hormonal birth control the latter. And while undeniably frustrating, hyperpigmentation is both preventable and treatable.

Great. How can I treat it?
Exfoliation is key to breaking up and removing pigmented cells, says Rouleau, and whether you prefer a chemical peel (like the Biologique Recherche Lotion P50) or physical scrub (à la the Stumbled Across Paradise mask from Girl Undiscovered), the goal is to increase cell turnover. And it doesn’t have to be harsh—niacinamide, a form of vitamin B, has been shown to reduce hyperpigmentation in as little as four weeks and has skin-soothing effects. But don’t overdo it: “I tell my clients to limit their exfoliation to a maximum of five times a week,” warns Rouleau.

And if I want to prevent it?
It goes without saying, but you’ve got to wear sunscreen every day, no exceptions. (We like Supergoop’s Unseen Sunscreen, which doubles as a primer.) It also wouldn’t hurt to use a daily vitamin C serum to gently brighten skin tone and inhibit melanin. Per Rouleau, “Vitamin C is one of the best ingredients for improving skin brightness, and it can be used by almost any skin type.” Rouleau’s own Vitamin C&E Treatment, as well as the Joanna Vargas Rescue Serum, are potent (yet gentle) options. And we know it’s easier said than done, but please, kick the skin-picking habit!

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