Let’s be clear on what uneven skin tone is…

When I first heard of the term “uneven skin tone,” I didn’t fully understand what that even meant. Is it bumpy, unsmooth, terraneous skin texture? Answer: no. Uneven skin tone is essentially hyperpigmentation where there’s an excess production of melanin (natural pigment that not only gives skin its color, but when in excess, causes dark spots on the skin’s surface). To put it more simply, it’s when your skin is darker in some spots and lighter in others. Although it’s normally harmless, there are treatments out there to achieve a more even skin tone if you prefer.

Common causes

Sun exposure

This one is, unfortunately, the #1 cause of uneven skin tone and makes me especially sad because I love the outdoors. Whether it’s a sunny or cloudy day, the sun’s UV rays can nonetheless be strong. In order for your skin to protect itself from the sun’s UV rays, it produces melanin, which acts as a natural protector. At the end of the day though, relying solely on melanin production won’t prevent sunburns or uneven skin tone.

Air pollution

You can’t always see them, but floating particles in the air (e.g., smoke, dust, chemicals, carbon dioxide, etc.) are very much present and can seep into your pores. By getting into your pores, your immune system naturally gets into defense mode and your skin starts producing excess melanin. Again, melanin production is your skin’s natural protector, but as a result, your skin tone becomes more uneven.

Skin inflammation

Caused by acne or injuries to the skin like cuts, burns, eczema flare-ups, etc., skin inflammation is never fun. It’s uncomfortable during and can leave a reminder after in the form of scars or dark spots. When your skin is going through the healing process, again, our natural protector, melanin, gets triggered. As a result, our skin tone is more uneven.

Hormonal changes

I wish this wasn’t the case since going through hormonal changes on the body is enough as it is, but alas, hormonal changes can cause uneven skin tone as well. Especially women who are pregnant or on some form of contraceptive, major changes in hormones trigger melanin production. Another word for all of this is melasma, which is a form of hyperpigmentation that is caused specifically by hormonal changes. 

How to effectively prevent and treat

SPF. SPF. SPF. Daily.

Sunscreen with SPF 30 or above and labeled “broad spectrum” will greatly prevent uneven skin tone. It’s best to re-apply every two hours, but if you can’t, wearing a hat works too. An extra plug since I’m a huge fan of wearing sunscreen or a hat…beyond achieving more even skin tone, protecting your skin has added benefits like skin cancer prevention and staving off fine lines and wrinkles. So don’t forget either :-). 

Effective ingredients

That will exfoliate…

uneven skin tone before and after

That will inhibit melanin…

  • Kojic acid
  • Azelaic acid
  • Licorice
  • Vitamin C
  • Hydroquinone (note: the U.S. FDA has proposed a ban on any over-the-counter products containing it, and it’s banned in Japan, the EU, and Australia)

Don’t pick!

We’re always told not to pick that pimple, but we do it anyway. If you get that urge to pop that pimple, pick at a scab, or aggravate that cut, think again. As you know, any skin inflammation triggers melanin production.


You may also want to talk with your dermatologist to figure out what cosmetic procedure makes the most sense for you. Generally, these are the in-office treatment options:

  • Chemical peel
  • IPL
  • Microdermabrasion
  • Laser therapy
  • Microneedling

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