Goodbye, dark spots: How to even out your skin tone

Let’s break down what you need to know about skin pigmentation.

Written by
Tori Crowther
Medically reviewed by
min read
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Dark spots and pigmentation are among the most common skin concerns and unfortunately, they can be tricky to treat and manage. Tricky doesn’t mean impossible though, especially when armed with the right knowledge and tools — and that's exactly what we’re here for. 

With the pigmentation process being a little complex, understanding its causes and which ingredients and treatments to try is a total maze if you don’t have the know-how.

But we’ve got you covered. Here, we're looking into exactly what pigmentation is, what causes an uneven skin tone and how to achieve an even, more radiant complexion.

What is skin pigmentation?

First, let’s break down what you need to know about pigmentation and the process. 

Pigmentation refers to how much melanin is produced by the skin, which determines the colour of the skin. 

When we talk about melanin, there are 2 types: eumelanin and pheomelanin. Both are produced by melanocytes but eumelanin causes darker skin tones and pheomelanin causes lighter skin tones. 

Eumelanin helps to protect the skin, to a certain degree, against UV rays. This is why people with lighter skin tones burn more easily than those with darker skin tones. That’s not to say darker skin tones don’t need sun protection though. Everyone needs to protect their skin from harmful UV rays daily

Pheomelanin can help control body temperature. 

For many people, they don’t have a uniform pigment across their entire face. You’ll often find that certain areas have a darker pigment than others. 

When it comes to skin pigmentation, you'll likely hear 2 terms [1]:

  • Hyperpigmentation, which is when areas of the skin become darker than others due to increased melanin
  • Hypopigmentation, which is a lightening of the skin tone due to decreased melanin.

Then there's an uneven skin tone, which is more of an umbrella term for various pigmentation concerns.

What’s the difference between hyperpigmentation and uneven skin tone?

This is where things get a little confusing because the two are often used interchangeably but they're actually different.

Uneven skin tone is an umbrella term that encompasses lots of different conditions and changes that occur in the skin. 

We’ll go into much more detail later but generally speaking, hyperpigmentation refers to dark patches on the skin whereas uneven skin tone (as the name suggests) is a general lack of uniformity with the tone as well as texture of the skin.

If you notice changes or are concerned about any hyperpigmentation, you must visit your GP or dermatologist to determine the cause of the changes as it can indicate skin cancer.

This is particularly true in Australia where cases of skin cancer are common; so it’s worth consistently familiarising yourself with your body to make changes easy to catch.

What does an uneven skin tone look like?

Uneven skin tone presents in various ways.

One of the most important things to note is that everyone is unique so yours won’t ever look identical to someone else’s — and this can be applied to skin health in general, too.

When it comes to an uneven complexion, we're referring to an overall discolouration where there isn’t uniformity across the face, redness or a mottled appearance, or a general dullness or lack of radiance and texture. 


Discolouration presents with areas that are darker than some and lacking overall uniformity. 

This might look like small spots rather than larger patches, the latter of which are more present in hyperpigmentation. 


Skin redness or a mottled, blotchy appearance is also included in the uneven complexion category.

This can be caused by conditions such as acne, rosacea and eczema, and this redness can make the skin appear uneven in tone. 

Texture and dullness 

Dullness isn’t uncommon for many people either, and the reason, you might be surprised to learn, is down to texture

When a skin’s texture is rough, bumpy or uneven, it can give the appearance of an overall dullness due to the way light bounces from our complexion.

Things like dry skin, acne scars and even fine lines can contribute to a dull-looking skin tone. 


The most common types of hyperpigmentation you’ll see are generally put into 3 categories: melasma, dark spots and post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH). 


Melasma is a type of hyperpigmentation, which often falls into the moderate to severe category.

This is where the body overproduces melanin and creates brown spots often on the cheeks and forehead.

Although melasma can be caused by all sorts of factors — like genetics, sun exposure and age — it’s typically triggered by hormones; commonly during pregnancy or when on birth control. 

Dark spots 

Age, sun or dark spots are a common contributor to both hyperpigmentation and uneven skin tones.

Although all adults can experience sun spots, generally they’re most notable from the age of 40 onwards [2]. That’s why dark spots are often referred to as age spots.  


Acne scarring can cause mild to moderate hyperpigmentation, too. PIH happens when the acne causes trauma to the skin. 

Not included in that list are various skin conditions presenting with skin tone patterns, including vitiligo, albinism and Addison’s disease, for example, which have more distinct appearances. 

What causes an uneven skin tone?

There are many causes for uneven skin tones and pigmentation variations. 


Genetics plays a big role in uneven skin tone. In fact, a 2015 study identified more than 375 genes involved in regulating skin pigmentation [3].

Genetics can play a role in things like freckles and melasma. 

UV exposure or photo-ageing 

Exposure to the sun when unprotected causes pigmentation changes and uneven skin tone.

This is because when our skin is exposed to the sun, it increases its melanin production to try and protect itself.

This results in all sorts of uneven skin tone variations, including dark spots, freckles, melasma and increased redness. 

Although most cases of sun spots and uneven skin tone are harmless, as mentioned before, they can be a sign of skin cancers like basal cell carcinoma, so if you’ve experienced any changes or are concerned, it’s best to visit your GP or dermatologist as soon as possible [4].

Hormonal changes 

Your hormones can play a role in uneven skin tone. For example, pregnancy and taking birth control can cause an increase in melanin produced by the skin, resulting in skin tone changes. 


Although age isn’t a cause of uneven skin tone, it can be a factor in how visible it is.

Unsurprisingly, the older we are, the more time we have spent in the sun and the more we start to notice sun damage in the form of dark spots.

We also start to get an increase in fine lines (thanks to collagen loss!) which can contribute to the appearance of an uneven texture and tone.  


Often people don’t think about inflammation being a cause of uneven skin tone but it absolutely can be.

The clue is in the name with post-inflammatory pigmentation as a result of things like acne and chickenpox. As skin heals after trauma, that inflammatory response can result in pigment changes. 

Can you prevent skin pigmentation?

You can’t stop all skin pigmentation changes from happening, but there are things you can do to prevent it. 

Protect your skin from the sun

Wearing sunscreen daily (like Software's Daily Sun Defence SPF50+) as well as wearing UV protective clothing and avoiding the sun during peak hours is the best prevention for an uneven skin tone from worsening. 

Make sure you’re regularly topping up your sunscreen to maintain protection throughout the day, particularly if you’re sweating a lot or are in and out of water. 


Exfoliation can promote skin cell regeneration by sloughing off those dead cells, so it’s worth adding an exfoliating step into your skincare routine. 

But hold on, we’re not telling you to exfoliate your skin to oblivion — quite the opposite!

The trick to successful exfoliation is to go slow but steady. Make sure you tailor the type of exfoliation product to your skin type.

No skin-picking

We know that poking, prodding and popping that pimple is very tempting but this is an easy way to create small traumas to the skin, which can lead to changes in skin tone and skin texture.

The best ingredients for evening out your skin tone

There are plenty of fantastic ingredients out there for tackling pigmentation changes in the skin.

In Software’s tailored-to-you pigmentation treatment, we often use retinoids. This ingredient is considered the gold standard in anti-ageing treatment, working brilliantly to speed up cell turnover, promote collagen production and act as an anti-inflammatory.

Other lightening agents, like hydroquinone, are also great when used under expert guidance, yielding great results.

Additionally, you can try the following:

Vitamin C 

Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant and a total powerhouse when it comes to tackling pigmentation and uneven skin tone.

It works by inhibiting tyrosinase, an enzyme in melanin production.

Getting a good quality, stable vitamin C serum is the key to making sure you’re getting the benefits without the potential downsides of vitamin C like skin irritation and the occasional breakout. 

Software’s Vitamin C + Ferulic Serum contains 15% vitamin C in a stable form and ferulic acid, which helps to boost the performance of vitamin C whilst improving the appearance of dullness. This duo makes tackling dark spots and an uneven complexion a total breeze. 


Niacinamide is a great all-rounder ingredient and happens to be fantastic at helping to even out the skin tone through its ability as a tyrosinase inhibitor and anti-inflammatory [5]. 

Azelaic acid

Azelaic acid is also a tyrosinase inhibitor making it another great addition to your skincare routine for combatting hyperpigmentation and uneven skin tone.

In addition to this, it’s a great exfoliator as it works to decrease the production of keratin in our skin, preventing clogged pores and breakouts.

It’s a commonly used ingredient in conditions like rosacea where people struggle to tolerate other ingredients.  

Glycolic acid 

Glycolic acid is an alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) and makes a great chemical exfoliator.

It works by sloughing off dead skin cells, making way for newer ones and revealing a brighter, radiant complexion.

Not everyone can tolerate glycolic acid — namely sensitive skin types — though so start low and slow with this ingredient when introducing it. 

Hyaluronic acid 

To prevent the skin from feeling and looking dry (which can result in a rough texture), try incorporating an ingredient like hyaluronic acid into your routine. This is a super hydrator that can hold 1,000 times its weight in water. 

Tips for achieving an even skin tone

Finally, here are a few more tips to keep in mind on your journey towards a more radiant, even complexion:

Consistency is key

First and foremost, you won’t achieve an even skin tone overnight and that’s OK.

The best skincare results (no matter your skin goals) come from sticking to your routine daily and not being tempted to try every single product out there.

You could be using the best ingredients on the planet but if you’re not consistent with it, you’re not going to see results. We know it's boring, but it’s true. 

Software’s pigmentation treatment considers that when it comes to successfully tackling uneven skin tone and fading dark spots, it can be a long game. Give the treatment 8-12 weeks to start seeing changes. 

Opt for powerful ingredients 

Choose ingredients that best suit your skin (or better call in the help of an expert to guide you) and stick to them. You’ll start seeing results and thanking your past self. 

Sun safety is crucial

We’ve said it once and we’ll say it 1,000 times more: practising sun safety not only helps keep you protected for your health but also prevents a worsening uneven skin tone.

Avoid the sun during peak hours, wear UV protective clothing and apply (and reapply) sunscreen. 

Regular exfoliation will help

Exfoliating and getting rid of those dead skin cells is an excellent way to restore radiance, but be sure to do it in a way that keeps your skin happy.

Start low (in strength) and slow (on the number of days per week) for best results. If your skin is feeling irritated from a certain ingredient, try a different one. You might have a little game of trial and error to find your perfect match. 

Image credit: Getty Images

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So I’m currently one month into this skincare and it has made such a difference. My acne has reduced significantly as well as my pigmentation. The instructions are clear to use and their other skincare products work great with the custom made solution.
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I had horrible pigmentation all over my face and after 4 weeks it had reduced so much, and I’m only half way through the treatment! I can finally look in the mirror without disgust. It has made me feel so much better about myself!

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* Software lifestyle survey of 116 patients who were using
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