Hyperpigmentation. HP. We get a lot of questions about hyperpigmentation and the best treatment for hyperpigmentation. This is the perfect time of year to talk about it. Why? Because in the winter months, we tend to spend less time outdoors in the sun (major contributor) and because we have less exposure we can use more active products- also, it is the best time to think about more clinical treatments if that is the path you decide is right for you.
There are a lot of misconceptions about hyperpigmentation but we will get into that in a minute- let’s talk about prevention first, because the best treatment really is prevention. The #1 cause of hyperpigmentation is? You guessed it- sun damage. How do we prevent sun damage? SPF, SPF, SPF. Add in a vitamin C serum under your sunscreen to boost your protection. The photoprotective effects of vitamin C against UV radiation damage is widely researched and confirmed. UV radiation causes free radicals- vitamin C can neutralize free radicals before they can cause damage to the skin.
What is hyperpigmentation? Glad you asked- we would love to tell you. On the face it is basically a darker patch on the skin- uneven pigmentation that can be the size of a freckle or larger. Who gets it? Both women and men, and it is more common in those darker skin tones (higher fitzpatrick) due to more melanin in the skin, however all skin tones are suseptible to hyperpigmentation.
What causes hyperpigmentation? In every scenario there is one commonality- the melanocyte (cells in the skin that produce and contain the pigment melanin) overproduces said melanin. This “malfunction” can be directly caused or exacerbated by UV light (sun), or by trauma to the skin (PIH- we talk more about this below). There are also a few clinical studies also showing the correlation of blue light (screen time) and photodamage (skin damage caused by light).
Is all hyperpigmentation the same? Short answer- no. Can all types benefit from active formulations and sun protection? Emphatically, yes, yes, yes. Here is the lowdown on the different types of hyperpigmentation, and how they present themselves on the skin.
- PIH (post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation) is caused by an injury to the skin that leads to inflammation (typically acne, but can be caused by a burn or other damage too like bug bites, eczema, rashes, etc). Most commonly appears as brown or purplish brown spots left over after a breakout. The skin can respond by making extra melanin leaving a dark spot.
- SUN damage! UV radiation is the #1 cause of hyperpigmentation- it causes mutations in melanocytes which leads to the overproduction of melanin- SPF!
- Melasma- caused by hormonal changes (especially pregnancy, birth control, hormone replacement therapy, menopause) and exacerbated by UV radiation (sun exposure) and heat. Appears as larger brown areas on the face typically on cheeks, upper lip, and forehead. If you have melasma, avoid situations where you may become hot (we mean temperature-wise, you know you’re cute!)
The big question- how to get rid of hyperpigmentation? Hyperpigmentation can be challenging to treat- especially since it resides in the deepest layer of the epidermis- meaning it is very hard to reach even with those game-changing active ingredients. If you do end up fading most of your pigmentation, you will ALWAYS want to focus on prevention, as it can easily return.
Putting together a skincare routine for hyperpigmentation requires incorporating active ingredients. Some of the best ingredients for hyperpigmentation that have been studied and proven effective are niacinamide (vitamin B3), vitamin C, retinol (vitamin A), tranexamic acid, mandelic acid, and zinc. Look for some of these in your products and incorporate the steps below into your routine:
- Speed up cell turnover with a retinol and/or gentle acid or enzyme based exfoliant to remove damaged surface cells - no scrubbing! It can cause inflammation. In addition to encouraging healthy cell turnover, retinol inhibits tyrosinase- the enzyme responsible for melanin production in the skin. We like like Advanced Retinol Complex by ZENii London and Acceler-A by Synergie Skin. For more info about adding retinol to your routine read our blog post Your Essential Guide to Retinol. Two of our favorite acid based exfoliants are ReVeal by Synergie Skin and XX Rose Glycolic Gel by Monastery.
- Use a good antioxidant serum to calm inflammation, neutralize free radicals and help prevent UV damage. Two antioxidants that can do all of this AND help to fade dark spots are niacinamide and vitamin c. Niacinamide can help prevent the transfer of pigment to the skin's surface and is also a skin brightner. We like Vitamin B Activated All-In-One Concentrate by VENN Skincare and Enlighten by Synergie Skin- which also contains tranexamic acid, a newer ingredient known for its ability to treat all types of pigmentation including PIH and Melasma. Vitamin C is a tyrosinase inhibitor and can help brighten and fade dark spots to even out skin tone. We recommend SupremaC+ by Synergie Skin which also contains mandelic acid- a great ingredient for hyperpigmented as well as acne prone skin. Sunnyside C Glow Serum by HoliFrog is another favorite- with 15% vitamin C, 3% tranexamic acid and 2% niacinamide, it is a powerhouse for treating pigmentation.
- Protect. No matter how much you fade hyperpigmentation, it will immediately return without proper daily sun protection. In the treatment room, we often see worse hyperpigmentation on the left side of our client's faces (their drivers side). This happens from daily commutes over time- even in places where the sun is not out everyday (hello, Seattle!). For daily protection we like Stem Cell Renewal Cream SPF 30 by ZENii London, and any of Suntegrity's tinted or regular zinc-based sunscreens.
In our experience the best results we see in treating hyperpigmentation come from a good, consistent skincare routine coupled with clinical treatments. We are obviously huge advocates for a good esthetician. If you are in Seattle you can come see some of our Master Estheticians at Deity Skincare where we have Advanced Treatments to help treat hyperpigmentation. You can also invest in deeper chemical peels or laser at a cosmetic dermatologist or medical spa.
Would you like a little more help choosing the right skincare routine to treat your hyperpigmentation? Build Your Routine! Our talented Master Estheticians take their years of experience and your information to evaluate what works, what doesn’t, and what they would recommend to you if you came into their treatment room. For more info, head over to BUILD.
Photo by Brooke Cagle