Spots. Dark patches. Age spots. Sun spots. Melasma.
These are some words that I hear when talking with people about their areas of concern during their facials. The medical term for it is hyperpigmentation, which is a darkening of the skin due to an increase in melanin (the natural substance that gives skin its color or pigment). It affects men and women and is a condition that can affect any part of the body, though it is most common on the face and hands. Luckily, hyperpigmentation is a harmless condition and does not cause medical threat. Unfortunately, it is a nuisance and can be tough to treat.
What causes hyperpigmentation?
The color (pigment) of our skin is determined by the mix of pigment produced and the number and distribution of melanosomes in the skin, depending on the genetic makeup of the person. Hyperpigmentation is an increase in melanin production in certain spots and can be caused by several different reasons:
Hormones – Usually occurs as a result of fluctuating hormones, like during pregnancy or while taking birth control pills. This is known as melasma or “pregnancy mask”. This type of hyperpigmentation is usually mirrored, occurring on both sides of the face.
Inflammation – A darkening of the skin due to inflammation, such as acne, eczema, psoriasis or other inflammatory conditions. This is known as post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH).
Sun damage – One of the most common reasons for hyperpigmentation. Remember we had that talk about sunscreen and protecting our skin from UV damage? Inadequate protection from the sun’s UV rays will lead to dark spots, freckling and, when enough damage has occurred, can even cause much worse diseases.
Is there anything that I can do to get rid of it?
So now that we know what causes those pesky dark spots, how do we get rid of them?
First, let me say that, like most things, it will take time. You did not develop those dark spots overnight and they will not go away overnight.
I prefer to treat hyperpigmentation with a 1-2 punch of professional targeted treatments and a kick-ass home care regimen.
Punch 1: Professional Targeted Treatments
A facial consists of many steps. One important step when treating hyperpigmentation is the exfoliation step. There are many different types of exfoliants: alpha hydroxy acids, beta hydroxy acids, fruit enzymes, mandelic acid, etc. Exfoliation treatments help remove the topmost layers of the dull, pigmented skin and helps the skin reveal its natural glow. Removing the top layer of the epidermis also allows for better penetration of products, such as the products used to treat the hyperpigmentation, and enhances their effectiveness.
Other important steps include product application, such as using serums or masks that target hyperpigmentation or have a brightening effect.
Another important step can be the addition of LED light therapy. I use a LED system by Lightwave that has a special pigmentation protocol, which alternates the use of red LED and infrared light therapy in a specific pattern designed for optimum tissue response.
Punch 2: Kick-ass Home Care Regimen
A kick-ass home care regimen may seem daunting, but once established, takes as little as two minutes every morning and evening. For those truly looking to conquer their pigmentation, two minutes is well worth it. Though each client’s treatment plan is different, there are a few basic steps that are essential to revealing healthy, more even-toned skin.
- Antioxidants – Most commonly, Vitamin C. Vitamin C is necessary for the growth, development and repair of all tissue. It also helps to brighten the skin. Studies have shown that pairing Vitamin C with a sunscreen helps the sunscreen be 8-10 times more effective.
- Tyrosinase Inhibitor – Tyrosinase is an enzyme that controls the production of melanin. In order to reduce hyperpigmentation, it is important to slow down the overproduction of melanin. Like the many different types of exfoliants available, there are also many different types of formulations to reduce hyperpigmentation, such as arbutin, kojic acid, hydroquinone. These types of product help to suppress overactivity of melanocytes, therefore preventing further hyperpigmentation.
- Sunscreen – I probably say this at least once a day, “Wear your sunscreen”. Yes, when it’s cloudy (UV rays can penetrate clouds and windows). Yes, even though your commute to work is only 10 minutes. Yes. every day. Protecting your skin from UV rays every day is protecting your investment in yourself. You can spend all your money on the best treatments and products money can buy, but if you continually leave your skin unprotected, you are working against yourself.
- (Advanced) Vitamin A – Vitamin A products help stimulate cellular turunover. That cellular turnover helps move the pigmented cells up through their natural maturation cycle so they can be sloughed off the face. It also helps stimulate collagen production, so you also get age management benefits. Yes!
As your skin care professional, determining the best treatment plan for you will depend greatly on the severity of hyperpigmentation, your skin type, the fragility of your skin, your ethnicity, your daily activities and your commitment to using the appropriate products at home. Very commonly, facial targeted treatments are repeated every 2-4 weeks for optimal results. How many treatments are needed vary based on your skin and your goals.