Beauty 101: Hyper-pigmentation


The musings of a mad woman.

Just like the mad musings of Lady Macbeth once they appear those damned brown spots of pigmentation can be quite the curse. You may think with despair in your heart that what has been done from a lifetime in the sun cannot be undone. But all is not lost.

The uneven discolouration of pigmented cells can be quite distressing. This is especially true if what was once a beautiful tan begins to almost dismantle itself into something far less than the pretty golden glow you once aspired to in your youth and proudly showed off every summer. It just begins to look a little jaded. For many, this is not a happy occurrence at all!


On my soapbox once again. Is anyone listening?

In my earlier years in the beauty industry I naively thought that if you, (my client) had knowingly exposed your skin to the sun for the sake of a tan then you would surely expect that one day, this tan would come undone. I also and rather regrettably and very mistakenly thought we could talk about it openly without you, (my client) bursting into floods of tears! How wrong was I?

 I know only too well the emotion attached to this problem. Of course you’re upset!!


Didn’t anyone warn my client 20 odd years ago about the dangers of too much sun on her skin? Didn’t she care? Or was it that voice in her head that scoffed.. No! That happens to other people!
If you’ve known me for a while then you know how I look upon unprotected sun exposure. You may as well be telling me you’ve decided to let your natural hair colour come through, or you’ve decided to stop shaving your underarms or you don’t take your make up off at night!! Or, wearing stiletto’s is going to hurt my back someday!! All illicit a very strange reaction of disbelief in me. But hey.. we all have our little idiosyncrasies..  


But I jest..

Not all pigmentation is caused from too much sun.  We can break it down to three main causes.

Sun exposure: The obvious one. Just too much sun for too long without adequate UV broad-spectrum sun protection, often the damage begins in the early years of our lives and depending on where you live, your genetics and how diligent you are with your sun protection will determine how much uneven pigmentation makes itself known later in life.
Hormonal: Known as Melasma, often occurs during pregnancy or as a reaction to the contraceptive pill.  If you have this kind of hyperpigmentation then you know what a beast it is to treat! It is activated by hormonal influences on the skin and is stirred up primarily by heat, whether that be infrared heat from the sun or even a heated room can trigger this type of hyperpigmentation. So just broad-spectrum sun protection alone will not stop this problem.
It can be recognised by a distinctive mask-like appearance, usually on the face. If you have this, seeking out solutions like LED or Laser resurfacing will not be the answer as any heat-related devices will just exacerbate your problem.
Post-inflammatory: This often occurs when the skin has suffered any kind of trauma, such as the aftermath of acne, where the scarred skin becomes pigmented when exposed to the sun or after treatments like chemical peels, microdermabrasion or laser when during the initial healing stages the skin is far more susceptible and if not adequately protected from the sun will suffer post inflammatory hyper-pigmentation. 


Few of us escape the perils of the sun.

Most of us will have some kind of damage occurring in our skin caused by the sun and for women this damage can be compounded by a finer structure to the skin, the amount of naturally occurring melanin that protects the skin and how much exposure has taken place and once your feminine hormones begin to take flight from around the age of 40 onwards, then it is quite likely you will begin to see the signs of blotchy pigmentation. 


You could spend thousands…

Treatments like Fractional Laser Resurfacing, Chemical Peels, LED Light and Sonophoresis all have a big impact on reducing blotchy pigmentation caused by the sun. And if you have a few thousand dollars to spare then an all-out-war on your pigmentation will reduce it significantly, maybe not completely undone, but you can expect a significant improvement and you will feel much happier with how your skin looks.


Or not…

But if spending a few thousand dollars is not something you are prepared to do, then there are some very good ingredients that will lessen the hyper-pigmentation. It will take some time and your commitment will determine how good your results. Expect at least 12 weeks before you see any meaningful results. 


So let’s unpack a few of these topical active ingredients.

L-Ascorbic Acid
This is vitamin C and amongst the many fine attributes of this everyday vitamin is it’s ability when topically applied to reduce inflammation and will minimise the effect heat has on your skin. Vitamin C is also a tyrosinase inhibitor. Tyrosinase is the enzyme that stimulates pigment in the first place and when your melanin cells become dysfunctional, vitamin C becomes an important ingredient to minimise the output of this enzyme and cause an uneven scattering of pigment through your skin. Look for pure L-Ascorbic Acid for the best results in either a serum or powder formulation. For a more detailed review of vitamin C, you may like to read this article
Also known as Vitamin B3, is fast becoming a mainstay in many well-formulated skin care preparations. Amongst its many positive qualities, vitamin B3 has the ability to protect the skin from infrared heat, reducing inflammation and decreasing the transfer of melanosomes from within your pigment cells (melanocytes) to the outer cells of your skin known as your keratinocytes. Or to put it more simply, Niacinamide reduces the amount of pigment that is released into the surrounding skin which can leave you with uneven distribution of pigment. 
This is Vitamin A. Not so long ago that I wrote an entire article of vitamin A and if you missed it you can find it here. When it comes to specifically treating hyperpigmentation, the best place to start is with a medical grade prescription of Retinoic Acid. Your skin cells will accept the retinoic acid and not only will it help diminish uneven pigmentation by increasing cell turnover, but once the vitamin A enters the cell it will contribute to the repair of any damage in the DNA of the cell. A very effective treatment for whatever type of hyperpigmentation you may have, but with constant use, your skin may become irritated and of course, it is absolutely essential to wear a well-formulated broad-spectrum sunscreen. 
Has a bleaching or whitening action on the skin and while a very effective ingredient for treating hyperpigmentation in many countries it is either banned or only available through a prescription from a medical doctor. For it to be truly effective it does need to be in concentrations of around 4 percent which is quite high and not always well tolerated and can be quite drying to the skin. Comparison research has been done on the effectiveness of hydroquinone versus niacinamide and in both cases, the results over a 12 week period were very good. So it may come down to personal choice, how easy you are able to obtain hydroquinone and whether it suits your skin overall. Personally, I would always choose niacinamide as it has so many other benefits that contribute to the overall health of the skin.
Bearberry extract
From the bearberry it is sometimes referred to as uva ursi extract or arbutin and is a natural skin lightening agent that once applied to the skin will convert in the skin to hydroquinone. Like Vitamin C it’s action is on inhibiting the enzyme tyrosinase from stimulating more pigment.  So, in some ways, you could say it is a preventative measure and in most cases well accepted by most skin types. 


which one is right for you?

All of these active ingredients when used topically are important in the undoing of hyper-pigmentation and will slowly help reduce or lighten your hyperpigmentation. In some way or another, you can access all of these ingredients as most cosmeceutical companies will incorporate them into their systems. It’s not so much about choosing one ingredient over another. All work well together to give you a far superior result than just looking for one single ingredient to help resolve hyper-pigmentation. 
If you want to incorporate chemical peels into your hyper-pigmentation regimen you may like to go here
So that’s hyper-pigmentation unpacked. Of course, if you’re serious about embarking or reversing hyper-pigmentation then a broad-spectrum sunscreen is essential.  You may also find these articles helpful. Go here and here for more on the subject. 


And now you?

Do you have a problem with hyperpigmentation? How have you managed it? Or have you found a secret ingredient that you’ve found works really well? Or maybe you’ve just got more questions?  Shoot me an email over here.  I’d love you from you or just scroll down and share your thoughts in the comments and if you liked this article why not share it with your friends. 
See you in the comments,  

The Beauty Issue