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Why Do Dark Spots Get Darker Before They Get Lighter?

Woman of color with hyperpigmentation


You’ve been faithfully sticking to your brightening regimen, and yet, the excess pigment you’re targeting appears to be getting darker rather than lighter. What’s going on? Don’t panic. It’s a natural phenomenon of the brightening process. You’ve heard the phrase “darkest before the dawn.” It’s kind of like that. We like to call it, the “worse before better” paradox of skin care. We’ll explain.


There are more triggers for pigment production than there are pathways for its elimination, which leads to the accumulation of melanin in the skin. Any trauma to the skin, including UV and chemical exposure, heat, cuts, bruises, irritation, hair removal, and acne, can cause the inflammation that triggers the skin’s protective melanin response (hyperpigmentation). Hormones or genetics are responsible for the patches of discoloration known as melasma. In dark skin tones, the greater concentration of melanin in the skin means hyperpigmentation is more common and takes longer to fade.


Pigment production begins in the deeper layers of the skin and naturally rises to the surface where it concentrates until it is removed via the shedding of dead skin cells. (The longer you leave it untreated, the more deeply rooted it becomes.) Active treatment accelerates cell turnover, pulling pigmented cells to the surface at a faster rate. This increases the concentration of melanin in the epidermis, creating a temporary darkening of the spots.


So, the darkening is what you want to see. It means the pigment is coming up and is ready to be shed away. You might be tempted at this point to over-exfoliate in an attempt to speed up the process even more. Don’t. Any harsh chemicals or excessive scrubbing can create irritation, which will trigger more inflammation and catalyze a melanin response.


An optimal treatment regimen is one that includes ingredients to inhibit melanin production and transfer, including niacinamide, mandelic acid, kojic acid, vitamin C, hydroquinone, along with ingredients that accelerate melanin removal—vitamin A propionate, acids, enzymes.


Certain acids—mandelic, kojic, and citric (vitamin C)—provide both melanin-inhibition and exfoliation, making these key players in your brightening regimen.


Some gentle physical exfoliation in the form of a mild scrub will boost help to lift dead skin cells. Vivant’s Mandelic Acid Exfoliating Cleanser is an excellent choice for its melanin-inhibiting, non-irritating properties combined with smooth, biodegradable microbeads.


Additionally, we recommend a peel every four to six weeks. Vivant’s 20% Glycolic Acid Solution is an excellent way to accelerate your results. For dark tones or skin too sensitive for glycolic acid, try Vivant’s 30% Mandelic Acid Solution. Both are in-office rapid radiance peels that can be done by your esthetician. To find a Vivant Skin Care Specialist in your area, click here.


Melanin production is a complex, multi-stage process that requires various topical agents acting synergistically on different stages of this process. The goal of treatment is to reduce the triggers for melanin production (prevention) and increase the pathways for pigment elimination (active treatment). The darkening phase signals the coming dawn of your brighter, more consistent tone.


Vivant Recommends: 


Mandelic Acid 3-In-1 Exfoliating Cleanser

A gently exfoliating, biodegradable scrub with melanin-inhibiting, non-irritating, and anti-bacterial properties making it an excellent choice for treating acne along with hyperpigmentation.


Daily Repair Pads

Single-use pads steeped in a brightening and gently exfoliating cocktail of ingredients, including mandelic acid, niacinamide, and lactic acid. Textured to help lift dead cells, each swipe is like a mini peel.  


8% Mandelic Acid Serum

A targeted transformer, mandelic acid gently spurs cell turnover, inhibits melanin production while fighting acne and signs of aging. Perfect for sensitive or dark skin tones.


Spin Trap Antioxidant Serum

A potent, antioxidant vitamin C & E serum to protect against UV damage, prevent new pigment formation, and brighten existing discoloration. An essential booster for dark spot defense.


Bleaching Cream

The most potent brighteners and cell renewers in one concentrated serum. Hydroquinone, vitamin A propionate, kojic acid, vitamin C, and aloe fade discoloration and improve texture for a more radiant appearance.


Day Treatment Lotion SPF 15

Essential sun protection and moisture in one. The lightweight, non-greasy formula makes it perfect for daily use under foundation, alone, or mixed with mineral powder to create sheer coverage.


Shop Vivant’s full collection of products for achieving even tone.