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Image of two legs of a woman representing hyperpigmentation on knees

Hyperpigmentation on knees - is there a solution?

Written by
Chloë James

If someone suggests a miracle cure for your insecurity can be found in your kitchen cupboard, odds are you’d be tempted to give it a try. A quick internet search for “dark knees” or “dark elbows” produces a combined 220 million plus results of DIY tips and tricks promising to even out your skin tone. These range from the somewhat logical (making a scrub with sugar and olive oil) to the totally baffling (rubbing your knees with sliced potato). But do any of them work?

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What causes dark knees and elbows?

The first step to understanding how to treat dark knees and elbows is to understand what causes them in the first place. Uneven skin tone on any part of the body is the result of excessive production of melanin, the pigment that gives skin its colour. When this happens, it’s called hyperpigmentation – which is what you also call the dark spots left behind by acne or sun damage.

But the reasons why your skin produces more melanin in these areas vary. Sometimes, it’s just another case of sun damage, or the product of dead skin cell build-up, or conditions like eczema.

Most of the time, however, it comes down to thickening of the skin. This is brought on by everyday acts such as bending, stretching, or even just friction against your clothes. You might not feel the irritation in these areas, but your skin does, and it gradually thickens over time to protect itself.

Treating dark knees and elbows at home

Cucumber, tomatoes, honey, oatmeal – you name it, someone’s tried it on their skin and claimed it changed their life. Like all DIY treatments, there’s a limit to what at-home solutions can do for dark knees or elbows. Some have slightly more credibility than others.

Turmeric

How do I use it?

Thanks to its antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties, turmeric has been a DIY beauty staple for centuries. To treat dark knees and elbows, it’s usually mixed into a paste with honey or yoghurt and applied for up to 15 minutes. The logic is that its primary compound – curcumin – regulates excessive melanin production, which decreases hyperpigmentation.

Does it work?

This can only make so much of a difference if your uneven skin tone is caused by thick skin, but if you’re going to try it, just be sure to dilute the turmeric or you might end up staining skin yellow instead.

Aloe vera

How do I use it?

Aloe vera is renowned for its soothing properties, something many people believe translates to brightening dark knees and elbows. In these cases, aloe gel – preferably taken directly from the leaf – is massaged into the desired areas at least once a day.

Does it work?

Although it has plenty of proven benefits, the proof that aloe vera evens out skin tone is shaky. Studies suggest one of its compounds, aloesin, might reduce hyperpigmentation caused by sun exposure. One found that it can destroy melanin cells – on tadpoles, at least. That again won’t help much with thicker skin, but at least the worst-case scenario is just well moisturised elbows and knees.

Green tea

How do I use it?

Like turmeric, green tea is often treated like a cure-all in the beauty community. You don’t drink it to alleviate dark knees or elbows. Instead, tea bags steeped in hot water and left to cool are swiped across the skin twice a day.

Does it work?

The only thing linking green tea to dark knees is one study from 2015 that found it might prevent the creation of enzymes responsible for making melanin. So, theoretically, it could help even out skin tone – we just don’t know for certain.

Skincare

Dry skin can look darker or duller than usual, so try to keep these areas moisturised. Regular exfoliation – whether that’s by physical or chemical means – will also help prevent the build-up of dead skin cells. Anything containing glycolic, kojic, or azelaic acid will accelerate cell turnover, while SPF will prevent sun damage. Combined, these steps can lead to some improvement, but they aren’t a permanent fix.

What about treatments?

To put it simply: treatments can’t totally reverse everyone’s dark knees or elbows. If the main cause is the way our joints move, the only real solution is to just never bend our arms or legs again. However, that doesn’t mean they can’t make any difference.

Chemical peels

By dissolving the top layer of skin with acid, a chemical peel can get rid of any dead skin build-up and encourage cell turnover. This helps improve discolouration – especially with repeat sessions – but won’t be as effective on the thick skin of your knees or elbows as it is on the face.

Laser

Like chemical peels, laser treatment works by eliminating dead skin and tricking it into speeding up the healing process. This can help dark knees and elbows to an extent, although those with darker skin tones (who also happen to be more prone to discolouration in these areas) will need to choose the right laser to avoid the risk of scarring.

Browse clinics offering laser pigmentation treatment.

Microdermabrasion

It’s most commonly used for the face, but microdermabrasion can help any part of the body. With abrasive diamonds or crystals, it sloughs away the dead skin cells to reveal the newer, fresher skin underneath. Again, this can improve skin’s texture and tone, but won’t completely solve the issue as changes are only surface level.

Browse clinics offering microdermabrasion.

Dark knees and elbows: the takeaway

Ultimately, nothing can eliminate dark knees or elbows for good. Thicker (and consequently darker) skin is just one of the ways the body protects itself from daily life.

But there’s no harm in giving at-home options a try. Most of the time. Avoid anything too acidic (such as lemons) as this can damage your skin barrier and leave it vulnerable to irritation, inflammation, and UV rays. And maybe don’t set your expectations too high – evidence for DIY treatments tends to be anecdotal.

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