Best thing about summer? Beach holidays, sunshine, ice cream, long evenings, cut grass, days spent reading, camping, braai’s, gin and tonics… I could go on and on….
Worst thing about summer? Without a doubt it has to be Hyperpigmentation.
Now that summer is winding down it has become apparent that many of us have a few more “souvenirs” that we had planned on bringing back from the beach… dark brown spots scattered across our face!
Now I’m not saying you shouldn’t embrace your freckles… because these are actually rather cute, what I am complaining about is the dark brown patches that make your face look much older than it is. A dark “moustache” across your upper lip, a halo of mottled brown across your forehead, dark spots on your cheeks or temples can all make you appear older than you really are as the uneven skin tone and dark patches doesn’t reflect as much light, plus the fact that these seem to appear on the face – a highly visible part of the body – makes this problem very difficult to hide!
What is Hyperpigmentation?
Hyperpigmentation appears as flat, darkened patches of skin that are light brown to black in colour, and can vary in size and shape. This phenomenon is usually the result of your skin’s efforts to protect itself from the harmful effects of ultraviolet light.
What types of Hyperpigmentation are there?
Pigment spots such as age spots are caused by sun exposure. For this reason, they appear mainly on body parts that are frequently exposed, such as the face, hands and arms. They tend to be small, darkened patches of skin.
Melasma or chloasma is often referred to as “the mask of pregnancy”, as it affects 90% of pregnant women. It occurs as a result of hormonal influences such as pregnancy and birth control pills, and causes dark and irregularly shaped areas on the face or arms that can be quite large.
Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation occurs when a skin injury or trauma heals and leaves a flat area of discolouration behind. It’s commonly found among acne sufferers, and can also be caused by cosmetic procedures such as dermabrasion, laser treatment and chemical peels.
Freckles are caused by sun exposure, and commonly appear on the face.
Why does Hyperpigmentation occur?
Hyperpigmentation occurs when melanin is overproduced in certain spots on the skin. Melanin is the pigment that gives our skin, hair and eyes its natural colour – in patches of the skin. This overproduction is triggered by a variety of factors, but the main ones can be linked back to sun exposure, genetic factors, age, hormonal influences, and skin injuries or inflammation.
There are other factors that can cause patches of skin to become darker – such as scarring, birthmarks, solar or actinic keratoses and skin cancers – but these aren’t considered to be forms of hyperpigmentation.
See your dermatologist or pharmacist if you are concerned about any of your dark spots, or if they are new, start to bleed, itch, or change in size or colour.
What causes Hyperpigmentation?
Sun exposure is the number one cause of hyperpigmentation, as sunlight triggers the production of melanin in the first place. Melanin acts as your skin’s natural sunscreen by protecting you from harmful UV rays, which is why people tan in the sun. But excessive sun exposure can disrupt this process, leading to hyperpigmentation. Once dark spots have developed, sun exposure can also exacerbate dark spots by making freckles, age spots, melasma and post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation spots even darker.
Most of the hyperpigmentation you’ve got now, you earned 20 years ago. (It takes an average of 10 years for sun damage to translate into brown spots!) It’s now just being encouraged and worsened by your current UV exposure.
Hormonal influences are the main cause of a particular kind of hyperpigmentation known as melasma or chloasma. This type of hyperpigmentation is more prevalent among people with darker skin. It’s particularly common among women, as it’s thought to occur when the female sex hormones oestrogen and progesterone stimulate the overproduction of melanin when skin is exposed to the sun. Hyperpigmentation on the upper lip can occur due to hormonal changes. Oral birth controls affect your hormones directly and many birth control pills stimulate the melanocyte cells in your skin to produce more melanin. Hyperpigmentation is so attuned to your hormones that you’re more vulnerable to it during your menstruation too. So take a little extra care with sun exposure during your period.
Heat can trigger your hyperpigmentation. The photons that make up UV light and the physical energy of heat has an impact on your skin. Scientists have found that temperature regulates how much melanin your body produces. The hotter it is, the more melanin (pigment). And that’s why most doctors believe that heat triggers hyperpigmentation. Heat from being in the sun, cooking (especially braaiing!), a hot day, hot flushes and, even a sauna, is believed to darken pigmentation.Take precautions to keep yourself and your skin cool. Avoid steam, saunas and heated pools. Protect your face from the hair dryer.
High Energy Visible light (HEV), which is omitted from your smartphone and computers, is also a culprit when it comes to Hyperpigmentation. All screens emit radiation. Cosmetics manufacturers in the USA are working at full speed on filters to absorb blue light but as yet, there are no effective substances that protect against HEV light. Rather spend less time on your iPhone or in front of a screen.
Hyperpigmentation is also symptomatic of certain illnesses, such as some autoimmune and gastrointestinal diseases, metabolic disorders and vitamin deficiencies.
Hyperpigmentation is also a side effect of certain hormone treatments, chemotherapy drugs, antibiotics, antimalarials, anti-seizure drugs, and other medications.
Certain jobs or occupations are also linked to hyperpigmentation due to their associated risk of exposure to sun or chemicals. People known to be at added risk include gardeners, pitch or tar workers, and those who work in perfumeries or bakeries.
As its name suggests, post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation occurs following a skin injury or inflammation, such as a cut, pimple, burn, chemical exposure, acne, eczema or Psoriasis. It occurs when the skin is left darkened and discoloured after the wound has healed. These marks are not scars but rather post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, which comes about after trauma or injury to the skin.
A 2013 Polish study found that young women who experience more stress are more prone to darker pigmentation in skin. Get more sleep, exercise and stretch for a healthy body and clearer skin.
This one should be pretty obvious, because proper sleep is vital for healthy skin. What happens is that lack of sleep leads to poor blood circulation and increases the amount of stress hormone cortisol in your body which both can lead to hyperpigmentation.
Why does Hyperpigmentation occur more often after 30?
Over the course of our lives, there is cumulative damage to the DNA of our skin cells as a result of damage from UV exposure and other environmental aggressors, like pollution.
In our 20s and younger, our cells have more robust repair mechanism that can repair the changes to our DNA, however, this ability to repair these changes declines gradually over time, resulting in more abnormalities as we reach our 30s and beyond.
Our ability to recover from sun exposure and remove excessive reactive pigmentation decreases over time, plus the response to sun exposure becomes heightened. This results in a stronger protective response by our melanocytes to overproduce melanin.
How can I improve the appearance of Hyperpigmentation?
It is very difficult to know which is the best way to get rid of Hyperpigmentation, but limiting your time in the sun, wearing protective clothing, a wide brimmed hat and using a broad-spectrum physical sunscreen with a high SPF can all help to reduce your risk of developing hyperpigmentation, and stop existing dark spots from getting worse.
Other solutions include using pigment inhibitors, antioxidants, light therapy (laser), chemical peels and microdermabrasion.
Chemical peels involve applying an acidic solution to the face, hands or feet to remove the surface layers of the skin and reveal new, evenly pigmented skin. These chemicals cause the skin to blister and eventually peel off, revealing new and evenly pigmented skin beneath.
Laser therapies have much the same effect, but tend to be more precise, as the dermatologist has more control over the intensity of the treatment. They involve ‘zapping’ the affected areas with high-energy light. The mildest treatments work just on the skin’s epidermis (surface layer), while more intense treatments can penetrate the deepest layers of the skin.
These dermatological treatments can be very effective against hyperpigmentation but they are expensive and relatively invasive. And because they can irritate, inflame or even burn skin, they can actually cause post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, especially in people with darker skin.
An easier, cheaper and less painful option is to opt to use various skincare products aimed at treating and reducing the signs of hyperpigmentation. Most rely on active ingredients to decrease melanin production and reduce the appearance of dark spots.
What is the best way to treat Hyperpigmentation?
Embrace antioxidant skincare products to help repair some of the DNA damage that has been done by your hormones, sun or scarring.
Vitamin C & E have a synergistic effect, which means they work together to both repair DNA damage in skin cells and also reduce pigmentation.
Vitamin A (retinol) also has a similar effect repairing DNA changes and reducing dark melanin production.
Other ingredients to look for are Hydroquinone and Glutathione, which are both able to shift the production of the pigmented type of melanin, to the production of the non-pigmented melanin called phaeomelanin.
The best products to use to treat Hyperpigmentation
Products to treat Hyperpigmentation are NOT bleaching products. Most of the products used to treat Hyperpigmentation exfoliate the skin to remove the surface layer of skin cells with the brown spots, ultimately leaving the skin more even and radiant.
Many of the products used to treat Hyperpigmentation incorporate ingredients and technology to specifically target the site of the melanin production.
Skincare brand, SVR, was developed by French pharmacists in the 1960’s with the single aim of ‘creating beautiful skin’. They have continued with research and product development over the years and have ranges to address various skincare issues such as: ageing, pigmentation, sensitive skin, problematic skin, dry or irritated skin and sun care.
If you have hyperpigmentation, you should be using these products as part of your anti-hyperpigmentation skincare routine:
A gentle cleanser
Avoid irritating your skin further and opt to use a gentle cleanser in your skincare routine.
TRY: SVR’s Topialyse Gel Lavante is a gentle, creamy foam cleanser with a delicate fragrance that doesn’t damage the skin’s hydrolipidic film and helps to reduce sensations of tightness and discomfort. It is soap-free, paraben-free and super gentle on sensitive skin.
It contains leading dermatological active ingredients in their highest concentrations, including:
- Omegas 3, 6 and 9 to restore the skin’s barrier
- Vegetable glycerin: to hydrate the skin
- Soap-free cleansing base: to cleanse without drying
It is recommended by Dermatologists, Opthalmologists, Pediatricians and Gynecologists. Price : R200 for 200ml
A chemical exfoliant
Avoid physical exfoliants and rather opt to use a chemical exfoliant, in the form of gentle AHAs or BHAs, which will rid the skin of cells with pigment, or the “expression” stage of pigmentation.
Look for ingredients like glycolic acid, lactic acid, citric acid and salicylic acid, and retinol if your skin is up to it.
Your exfoliation can be in the form of a cleanser, toner, face cream, serum, or a dedicated exfoliant, and it’s best to get some professional advice on how often you should exfoliate (especially if you are having professional peels as well) although a good guide is 2-3 times a week.
Milder products used every few days will serve you much better than really aggressive actives used too often which will lead to inflammation and more hyperpigmentation.
TRY: SVR CLAIRIAL Peel exfoliates and eliminates surface pigment. It acts as an anti-brown spot treatment, radiance enhancer and depigmentation accelerator.
Apply this hypoallergenic cream every 2 nights alternating with CLAIRIAL Crème 10 or 10+ concentrée. Price: 30ml – R630
A spot corrector
A targeted spot cream that has been clinically proven to improve the appearance of stubborn hyperpigmentation.
TRY: SVR CLAIRIAL Crème 10 – an anti-brown spot cream that lightens and advances the disappearance of extended brown spots. This product promotes the disappearance of extended brown spots such as melasma and chloasma. It lightens and evens the complexion and works on all skin tones (caucasian, asian, ethnic). Price: 50ml – R535
SVR CLAIRIAL CC Crème is an all-in-one cream that combines the effectiveness of a
moisturising anti-pigmentation / brown spot cream and the coverage of a universal
foundation. It also has a very high sun protection factor. Available in a universal beige tint that adapts to all skin tones and medium and light tones. This creme is ultra-hydrating with a liquid cream texture that absorbs easily and leaves a light film on your face to protect against those pesky UV rays. Price: Light and Medium – R454. Beige – R480
A pigment blocker
There are various types of blockers or inhibitors, each working in their own way to prevent pigmentation triggering in the first place, which means less time spent treating it.
There are tyrosinanse inhibitors which work to block the enzyme tyrosinase that’s needed to make melanin. There are also PAR-2 inhibitors, like soy and niacinamide, which can result in reduced melanosomal transfer and distribution, leading to a lightening of skin pigmentation. Ideally you would use a pigment blocker morning and night on clean skin.
A physical sunscreen
This is not an optional product – this is essential!
Use a zinc oxide or titanium dioxide physical/mineral sunscreen for your best chance. Use it every single day, on top of your pigment blocker, and underneath your makeup.
This step is so crucial, not only to stop UV getting to your skin and starting up the melanocytes, but also because whenever you use AHAs or BHAs, you MUST wear sunscreen every day, to protect the lovely fresh skin you’ve just exfoliated.
TRY: SVR CLAIRIAL Crème SPF 50+ offers sun protection which also reduces pigmented spots. As this is a physical sunscreen it does feel thicker on the skin than other chemical sunscreens but is absorbs fairly quickly and, once done so, is comfortable to wear all day.
It contains the leading dermatological active ingredients in the highest concentrations including Beta-carotene which offers protection against visible light (blue and violet) as well as UVA and UVB protection. Price: 50ml – R444
A brightening serum
Use a brightening serum every night, even better if your serum contains antioxidants that help to deal with your dark spots. eg. Vitamin C is a great skin-brightener.
TRY: SVR CLAIRIAL Serum is the N° 1 product prescribed by dermatologists to treat pigmentation. It is a complete corrector for all skin tones. It corrects all brown spots / pigmentation and revives radiance.
A liquid cream, this product initially has a slightly sticky texture when applied to the skin but it dries quickly to a matte finish. it contains the leading dermatological active ingredients in the highest concentrations including 8% depigmenting complex to reduce and dissolves all types of brown spots, preventing their reappearance as well as 2% stabilized vitamin C to activate radiance and even out complexion. Price: 30ml – R660
As the leader in dermatological prescription for pigmentation, CLAIRIAL by SVR, is the complete and complementary range of daily care for the treatment of pigmentation with proven efficacy on all types of pigmentation.
The range is suitable for all skin tones and types (Caucasian, Asian and Ethnic). It is 100% tested on sensitive skin and free from allergens and parabens.
SVR is the most concentrated dermatological brand and is available in 45 countries around the globe. It is 100% tested on sensitive skins.
Available throughout South Africa at Clicks stores nationwide, select doctors and beauty salons.
NB points to remember when treating Hyperpigmentation
The number one thing to remember when treating Hyperpigmentation is to avoid damaging the skin any further. You need to be vigilant about applying sun protection every. single. day – for the rest of your life! There will be no point in doing all these treatments or using all these products to reduce the appearance of your Hyperpigmentation unless you prevent more from occurring. Your pigmentation is always lingering just under the surface of your skin, waiting for an opportunity to come back. Don’t let it. Sunscreen, hat, sunglasses, protective clothing, skincare regime. Always!
When treating pigmentation it’s important to remember that you will need patience. It took you some time to get that sun damage, so it’s going to take a while to get rid of it. Most products will take at least four weeks of daily use until any results can be seen.
The third thing to remember when treating hyperpigmentation is diligence. No professional skincare products or treatments will make any difference at all to your pigmentation if you don’t use them as part of your skincare regime daily.
It’s always advisable to see your skincare therapist or dermatologist first with any skincare concern you may have. They will do an accurate assessment and prescribe an individualised skincare regimen tailor-made for you.