As an esthetician, I have worked with many different skin types, and a common concern among my clients is skin pigmentation. My clients will often ask me what can be done to improve their pigmentation. I tell them that foremost, it is important to understand how it got there and then identify what kind of ingredients work to brighten skin discoloration. One thing is certain: pigmentation is an ongoing issue that demands ongoing attention.
There are different types of skin pigmentations. In this post, I will primary focus on the dark spots, also known as hyperpigmentation.
What is hyperpigmentation? Hyperpigmentation is the darkened areas of the skin. Some examples of hyperpigmentation are freckles and moles, which are often inherited. Overall, however, hyperpigmentation accumulates over time. One of the biggest causes of increased hyperpigmentation is sun exposure; a sun tan is essentially self-inflicted hyperpigmentation.
Let’s take a closer look at the physical process that causes the visible accumulation and darkening of hyperpigmentation.
Our skin has melanin-producing cells called melanocytes, which exist in the basal layer of the skin. When triggered, these melanocytes produce a pigment called melanin. Sunlight is a common trigger for melanin production. For example, when the skin is exposed to harmful UV rays, the body’s natural defense mechanism is to produce melanin, which deflects and/or absorbs light. The more that skin is exposed to sunlight, the more melanin is produced, resulting in increased hyperpigmentation.
The easiest way to guard yourself from increased pigmentation is to keep yourself covered in the sunlight and to wear sun protection (SPF), even on gloomy days. The lower the SPF, the more often it needs to be reapplied.
Already have hyperpigmentation? That’s OK! There are numerous ingredients that work to effectively lighten dark spots. It is important to recognize that treating hyperpigmentation is not an overnight process, and if you stop treating it, pigmentation may resurface on the treated areas.
Examples of natural skin-lightening ingredients include:
- Hydroquinone - derived from propolis, resin that bees collect from tree buds
- Kojic acid - derived from fungi
- Alpha hydroxy acids – derived from fruits
- Vitamin K – found in green leafy vegetables (e.g. kale)
- Vitamin C – found in citrus, kiwi
- Arginine – derived from wheat germ
- Arbutin – derived from an evergreen bearberry bush
- Mulberry leaf
- Licorice root
- Gotu kola
- Shitake mushroom
When looking to treat hyperpigmentation, remember to search for these ingredients. If you see 2 or more of these agents in the skin product, then you know you are on to something effective!