Hyperpigmention is a source of frustration for many women (and men) and can severely affect once confidence yet is most of the times overlooked in beauty sections of glossy magazines who tend to focus on (equally important (!)) skin issues like wrinkles and blemishes. So the time felt ripe and right for a '101' on everything you need to know about hyperpigmentation, what causes it and more important how to prevent and treat it.
Hyperpigmentation starts in the pigment cells (melanocytes), that are spread throughout the base of the epidermis. Everybody carries the same amount of pigment cells irrespective of race or skin colour, it is the quantity and type of melanin produced by these pigment cells that gives us our unique hair and skin colour. Normally the production of melanin and distribution to regular skin cells is even and without any complications.
It is only when this regular process is disturbed by certain factors such as melasma (triggered by birth control hormones or pregnancy hormones); sun/age spots due to overexposure to the sun; or post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (after a pimple, bug bite, or other trauma), that an overproduction and distribution of melanin occurs causing areas of the skin to look darker than your natural skin tone.
PREVENTION Can anything be done to prevent hyperpigmentation from occurring in the first place? Yes, is the simple answer, there is enough you can control (beside hyperpigmentation caused by melasma, scientist are still trying to understand what triggers the hormones to increase the pigment production) to prevent hyperpigmentation.
Refrain from picking at your skin, and protect it when exposed to the sun. Wear a hat, and reapply sunscreen every two hours when you are out, (especially if you use chemical lightners as these attract the sun even more than normal which can aggravate the problem you are trying to tackle in the first place).
If you have darker skin, which is particularly sensitive when it comes to hyperpigmenation, be even more cautious. Dark and olive skin may appear thicker than Caucasian skin but it is actually thinner and much more sensitive and reacts by overproducing melanin when challenged! Avoid anything that can make a change in the outer layer of the skin including extreme heat, unprotected sun exposure, extractions.
There are many over the counter treatment options if despite your best efforts you are experiencing hyperpigmentation (and can't face waiting for years for the spots to fade away naturally). Start by exfoliating regularly to scrub away the build up of cells, bearing in mind that initially the spots can appear darker before they lighten. An effective scrub does not have to be chemical, a physical consistency that is suitable for sensitive skin can work as well (if not better because it does not upset the skin which can cause more trauma) We recommend this Polishing Powder(Thandie Newton swears by it) with effective but soothing ingredients like zinc PCA and colloidal oatmeal and safe enough for the most sensitive skin. If you prefer an exfoliator with a more robust texture but equally gentle on the skin opt for this Dandelion Face Grains Scrub with liquorice).
Creams with hydroquinone are as popular as they are controversial in treating hyperpigmentation. They tend to work fast with the downside that they contain high toxic levels. They are easy to obtain in the US but prohibited as over-the-counter ointment in Europe and heavily regulated in Asia. Be sensible when treating your hyperpigmention with anything that contains hydroquinone. Don't use it for a period of time longer than 4 weeks and stay away from it if you are pregnant or want to get pregnant.
For potent hydroquinone-free options look for hyper pigmentation correctors with salicylic acid and hydroxyphenoxy propionic acid (like Cane + Austin's treatment pads which contains 2% salicylic acid), always do a patch test first to see how your skin reacts, especially if you have olive and darker skin to ensure it does not cause a pigmentary problem. Alpha and beta hydroxi acids are also popular but they can cause additional irritation so use creams containing low levels or even better, go for the natural option derived from fruit enzymes. Our bestselling HyperPigmentation treatment is Monastery Made's XX Exfoliating Glycolic Gel. A 110% natural rose enriched glycolic AHA to rid the skin of blemishes and even out the effects of hyperpigmentation Mask (SHOP) is perfect to even out the skin tone whilst the natural exfoliants derived from fruit enzymes make the appearance of the skin smoother. Soy, Willow bark and liquorice root extracts are also ingredients that have proven to be very effective in treating hyperpigmentation, with liquorice root proven to have anti-cancer properties and some studies indicating that it is a superior ingredient for skin brightening compared to hydroquinone.
On a day by day basis, it is highly recommended to incorporate skin care products with anti-oxidants in your routine like a Leland Francis Luxe Face Oil(As recommend in Vogue to fade Dark Spots), a potent daily oil for dark spots. Anti-oxidants are known to decrease increase in pigmentation after sun exposure by neutralising free radicals before they cause damage. Vitamin C is also effective in stopping overall melanin production (in addition to boosting collagen production!) and boost the skins' vitality and overall appearance (try Bottega Organica's Multi-Active Face Serum or Monastery Made (alcohol free) Hyaluronic Gel with Vitamin C, Aloe, soothing French Lavender and Hyaluronic Acid) SHOP HERE.
For severe cases of hyperpigmentation, there are chemical peels, lasers, micro needling etc that can help renew cells faster, help products penetrate deeper into the skin and reveal non-hyperpigmented skin. If you have darker skin be especially mindful as these procedures can leave severe post treatment hyperpigmentation if too aggressive, and we advice (irrespective of skin colour) to always consult a professional certified dermatologist first that has extensive experience and can work with your skin type if considering a more invasive procedure.
Whilst in the midst of fading your hyperpigmentation scars the right amount of make up coverage can do wonders. For darker skin tones we recommend Kevyn Aucoin Sensual Skin Enhancer (SHOP) or Kjaer Weis Cream Foundation, a certified organic alternative formulated without synthetics or aggressive chemicals and with skincare level ingredients that will benefit and improve the skin tone (Kjaer Weis Cream Foundation shade used on Model Delicate).
Both foundations offer a concealer level of coverage where needed, perfect to cover targeted area of dark spots without having to cover the whole face.