Uneven Skin Tone: Causes & Tips
When it comes to skin that looks like you somehow applied a filter in real life, there are a lot of things that can get in the way. One of the more common causes is an uneven skin tone. Luckily, most issues that cause your complexion to appear less-than-even can be addressed pretty easily. But how you address your uneven skin tone depends on its cause.
“An uneven skin tone can feel overwhelming, but a full skincare routine can work wonders when it comes to brightening and evening your skin.”
Shani Darden, Esthetician
Whether you’re dealing with textural issues due to dryness or breakouts or have dark spots and blemishes you’re looking to remedy, you first need to pinpoint what’s causing these to appear in the first place. So let’s talk about some common causes of an uneven skin tone and then break down some sure-fire tips to help restore the dewy, even glow you’re after.
What Causes an Uneven Skin Tone?
There is actually a wide range of factors that can contribute to an uneven skin tone because there are many different types of imperfections that fall into the category of “uneven.” There are concerns around your skin’s pigment, as well as things that can affect your skin’s texture, like post-acne scarring. To effectively deal with any skincare concern, you first need to get to the root of it — so without further adieu, let’s break down some common causes.
Hyperpigmentation is probably the most well-known and commonly-experienced version of an uneven skin tone. It isn’t a specific skin condition, per se, but rather a blanket term that can be applied to a range of things that may cause areas of your skin to appear darker than usual.
Hyperpigmentation can appear as small patches or cover larger areas of your skin. It can also affect your body as well as your face. While hyperpigmentation can be alarming, it generally isn’t harmful, although, in rare instances, it can indicate a more serious medical condition.
There are three main types of hyperpigmentation: melasma, post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, and sun spots or age spots.
Melasma typically occurs due to hormonal changes and is mostly associated with pregnancy. It most commonly affects your face or stomach. If you've recently become pregnant and haven’t experienced hyperpigmentation before, this is likely the cause, although it may also occur with other hormonal fluctuations, like birth control or even menopause.
Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation happens after your skin has been injured, inflamed, or otherwise damaged and appears at the source of the injury. When your skin tries to heal itself, it can sometimes produce an excess of melanin, the pigment that gives your skin color. This can cause the healed area to take on a darker appearance. For instance, post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation is often to blame for acne spots, which cause (minor) damage to the skin, resulting in a dark shadow or scar where your blemish once was.
But it can also happen slowly, over time. If you have discoloration around areas of your body that experience a lot of friction, like your knees, elbows, or inner thighs, post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation may be to blame.
Lastly, if small, dark spots are what’s getting between you and an even skin tone, sun exposure may be the cause of your hyperpigmentation. When your skin is exposed to UV rays, it’s also exposed to free radicals. Free radicals are unstable molecules that can cause sun damage like hyperpigmentation, as well as premature aging, like fine lines and wrinkles.
If you’re dealing with any form of hyperpigmentation, post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, or melasma, you should consult a dermatologist for personalized advice. Your dermatologist may be able to prescribe treatments or help you form a routine to regain a clear complexion.
Dark spots, on the other hand, can be addressed using skincare products and topicals.
Usually, when people are talking about an uneven skin tone, they’re referring to excess melanin production and hyperpigmentation, as we discussed in the first section. But another common skincare concern that can make your skin appear less even is a simple one: pimples.
This isn’t just because breakouts can lead to blemish scars after the fact. Depending on your skin type and what kind of acne you’re dealing with, breakouts can wreak havoc on your skin’s texture and also cause redness and irritation.
Dry skin is another common culprit when it comes to an uneven skin tone, whether it’s your natural skin type or due to a lack of proper skin hydration. If your skin is too parched, it can lead to flaking, irritation, and redness, which can interrupt your skin’s texture as much as any breakout.
Additionally, keeping your skin properly hydrated and balanced is an important part of skin health, too. This is because your skin has an outer layer called your skin barrier or moisture barrier. Your skin barrier is responsible for keeping infection-causing bacteria and germs out and positive nutrients and hydration in.
When your skin is too dry or dehydrated, this can damage your moisture barrier, leading to a wide range of complexion issues in the long term — and even sometimes health issues.
There are several different types of blemish scars that can cause an uneven skin tone.
In addition to scars caused by an excess of melanin leading to skin discoloration, if you struggle with severe or cystic breakouts, this can result in textural blemish scars. These can appear as divots in your skin, raised scars, or some combination of the two.
5. Certain Medical Conditions
An uneven skin tone can also be due to certain medical conditions, so it’s often important to visit your doctor or dermatologist to make sure you don’t have an underlying issue that you’ll need to treat before you turn to topical solutions. It may be something as simple and harmless as rosacea or eczema, but it could also be something more serious.
If you notice that your dark spots are uneven around the edges, are growing in size, have an unusual color, or are changing in color, you should see a professional as soon as possible.
What Can You Do About Dark Spots and Uneven Tone?
Since an uneven skin tone can have such a negative impact on your self-esteem or self-image, you may be wondering what you can do to improve it. There are many options available to you, ranging from professional treatments to our personal favorite: changing up your skincare routine. Now that you’re familiar with the causes of uneven skin tone, let’s talk about some solutions.
When choosing your cleanser, look for something effective at removing dirt and impurities but not so harsh that it strips your skin of necessary moisture. You want to be sure to keep your pores clear to prevent breakouts and the resultant blemish scars, but not so harsh that it leaves your skin feeling raw, dry, and tight. My Cleansing Serum is a gentle and effective option that clears away impurities without stripping moisture.
2. Exfoliate & Treat
After cleansing, you’ll want to use either an exfoliant or a serum, or both, to help address your uneven skin tone. A product like my Lactic Acid Serum is an effective way to accomplish both goals. Lactic acid is a chemical exfoliator, so it can help slough away dead skin cells, which can have a brightening effect on dark spots and marks over time.
Alternatively, my Retinol Reform uses retinol, a powerful antioxidant, to gently resurface your skin, leaving you with a brighter, more even complexion. A vitamin C serum is also a great option due to its ability to brightendark spots and even out your skin tone overall.
As we mentioned, there are also professional treatments you can seek out with a licensed dermatologist or practitioner. These include chemical peels (like my Triple Acid Signature Peel), prescription-strength lightening treatments for hyperpigmentation like hydroquinone, or even laser treatment. All of these treatments can really work to help even out your skin tone, but it can be a bit of a hassle to find the time.
If a pro treatment appeals to you, but your schedule is fully booked, my Deesse PRO LED Light Mask is a great option to provide LED light therapy to your skin from the comfort of your own home. Wearing the mask for just 10 minutes every day, followed by your chosen serum, can address everything from fine lines and wrinkles to pigmentation problems — so it’s perfect for your uneven skin tone.
Hydration is front and center for a healthy, even complexion. So choosing the right moisturizer can go a long way toward restoring an even skin tone. When you’re choosing a moisturizer, you’ll want to look for one that uses ingredients that have been scientifically shown to make a real difference.
Some of my favorites include hyaluronic acid, a powerful humectant that draws water to your skin, ceramides and squalane, which are natural building blocks your skin uses to stay hydrated, peptides that can support a healthy skin barrier; and botanicals that are known to support hydration.
If you’re wondering how to tick all of these boxes, we have a simple answer: my Hydration Peptide Cream. Not only is this dry skin-friendly moisturizer supercharged with peptides, ceramides, squalane, and hydrating flower extract hydrosella, but it has some specific ingredients that make it effective for an uneven skin tone.
It’s oil-free, so it can help prevent breakouts. It also uses niacinamide, a vitamin that can help to minimize pore size and reduce the appearance of dark marks. All of these ingredients are gentle, too, so if you have sensitive skin, no need to worry!
4. Wear Sunscreen Every Day
Always apply SPF! Even if you don’t spend much time outside or it appears cloudy, wearing a high SPFsunscreen like SPF 30 or SPF 50 can help to prevent the sort of damage that leads to hyperpigmentation or visible signs of aging down the road.
It can be difficult to look past textural and pigmentation issues, especially when they’re on your face. But it’s important to at first keep in mind that nobody is noticing your skin’s imperfections more than you are — and often, those very imperfections are the things that make you unique.
So while it’s totally normal and reasonable to look for ways to minimize and address things that make you self-conscious, it’s also important to embrace your skin no matter its appearance or phase in life and know that confidence is what’s going to make you shine more than any skincare product… although, let’s be honest. A good skincare routine can’t hurt.