The musings of a madwoman.
Just like the mad musings of Lady Macbeth once they appear those damned brown spots of blotchy hyper-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. And it’s especially true if what was once a beautiful tan begins to dismantle itself into something far less than the pretty golden glow you once aspired to in your youth and proudly showed off every summer. And, your lovely tan 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 somewhat regrettably and very mistakenly thought we could talk about it openly without you, (my client) bursting into floods of tears! How wrong was I?
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!
I know only too well the emotion attached to this problem. Of course you’re upset!!
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 don’t take your make up off at night!! Or, one-day wearing stiletto’s is going to hurt my back!! All illicit a reaction of disbelief.
We all have our little quirks and apart from removing your makeup at night, my idiosyncratic beliefs are entirely misguided.
But I jest; as blotchy pigmentation is a serious matter and not only does it spoil the appearance of your skin, it’s also an indication of the health of your skin.
Not all blotchy hyper-pigmentation is caused from too much sun. We can break it down to three main causes.
Sun exposure: The obvious one, 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, this type of hyperpigmentation 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! Activated by hormonal influences 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, 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 exacerbate your problem.
Post-inflammatory: This often occurs when the skin has suffered any 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 damage occurring in our skin caused by the sun. For women, once your feminine hormones begin to take flight from around the age of 40, then it’s quite likely you’ll start to see the signs of blotchy pigmentation.
You could spend thousands.
Treatments like Fractional Laser Resurfacing, Chemical Peels, LED Light and Low-Frequency Sonophoresis will have a significant impact on reducing blotchy hyperpigmentation 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 much better and a significant improvement, and you’ll feel much happier with how your skin looks.
But if spending a few thousand dollars to undo your blotchy hyperpigmentation is not something you want to do? Well, some excellent skincare ingredients will lessen the appearance of your hyperpigmentation. 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 to help combat your blotchy hyper-pigmentation.
Vitamin C and amongst all its many wonderful attributes, when topically applied will reduce inflammation and 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. When your melanin cells become dysfunctional, vitamin C becomes a vital 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 skincare preparations. Amongst its many positive qualities, vitamin B3 can protect the skin from infrared heat, which will reduce inflammation. And decrease the transfer of pigment to the outer cells of your skin where it becomes visible. Or to put it more simply, Niacinamide minimises the amount of pigment that’s released into the surrounding skin which can leave you with an uneven distribution of blotchy pigmentation. You might also like this article: Niacinamide: Your Plan B
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, its action is on inhibiting the enzyme tyrosinase from stimulating more pigment. As a preventative measure, Bearberry extract is a useful active ingredient. And in most cases is well accepted by the majority of skin types.
Also known as Vitamin A. When it comes to 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 your skin cell, it’ll contribute to the repair of any damage in the DNA of the cell.
Has a bleaching or whitening action on the skin and while an effective ingredient for treating brown spots and hyper-pigmentation in many countries it is either banned or only available through a prescription from a medical doctor. For it to be effective, it does need to be in concentrations of around 4 per cent which is relatively 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 12 weeks were excellent. So it may come down to personal choice, how easy you can obtain hydroquinone and whether it suits your skin overall. As for me, I’d always choose Niacinamide as it has so many other benefits that contribute to the overall health of the skin.
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 over another. All work well together to give you a far superior result than just looking for one single active ingredient to help resolve hyperpigmentation.
If you want to incorporate chemical peels into your hyper-pigmentation regimen, you may like to read this series all about chemical peels.
So that’s blotchy hyper-pigmentation unpacked. Of course, if you’re serious about embarking or reversing hyperpigmentation, then a broad-spectrum sunscreen is essential. You may also find these articles helpful. Go here and here for more on the subject or Mysterious Melasma: Misunderstood and Misdiagnosed.
And now you?
Do you have a problem with blotchy hyperpigmentation? How have you managed it? Or have you found a secret ingredient that you’ve found works well? Or maybe you’ve just got more questions? You can shoot me an email over here. I’d love to hear from you or if you liked this article, why not share it with your friends on your socials.
See you in the comments,