There are two main categories of skin concerns: Those that deal with skin texture, like fine lines and wrinkles, and those related to skin tone. Skin tone refers to skin’s color and uniformity—in other words, how evenly pigmented your skin is. While some pigmentation variation is normal and even desirable (for example, a scattering of freckles), having too much variation in your skin tone can result in a patchy or blotchy appearance. This is what we refer to as an uneven skin tone, and like many common skin concerns, it can happen to anyone, regardless of skin type or color.
Ahead, we’re doing a deep dive into the various causes of uneven skin. You’ll learn what uneven skin looks like on different skin tones, why and how it develops, and what you can do to promote a more even appearance. Plus, we’ve included a simple seven-step routine you can follow to help visibly minimize discoloration and unevenness for healthier-looking skin (even when you’re going makeup-free). Read on for your official Kiehl’s guide to improving the appearance of uneven skin.
What Does It Mean To Have Uneven Skin?
Uneven skin can refer to skin texture, like having rough patches on the skin, or it can refer to skin tone. Here, we’ll be focusing on tone. An uneven skin tone essentially means your skin tone isn’t uniform in color. This is usually caused by some sort of hyperpigmentation, like melasma or post-acne marks. These uneven areas may be small and discrete, or they can appear on large areas of the face.
It’s also important to note that uneven skin doesn’t look the same for everyone. For those with fair skin, hyperpigmented areas may be pink to light tan in color. For those with darker skin tones, discoloration usually appears dark brown, grey, or black.
What Causes an Uneven Skin Tone?
As we touched upon, uneven skin usually results from some form of hyperpigmentation. Hyperpigmentation occurs when the skin creates too much melanin, the pigment that gives skin its color. It can also result from structural changes to melanin-producing cells, called melanocytes.
These changes often occur as a response to some sort of assault, like inflammation due to acne or excessive sun exposure, as in sun spots. However, unevenness can also come with age. The accumulation of decades worth of environmental stressors can alter melanin production and lead to hyperpigmentation in the form of age spots. Other potential causes include hormonal changes, metabolic imbalances, or even certain medications. For an in-depth guide to different types of discoloration (and their various causes), check out our article Understanding Different Types of Skin Discoloration.
How To Improve The Look of Unevenness: A 6-Step Routine
The good news: Even if you’re not entirely sure what’s causing your uneven skin tone, you can help address it at home with a proper skincare routine. Read on to discover our routine for minimizing the appearance of unevenness and promoting brighter, healthier-looking skin.
Reach For An Exfoliating Cleanser
You already know that washing your face is an essential part of an effective skincare routine. Here’s why: Throughout the day, your skin faces a plethora of unseen environmental aggressors, like pollution and UV radiation. Eventually, they can cause free radicals to develop on the skin, which leads to progressive skin damage. Cleansing can help remove these aggressors to help keep your skin clean and protected.
If you have uneven skin, we recommend Clearly Corrective Brightening & Exfoliating Daily Cleanser. This gentle formula with white birch extract and peony extract helps remove dirt and other impurities from the skin’s surface. It also exfoliates to remove dead skin cells for a smoother, brighter-looking appearance. This exfoliating cleanser is suitable for all skin types and mild enough to use daily for clearer, more radiant skin.
Use Toner To Balance Your Skin
Clearly Corrective Brightening & Soothing Treatment Water
After cleansing, reach for a soothing toner, like Clearly Corrective Brightening & Soothing Treatment Water. This unique toning treatment stars activated C (a potent form of vitamin C) and licorice root extract. When used after cleansing, it helps clarify the skin for a more even appearance.
Address Discolorations With a Treatment Serum
A potent serum is, arguably, the most important step in your routine if you’re looking to brighten and even the look of your skin tone. For uneven skin, we recommend Clearly Corrective Dark Spot Solution. This powerful formula with activated C, white birch extract, and peony extract helps brighten and even skin’s appearance. It’s clinically-demonstrated to help visibly reduce a wide range of dark spots and discolorations on all skin types and tones.* It also helps brighten the skin for a clearer, more radiant-looking appearance. And despite its potency, it’s suitable for all skin types, even sensitive skin. We recommend using it daily for brighter, more even-looking skin.
*This product was tested on a multi-ethnic panel equally distributed: 25% African American, 25% Asian, 25% Caucasian, 25% Hispanic. Results based upon a clinical study of upper layers of the skin.
Another treatment that can help correct an uneven skin tone on the face is Nightly Refining Micro-Peel Concentrate. This mild chemical peel with phytic acid helps visibly refresh and refine dull, uneven skin. With regular use, it’s clinically-demonstrated to accelerate skin cell turnover to promote smoother, more even-looking skin.*
*Based on an instrumental test within surface layers. Results based upon expert grading in a dermatologist-controlled clinical study.
Apply a Brightening Eye Serum
Powerful-Strength Dark Circle Reducing Vitamin C Eye Serum
An uneven skin tone can affect the eye area, too. While you should avoid using chemical or physical exfoliants on the eye area, a brightening eye cream can help improve the appearance of the delicate skin around your eyes. Try Powerful-Strength Dark Circle Reducing Vitamin C Eye Serum, which stars pure vitamin C, hyaluronic acid, and tri-peptides. This potent formula is clinically-demonstrated to help diminish the appearance of dark circles, puffiness, and fine lines around the eyes.* The ultra-lightweight, layerable serum absorbs quickly to instantly hydrate and smooth the under-eye area for fresher, brighter-looking eyes.
*Clinical grading of the full panel tested in an 8-week study
Kiehl’s Tip: When applying any eye cream or serum, you have to be super careful not to tug or pull at the skin. Try tapping the formula on gently with your ring finger, which is your weakest finger and less likely to accidentally stretch the delicate under-eye skin.
Calm Skin With a Non-Comedogenic Face Oil
Cannabis Sativa Seed Oil Herbal Concentrate Face Oil
If your uneven skin tone results from post-acne marks or acne scars, incorporating a non-comedogenic face oil into your daily routine can help significantly improve the appearance of problem skin. Try Cannabis Sativa Seed Oil Herbal Concentrate Face Oil, which is specifically formulated for blemish-prone skin. This top-rated face oil is formulated with 100% naturally-derived ingredients,* including Cannabis sativa seed oil and green oregano oil.
The calming treatment helps comfort skin while relieving signs of irritation, like redness. It also helps strengthen the skin’s natural moisture barrier so your skin can better protect itself from stressors, like extreme weather or a lack of sleep. The non-comedogenic formula is safe for oily and acne-prone skin and won’t cause clogged pores or breakouts. Apply a few drops to clean skin day and night for a calmer, healthier-looking appearance.
*We consider ingredients to be naturally derived if they retain more than 50% of their molecular structure after being processed from a natural source.
Reach For a Hydrating Moisturizer
No matter your skin type, moisturizing is essential for hydrated, healthy-looking skin. While dehydration won’t directly cause unevenness, it will weaken the skin’s moisture barrier, making the skin less able to protect itself against external assaults. In addition to drinking water, you can help keep your skin hydrated by moisturizing every morning and night.
Our best cream for dark spots and uneven skin tone is Clearly Corrective Brightening & Smoothing Moisture Treatment. The deeply moisturizing formula boasts activated C and exfoliating glycolic acid and helps visibly smooth and brighten the skin. With regular use, it also helps diminish the look of discolorations, like age spots or melasma, to promote a clearer, more even appearance.
To address unevenness and signs of aging (like fine lines and wrinkles), reach for Super Multi-Corrective Anti-Aging Face and Neck Cream. This effective formula contains a potent blend of hyaluronic acid, chaga mushroom, and phytomimetic vitamin A. Within just four weeks, this powerful formula is clinically-demonstrated to visibly reduce the look of wrinkles, even skin tone, and improve skin texture.* With continued use, it helps boost elasticity for firmer-, younger-looking skin.
*Results based on a 12-week consumer test of 53 panelists in the U.S.