While we are young, our skin has a beautifully even skin tone. It looks even in color and has a radiant appearance. As we get older, however, we notice the skin is no longer as clear and even toned, the pigments in our skin are deposited less evenly causing freckles, brown spots, stains and brown marks. These color irregularities are called pigmentation. Where the skin is blotchy with too much pigment, this is called hyper-pigmentation (excessive pigment), cholasma or melasma.
WHAT CAUSES BROWN SPOTS?Hyper-pigmentation is caused mainly by UV exposure, hormones, friction, heat, and inflammation. Excess sun exposure, certain hormones (e.g. during pregnancy), too much rubbing (e.g. underarms) heat and inflammation, for example after an acne breakout, are known to cause the skin to trigger more melanin. This is a defense response by the skin.
When exposed to these triggers, the skin will thicken and darken to protect itself from further damage. The pigment melanin, which gives our skin the brown color, protects the skin by absorbing UV radiation and preventing burning damage to the skin. This is why people with lighter skin and less melanin burn faster than people with darker skin types and more melanin in their skin.
Friction such as excessive rubbing will also trigger the skin to produce and hold onto more dead cells, causing thickening of the skin. In this way, the skin is trying to protect the live skin cells deeper in the skin from damage. The thickening and pigmentation, however, cause the skin to appear patchy, dull and aged.
HOW TO PREVENT HYPER-PIGMENTATION
WEAR A BROAD SPECTRUM SUNSCREEN MINIMUM SPF 30+Whatever the cause, where possible, first eliminate the cause of brown spots in your skin, where possible. Every single minute you are outdoors during daylight without any sun protection, you are exposing your skin to UV, which triggers melanin production. So the first preventative step you can take is to build in a quality sunscreen of at least SPF 30+ into your daily routine. Select make up with minimum SPF 15 + for added protection. Whenever outdoors, wear a hat, sunglasses with UV protection, stay in the shade whenever possible, and try to avoid direct sun exposure during the middle of the day, when the UV rating is at it’s strongest.
USE A TYROSINASE INHIBITOR ON YOUR SKIN EVERY DAYTyrosinase is the enzyme produced by our skin which triggers melanin production in response to skin damage, or hormones. Using skincare that includes ingredients to inhibit/block melanin production will help reduce brown spots and even out your skin tone. Ingredients to look out for are:
- Stabilized Vitamin C - the most powerful, well documented and proven ingredient that will deliver excellent results.
- Licorice extract - a gentle option for more sensitive skin, will help even out pigmentation over time.
- Niacinamide - vitamin B3 has anti-inflammatory and brightening properties, excellent support to Vitamin C
EXFOLIATE YOUR SKIN WITH AHAs
Alpha Hydroxyl Acids will remove dead cell build up and surface pigmentation giving your skin an instant brightening result. Professional strength peels are an excellent way to start and fast track your results. At home, choose and use skincare in the form of cleansers, serums and night creams that contain AHAs such as lactic acid or glycolic acid to speed up cellular turnover and remove the melanin build up.
Be sure, however, to use these products under the guidance of a well experienced and qualified aesthetician, because using the wrong products or overdoing it can, in fact, trigger more melanin production. Remember, too much exfoliation, will trigger inflammation which will cause the skin to go into the defensive mode by making more melanin and thickening the surface layers. Less is more, and in the case of treating pigmentation disorders, patience with really pay off. Aim to treat uneven pigmentation carefully, slowly over time, which will deliver more lasting results.
WHAT TO AVOID
- Avoid unnecessary and excessive UV exposure when possible.
- Avoid excessively rubbing your skin. This includes harsh scrubs and microdermabrasion. Some people are not suited to microdermabrasion because the friction can trigger post inflammatory hyper-pigmentation. Choose gentle enzymes and AHAs instead.
- Avoid excessive heat whenever possible. Keep your skin cool and out of direct exposure to heat.
- Avoid internal inflammation by eating foods high in anti-inflammatory properties and antioxidants. Eat foods rich in omegas 3,6,9, Vitamins A, C and E. Plants and herbs such a green tea and berries are powerful antioxidants.
- If you suffer from acne that causes brown spots after a breakout, avoid picking at your skin, microdermabrasion, or being harsh in any way. Be gentle and select skincare for it’s anti-inflammatory, calming and soothing properties.
- Some people should completely avoid laser and IPL (heat) because of their skin types. Certain skin types will trigger more melanin if they are exposed to high heat. People with an Asian and Mediterranean background are especially prone to this and do not qualify for this treatment. Alway ensure you have a thorough consultation and a patch test before committing to these treatments. If a laser or IPL technician is willing to do these procedures on your skin without a consultation or a patch test, run. Choose another professional. IPL and laser triggered post inflammatory hyperpigmentation is very difficult and nearly impossible to treat. So don’t take shortcuts and invest in good skin care and a responsible professional.