How A Dermatologist With Hyperpigmentation Keeps Her Skin Clear

Dermatologists prescribe products to their patients all day long, but have you ever wondered which ones they personally use? Welcome to Derm Diaries, a new series where dermatologists share their skin woes—and solutions—so you can steal secrets from their skincare routines.

Her family history of acne is what inspired Sapna Palep, MD, to become a derm in the first place. “I suffered from teenage acne, but as most women with hormonally driven acne, it got really bad in my twenties,” says Dr. Palep, who founded Spring Street Dermatology. “I was on and off antibiotics for many years, then decided to do oral isotretinoin (accutane) which changed my life greatly in a positive way. It became more manageable.”

While she’s still on an oral medication—spironolactone—she now has a strict skincare regimen to help with the aftermath of acne. “I’ve been battling with my scarring and hyperpigmentation ever since, but no one would ever know it because of the strict regimen I keep,” reveals Dr. Palep.

Luckily, she’s letting all of us in on secrets. Here’s the exact routine she uses to keep her skin clear.

She keeps her cleansers gentle.

“I use a gentle cleanser on a regular basis. My favorites are Elta MD Foaming Facial Cleanser, Cerave Hydrating Cleanser, and Obagi Nu-Derm Gentle Cleanser. I often rotate with these three because they’re fragrance-free, non-comedogenic, non-drying and non-irritating. Cerave has ceramides and hyaluronic acid in it, which allows for cleansing while hydrating and protecting the skin’s barrier. EltaMD foaming cleanser is also ph balanced, which is really important for maintaining the skin’s balance. The key is not to over-dry the skin.”

She doubles up on eye cream.

“I religiously use eye creams twice daily. I like to layer the Alastin Restorative Eye Treatment with the Isdin K-Ox Eyes for my dark circles. The Isdin one is great at reducing puffiness and improving the darkness under our eyes that makes us appear tired, thanks to haloxyl, eyeliss, Vitamin K oxide, and hyaluronic acid. The Alastin treatment does it all: reduces fine lines and wrinkles, improves elasticity, reduces dark circles, thickens the eyelid skin. It’s also very hydrating, so it blends well with makeup around the eye too.”

She targets dark spots a little more aggressively.

“If I get a stubborn hyperpigmented spot, I use Derm Advance Hydro-Q gel twice daily on the spot. It works like magic. It has four percent hydroquinone, but as a water-based gel, so it’s extremely non-irritating to the skin, which can be a problem with other hydroquinone formulations and prescriptions. You can find it at most dermatologists’ offices. Hydroquinone is the gold standard for treating hyperpigmentation, and while you shouldn’t use it for long periods of time, it’s safe for short stints on problem areas.”

She swears by her prescription retinoids.

“I am religious with my prescription retinoids at night. I switch between Aklief and Epiduo Forte, depending on how my skin is doing. I probably use one or the other four to five days a week. Retinoids have changed my skin. They are the most used and most studied anti-aging compounds to reduce fine lines and wrinkles. They stimulate collagen production and the production of new vessels to the skin, which improves color. In addition to this, they’re also the best defense possible against acne, blackheads, whiteheads, and cysts—and they help improve post inflammatory hyperpigmentation that can be associated with acne as well.”

She never goes a day without this sunscreen.

“I’ve been using EltaMD UV Daily Broad Spectrum SPF 40 on my face for years and have no plans of changing. It’s oil-free for acne prone skin, it doesn’t leave a heavy residue, it’s extremely lightweight, and it’s paraben-free. It’s also good for rosacea- and hyperpigmentation-prone skin.”

UV Daily Broad-Spectrum SPF 40


She looks for a moisturizer with ceramides and lipids.

“I also use EltaMD’s Barrier Renewal Complex as a moisturizer both morning and night. It has a blend of ceramides and lipids to quickly hydrate the skin without clogging the pores, which is one of the biggest challenge for most acne-prone skin types. This hydration also helps improve fine lines and wrinkles, too.”

Barrier Renewal Complex


She extends her skincare to her neck.

“For my neck, I alternate between Revision Skincare’s Nectifirm and Isdin’s Age Contour. I try to do apply it morning and night, time permitting. The neck has less fatty tissue and collagen, which makes it more susceptible to aging (sagging, creping, dryness, etc.). We take such good care of our face; we can’t forget about our neck. It’s also often the giveaway to our age when we don’t take care of it—It should match the skin on your face.”

She exfoliates once a week.

“I also exfoliate weekly with Neostrata Foaming Glycolic Wash or Neova’s Serious Microderm Scrub. Neova is a physical exfoliant, and the glycolic wash is a chemical exfoliant. Exfoliating gives the face an instant glow by removing dead skin cells. It also allows your other products to penetrate more effectively into the skin. The best time to exfoliate is in the morning, because the skin renews itself overnight. In addition, exfoliating also prevents sweat, dirt, and bacteria from getting stuck under the skin. Just be careful, as over-exfoliating can sensitive your skin.”

Chelsea Burns is the Senior Beauty Editor for Women’s Health and has been writing in the beauty and wellness space for over six years with her work appearing in Real Simple, Health, Fitness, and

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