From the time I was fifteen, until I was eighteen, I snuck away from home for “study sessions with friends” on a daily basis- study sessions consisted of guzzling Starbucks White Mocha Frapuccinos, giggling, and frequenting the tanning salon. My mother, a sunscreen activist, would have had a heart attack had she known that her angel was visiting the booth for UV-overexposure.
Initially, I had parental permission for a one-time spray on tan for a homecoming dance… but the spray tan fumes had hardwired my brain to seek my inner golden goddess. The plethora of self-tanning bottles in my bathroom were the excuse for my very brown skin, my mama, loving and gullible, fell for my silly tricks. Don’t judge me… most teenagers are manipulative and devious, we all know that much.
After high school I went to beauty school- my love for facials, department store cosmetic counters and all things girly led me to believe that this was my future. Thus far, it’s been my meal ticket, and I’m so thankful to be in this industry… I only wish I had the power of knowledge that I have now, back THEN, when I was so young, and so dim. As I’m approaching my mid-twenties and beginning to see the sun damage surface, I’m kicking myself- my mom was right, excess sun exposure wreaks havoc on your skin, and my own skin is proof.
I’m really hoping that if any tanaholics out there are reading this, they will take my anti-sun advice into consideration. If you’re a recovering tanaholic like me, I’ve got some great suggestions for you on what you need to use to reverse, treat and prevent sun damage from popping up on your gorgeous skin.
Before we get into the fun stuff- let’s explore some nitty-gritty details of what hyperpigmentation is and what causes it. Hyperpigmentation is a skin condition in which some areas of the skin become noticeably darker than the rest of the skin. Hyperpigmented patches can range in size from pen-tip to the size of a pancake. The hyperpigmented areas don’t feel any different than the rest of your skin, but can be very prominent and at times, embarrassing. Hyperpigmented spots are caused by hyperactive melanin. While melanin can be found in your eyes, hair and even brain, it’s mostly predominant in your skin and is the determining factor of your skin color. Melanin is produced by melanocytes, which are cells in the basal layer of your epidermis. When your skin is exposed to excess UV rays, the melanocytes feel pressured to produce superfluous melanin to protect your skin from the inside out. With constant UV exposure, your melanocytes go into overdrive and continue to sprout melanin and create extra pigment. This excess pigment may not be noticeable when first produced, it can take a few years to surface, thus most of our hyperpigmentation does not occur until later in our life.
Hyperpigmentation can occur anywhere on our body, but it’s mostly bothersome on our faces, chests and arms. Sadly, these are the areas that receive most of the UV exposure. There are many topical products that will address our hyperpigmenation- lighten our spots and produce a more even skin tone, but first let’s set the most important ground rules… you’ll need to be patient, and you’ll need to put in effort to make it work. Hyperpigmentation is like your boyfriend… you’ve taught him to pick up his dirty socks… now it’s time to train your melanocytes to behave.
Now for the fun stuff! The first step in your skincare regimen; cleansing, is the most important. Dead skin cells need to be sloughed off so that active ingredients can penetrate deep into your skin. I recommend that you use an alpha hydroxy acid cleanser to gently remove dead skin build up. PRIORI Advanced AHA Gentle Facial Cleanser is an outstanding choice; it contains lactic acid, which is a suitable AHA for all skin types, even the most sensitive.
The next step is to exfoliate (yes, more exfoliating after an exfoliating cleanser- you really need to work on revealing your healthy skin cells beneath all that dead skin build up). I recommend DDF Discoloration Reversal Pod; it is a targeted treatment that helps reclaim the natural radiance of youthful-looking skin. The formulation hydrates and exfoliates to reduce the appearance of discoloration and dullness on areas where hyperpigmentation occurs. Each pod contains three key ingredients that hydrate to reduce appearance of existing skin pigmentation, Undecylenoyl Phenylalanine (UPA), N-Acetyl Glucosamine and Niacinamide. This treatment is light weight and outstanding for daytime use.
The step following your exfoliation treatment should consist of your actual hyperpigmentation treatment. There are many ingredients which will lighten the hyperpigmenation. Hydroquinone is the most popular, but also the most controversial. It’s been pulled from the market numerous times as it’s been said to be a carcinogen and a skin irritant, but sufficient studies to prove that hydroquinone is harmful are contentious as well. If you’re interested in using hydroquinone, we recommend a two percent concentration for a three month period. PCA SKIN pHaze 13 Pigment Gel is a great choice. It incorporates 2% hydroquinone with kojic acid and alpha hydroxy acid to effectively target bothersome facial brown spots. It simultaneously helps to exfoliate, bleach and inhibit hyperpigmentation. If you choose not to use hydroquinone, we recommend the HQ free version of PCA SKIN pHaze 13 Pigment Gel which incorporates kojic acid and AHAs to target bothersome facial discoloration.
Daily SPF protection is a must. (I can hear you sun worshippers and tanaholics saying “what is spf?”) Your sun protection factor… THE most important step of ANY skincare regimen at every age, with every skin color, in any weather condition (I don’t care if you don’t ever see a ray of sun- put on your sunblock, PLEASE)! When you use lightening products you must, must, must use your SPF. If you exfoliate and attempt to lighten hyperpigmenation but don’t protect your sun-sensitive skin, all that money and effort will just wash down the drain- and can actually have a detrimental effect. Since your skin is more sun-sensitive when you’re using lightening products, it’ll pigment ten times as much as it would should you choose to bypass SPF application. Use an SPF with antioxidants. Antioxidants prevent oxidative stress, so your newly exfoliated, fresh skin will reap the benefits of vitamins. Topix Citrix Antioxidant SunScreen SPF 30 is a great choice as it contains a broad-spectrum SPF in addition to Vitamins A, C & E, green tea extract and co-Q10. The formulation is light, oil-free and fast absorbing while providing SPF 30 protection.
Your regimen should consist of twice daily cleansing and twice daily active lightening application, the other products are meant to be used once a day only. Your lightening product will be the pillar of your regime for quite some time. If you choose to use hydroquinone on a cycle of three months on and three months off, you may cycle to a retinol treatment when you do not use the hydroquinone. Retinol induces cellular turn-over at a cellular level so your skin cells renew way faster than usual- thus shedding old, dead, over-hyperpigmented cells to reveal fresh ones. If you do not use a hydroquinone in your regime, you may use both your HQ-free lightening gel and retinol together, just call or email our estheticians first for proper usage instructions, we’re always happy to help.
As you can imagine, these active products and lightening ingredients will probably cause some sensitivity, redness and initial irritation- you’ll need a gentle, soothing moisturizer to balance things out. I recommend an antioxidant rich product with barrier repair properties. Kinerase products are outstanding for soothing the skin while providing anti-aging and antioxidant benefits, the active ingredient (Kinetin) also acts as a barrier repair aging as it is a plant-based growth factor. Amazing, isn’t it? The Kinerase Lotion is best for an oily to combination skin type, and Kinerase Cream is outstanding for normal to dry skin. The Pro Therapy line contains an additional antioxidant (Zeatin) which will boost your regimen if you’re looking for something a bit more potent.
Hyperpigmentation is a tricky, sensitive thing. You’re young and reckless and just having fun, dancing on a yacht in your bikini, not thinking of what’s coming next- and ten years later you’re staring at your splotchy face in the mirror saying “whyy meee?” Don’t give up hope- commit to correct this pesky problem. Yes, you can get it under control… and STILL have fun on a yacht, in a bikini, except wearing SPF70 this time around.
Update: Since the original publishing date of this article, a new product has entered the marketplace. We are in the process of creating a new blog with more information about the SkinCeuticals Pigment Regulator.
Products featured in this article: PRIORI Advanced AHA Gentle Facial Cleanser, DDF Discoloration Reversal Pod, PCA SKIN pHaze 13 Pigment Gel, HQ free version of PCA SKIN pHaze 13 Pigment Gel, Topix Citrix Antioxidant SunScreen SPF 30, Kinerase.