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Skincare treatments: Hyperpigmentation facts and myths
Backstage at the Jeremy Scott Spring/Summer 2012 show at New York Fashion Week,
makeup artists added a smattering of freckles to models’ faces, completing the "farmer chic" look Scott was after. But if you’ve ever dealt with unwelcome brown spots on your own complexion, you know you can’t wash them off as easily as Scott’s models did post-show. Known as hyperpigmentation, brown and dark spots are stubborn and can make your otherwise flawless complexion seem blotchy.
We asked Dr. Tony Nakhla, author of The Skin Commandments: 10 Rules to Healthy, Beautiful Skin, for more insight on what hyperpigmentation is, how to avoid it, and how best to treat it in your skincare routine.
WHAT CAUSES HYPERPIGMENTATION?
Most hyperpigmentation is caused primarily by sun over-exposure. The sun’s harmful UV rays damage your skin’s pigment producing cells, called melanocytes, Nakhla explains. "Over time, the ability of these cells to produce pigment becomes impaired, and pigment production goes into an uncontrollable overdrive and churns out in uneven doses," he says. This leaves your skin mottled, with areas of discoloration and uneven pigment. Whereas beautiful skin, – i.e. skin that is not sun-damaged – is uniform in colour, with pigment even throughout.
There are two other main causes of hyperpigmentation:
1. Melasma (also known as pregnancy mask):
A condition in women where excess pigmentation shows up on the cheeks, chin, and forehead. This is due to hormones that fluctuate during pregnancy or while taking birth control pills or other medications. Melasma can be difficult to treat.
2. Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation
This occurs after any type of injury to the skin such as acne, scars, rashes or cuts. Pigmentation coincides with the healing process but in this case, once the rash or acne is gone, the pigment persists and can last for months or even years. This type of pigmentation gradually fades away on its own.
Find out how to treat hyperpigmentation on the next page…
Hyperpigmentation treatments fall into three main categories, which Nakhla outlines:
Making sure hyperpigmentation doesn’t get worse is an initial priority. The most effective way to prevent hyperpigmentation is to slather on SPF30 daily (even when it’s cloudy). Nakhla explains that since most sun damage occurs early on in life, this is especially important in younger women who have a much better chance at side-stepping hyperpigmentation if they wear sunscreen regularly. More prevention must-dos include other common sense sun avoidance strategies such as finding shade on bright, sunny days, wearing a broad brimmed hat and of course, avoiding tanning salons.
Skin lightening creams or topical medicine that are rife with ingredients like hydroquinone, vitamin C, kojic acid, or soy can prevent the release of pigmentation and, over time will help even out skin tone as the skin renews itself.
Exfoliation helps remove pigmented skin, which can be done with chemical peels, microdermabrasion or retinoids. Each helps to exfoliate pigmented skin and, as the skin renews itself, blotchy, uneven areas are replaced with brighter, even toned skin.
Laser treatments work by directly targeting excess pigment. Laser light passes through the skin and is absorbed by the dark pigment, which causes the pigment to be broken up into small pieces. The pigmented areas are then either stripped away or swallowed up by your immune cells and removed from the body.
"The best treatment for pigmentation is combination therapy with all of the aforementioned treatments," Nakhla says. But remember, once you minimize or get rid of hyperpigmentation you need to remain conscious of how much sun exposure you get. You can easily undo your best efforts if you’re not strict about using sunscreen and adopting sun-savvy habits. Concludes Nakhla: "Many people waste thousands of dollars on laser treatments and topical creams only to return to their sun-worshipping habits."
If you are dealing with hyperpigmentation, there are options out there to treat it. Book an appointment with your dermatologist to start figuring out the best course of action towards a more even-toned, youthful complexion.