Sun exposure, pregnancy, acne, heat, and hormones — did you know these all could be contributing factors for uneven tone? Hyperpigmentation is an increase of melanin in the skin, and can cause dark spots, freckles, sun spots, and other skin imperfections. Most people experience
it at some point in their lives, and treating it is one of the most common requests I receive from clients, especially in my practices in Dallas and Los Angeles. In fact, dark spots are the new wrinkles. Unfortunately, there's no magic wand for getting rid of pigmentation on the fly, but there are ways to lighten and brighten the skin, and promote even skin tone. Here, I’ll breakdown not only its causes, but also how to treat and prevent it.
UV Sun Exposure
This one is probably obvious, but often times, those prone to pigmentation will experience more flare ups in the summer months, as the sun triggers the production of melanin. If you have a breakout and head out into the sun without protection, this is especially true.
Even with sunscreen to protect skin from the sun, the heat from being outdoors can trigger inflammation, which causes an increase in melanin activity. This explains why your freckles and brown spots come out, even though you may be covered in SPF, wore a hat, and even under an umbrella while at the beach, pool, or lake.
Despite the many benefits of exfoliation, when skin is over-exfoliated with
chemical peels, microdermabrasion treatments, sonic cleansing brushes, and facial scrubs,
it may result in increased pigment for skin types prone to this. It is called post-inflammatory
Excessive Picking At Blemishes
This is another form of post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. When blemishes or scabs are picked at before the skin has fully healed, a dark red mark can be visible for one to two months — and longer, if you also head out into the sun. But, when the skin is manipulated at over and over for many years (there are chronic skin pickers out there!), the inflammation can cause brown pigmentation patches, but often it doesn’t become evident until years later.
Hyperpigmentation is a side effect of some prescription medications. Pay attention to the side effects of the medication, because the resulting hyperpigmentation is difficult to improve. Though it may be unavoidable, discuss possible options with your doctor if you’re concerned about this condition.
Aging Hormonal Changes
It is very common for women to experience an increase in pigmentation in their early 40s. The combination of hormonal changes combined with aging can bring about brown spots.
Again, an increase in hormonal activity causes many women to develop a "pregnancy mask" or melasma. Often times, the pigmentation will slowly disappear after giving birth without any topical skin treatments, but in many cases, home care or professional treatments like chemical peels will be required to help the pigmentation fade.
Birth Control Pills
Birth control pills can be a culprit, but as long as you are taking them, it can be tough to improve the skin’s condition. Definitely talk to your doctor if it becomes bothersome.
Wear Sunscreen Daily
Because the sun is one of the biggest causes of pigmentations — both short- and long-term — wearing a minimum of SPF 30 will greatly minimize the chance of seeing spots over time. Additionally, in the warmer months, aim to keep skin cool by avoiding heat when possible, since this too can trigger melanin activity. Be sure you reapply your sunscreen multiple times a day.
Exfoliation is beneficial for breaking up the pigmented cells to allow them to fade. Combined with a skin-lightening agent like vitamin C, exfoliation will help accelerate the fading process. Look for facial scrubs that use gentle round beads and mild-exfoliating acids, such as glycolic acid and salicylic acid. These exfoliants, when used regularly, can help break pigmented cells apart, which will lessen their appearance. It’s important to not overdo it with exfoliating products, because during the summer when melanin cells are active, too much exfoliation may actually trigger more melanin. In addition, the use of exfoliating acids can increase sun sensitivity, which can make the skin more vulnerable to the sun.
Get A Professional Treatment
Many of my clients are seeking the new Bio Brasion treatments, which is the next generation of microdermabrasion. It’s performed on wet skin, and uses a crystal-free, low-suction abrasion system to exfoliate, followed by a vitamin C peel to lift discoloration and reveal a brilliant clarity. Additionally, professional exfoliating acid peels can help fade marks quickly. Speak to your esthetician who can advise on treatments to treat hyperpigmentation.
Retinol is an ingredient derived from vitamin A that is proven to lift brown spots, and reduce the appearance of large pores, lines, and wrinkles. It’s essential to use as part of an anti-aging strategy to ensure even-toned skin.
Use A Skin Lightener
A skin lightener will help fade and suppress melanin cells. I always advise my clients to go the non-prescription route first, since prescription bleaches like hydroquinone may not be safe for topical use. My favorite over-the-counter skin-lightening ingredient is magnesium ascorbyl phosphate, a form of vitamin C that is a proven melanin suppressor. There are also other fading ingredients like licorice extract, kojic acid, and soy extract that can also help inhibit melanin production, but magnesium ascorbyl phosphate is what I have found to be most effective for both my clients and myself.