- Hyperpigmentation is characterized by areas of skin that are darker than the surrounding skin color.
- Although evidence-based research is limited, some essential oils have been demonstrated to effectively treat hyperpigmentation.
- The best essential oils for hyperpigmentation are lemon and carrot seed oil.
- An essential oil must be diluted with a carrier oil to prevent skin irritation and systemic toxicity.
An essential oil is a distillation of chemical compounds from a single plant species. These oils are used in aromatherapy and other alternative medical therapies for a wide range of health concerns. These include skin conditions such as blemishes, eczema and hyperpigmentation.
However, while some evidence indicates that certain essential oils can treat hyperpigmentation, essential oils for hyperpigmentation on the whole, have not yet been well studied and little information is available on their efficacy.
Hyperpigmentation: Types and Causes
Hyperpigmentation describes clusters of extra pigment or melanin in the skin. It is caused by sun exposure, aging, genetics and hormonal changes. Types of hyperpigmentation include freckles, age spots, melasma, postinflammatory hyperpigmentation and acne scars.
How Do Essential Oils Treat Hyperpigmentation?
Essential oils that treat hyperpigmentation do so in several ways. First, by inhibiting the activity of tyrosinase, an enzyme necessary for melanin production; the second, by absorbing ultraviolet (UV) rays, thus preventing the production of melanin in response to sun exposure.
Both actions prevent hyperpigmentation from recurring, as dead skin cells are gradually replaced with new cells with natural skin color.
Lastly, some essential oils have anti-inflammatory properties that can lessen postinflammatory hyperpigmentation, which is usually a result of acne.
How long do they take to work?
No studies have determined how long it takes for essential oils to lighten hyperpigmentation. Anecdotal evidence suggests that results are evident after several weeks or months.
The amount of time needed is likely determined by the severity of hyperpigmentation, how often the oil is applied and the results you are trying to obtain.
Best Essential Oils for Hyperpigmentation
Several essential oils have been scientifically proven to lighten hyperpigmentation. These oils work by protecting the skin from UV exposure, or by inhibiting tyrosinase activity or both.
Lemon essential oil contains vitamin C, an antioxidant that protects the skin from free radicals that contribute to melanin formation. Additionally, vitamin C reduces the synthesis of melanocytes, the skin cells that produce melanin.
Lemon oil also contains limonene, a natural skin lightening agent.
Carrot seed oil
This essential oil contains umbelliferone and beta carotene, both of which protect skin from sun damage by absorbing UV rays.
Sandalwood essential oil inhibits tyrosinase production and therefore may be effective at lightening hyperpigmentation.
Evening primrose oil
Saponified evening primrose oil has been found to prevent melanin production by inhibiting tyrosinase, and to lighten hyperpigmentation resulting from UV exposure.
It is thought that geranium essential oil’s anti-inflammatory properties enable it to reduce dark spots and skin discoloration, especially acne scars.
Tea tree oil
Tea tree oil is an effective treatment for reducing postinflammatory hyperpigmentation due to acne lesions, preventing the development of dark spots and acne scars.
How to Use Essential Oils for Hyperpigmentation
For best results, choose high-quality oils that contain only aromatic plant compounds and no additives or synthetics.
Essential oils must always be diluted before applying to the skin; combine two drops of essential oil to one tablespoon of carrier oil.
Common carrier oils include:
- Argan oil
- Jojoba oil
- Rosehip seed oil
Essential oil recipe for hyperpigmentation
Essential oils with different properties can be combined to boost the benefits of each individual oil. The following recipe is optimized to treat hyperpigmentation.
Both lemon and carrot seed oil have the most research to support their skin lightening abilities. Rosehip seed oil is rich in fatty acids and high in vitamin A, a natural retinoid; vitamin C has additional photoprotective, anti-aging properties.
- 4 drops lemon essential oil
- 4 drops carrot seed essential oil
- 1 oz rosehip seed oil
- Combine oils in a dark glass bottle
- In the evening, apply several drops to clean, dry skin with your fingers or a cotton ball
- Follow your regular skin care routine
- In the morning, wash your face with a mild cleanser to remove the essential oils
Risks and Side Effects
Essential oils contain high levels of chemical compounds and must be diluted with a carrier oil for safe topical application. Side effects of improper usage include irritation, contact dermatitis and headaches. These oils can be toxic if swallowed; they should not come in contact with the eyes.
It is not recommended to use essential oils while pregnant or breastfeeding as the safety of doing so has not yet been established. Certain essential oils such as lemon oil should only be used in the evening as they increase skin’s sensitivity to sunlight.
To test whether your skin can tolerate an essential oil, apply it (diluted) to a small area of skin and wait 24 hours. If no reaction develops, the oil is safe for you to use.
Essential oils are often promoted as natural treatments for hyperpigmentation. While many oils recommended for this purpose have not been proven to treat hyperpigmentation, several have been.
The best essential oils for hyperpigmentation are lemon and carrot seed oil, both of which have clear scientific evidence pointing to their efficacy. Other oils that may lighten dark spots include geranium, sandalwood and tea tree oil.
Always dilute essential oils before using to reduce the risk of skin irritation.
- Dhifi, W., Bellili, S., Jazi, S., Bahloul, N., & Mnif, W. (2016). Essential Oils’ Chemical Characterization and Investigation of Some Biological Activities: A Critical Review. Medicines (Basel, Switzerland), 3(4), 25. doi:10.3390/medicines3040025
- Hollinger, J. C., Angra, K., & Halder, R. M. (2018). Are Natural Ingredients Effective in the Management of Hyperpigmentation? A Systematic Review. The Journal of clinical and aesthetic dermatology, 11(2), 28–37. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5843359/
- Koo JH, Lee I, Yun SK, Kim HU, Park BH, Park JW. Saponified evening primrose oil reduces melanogenesis in B16 melanoma cells and reduces UV-induced skin pigmentation in humans. Lipids. 2010 May;45(5):401-7. doi:10.1007/s11745-010-3405-4
- Misra, B. B., & Dey, S. (2013). TLC-Bioautographic Evaluation of In Vitro Anti-tyrosinase and Anti-cholinesterase Potentials of Sandalwood Oil. Natural Product Communications, 8(2). doi:10.1177/1934578×1300800231
- Pullar, J. M., Carr, A. C., & Vissers, M. (2017). The Roles of Vitamin C in Skin Health. Nutrients, 9(8), 866. doi:10.3390/nu9080866
- Sarkar, R., Arora, P., & Garg, K. V. (2013). Cosmeceuticals for Hyperpigmentation: What is Available?. Journal of cutaneous and aesthetic surgery, 6(1), 4–11. doi:10.4103/0974-2077.110089
- Stahl, W., & Sies, H. (2012). β-Carotene and other carotenoids in protection from sunlight. The American Journal Of Clinical Nutrition, 96(5), 1179S-1184S. doi:10.3945/ajcn.112.03481