No more spots! Dealing with hyperpigmentation

Hyperpigmentation is a term that refers to a darkening of the skin—either in patches or over the entire body. It is generally caused by an increase in melanin, the pigment that gives skin its color. By far the leading cause of increased melanin production is exposure to the sun.

New research has shown, however, that there is another important cause of melanin production: the blue light from our electronic devices! Scientists at Unilever found that blue light penetrates the skin far deeper than UV light from the sun—passing through the epidermis and dermis to the subcutis layer. As a result, blue light can induce both immediate and persistent hyperpigmentation and, given the increasing amount of time we’re all spending on our devices, it’s important that we’re aware of this exposure and take steps to counteract it.

Another leading cause of hyperpigmentation is exposure to air pollution. Various pollutants, including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, volatile organic compounds, oxides, particulate matter, ozone, and cigarette smoke all affect the skin—particularly those areas that are most frequently exposed.

A fourth leading cause of hyperpigmentation is post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, which occurs as a lingering effect of injury, scarring, or inflammation to the skin such as acne. It is also possible to experience hyperpigmentation as a result of hormonal changes caused by pregnancy, or by oral contraceptives, which mimic pregnancy. This type of hyperpigmentation is called melasma. Some medications, including chemotherapy, can also cause hyperpigmentation.

Finally, there is a rare endocrine disease called Addison’s disease that can produce hyperpigmentation in areas of sun exposure, such as the hands and face, as well as in areas exposed to friction, such as knees and elbows.

While all people can expect to see some hyperpigmentation as they age, people with naturally darker skin tones seem to be more susceptible because they have more melanin to begin with, which can be triggered into over production by external factors such as acne, sun exposure, pregnancy or oral contraceptives.

However, because the biggest risk factor for hyperpigmentation are sun exposure and blue light exposure which is why I always recommend SUNSCREEN as the most important beauty product you can buy. I further recommend:

  • A physical blocking sunscreen (rather than a chemical sunblock), preferably with zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide as the main active ingredient, in order to protect against blue light as well as UV rays.
  • An SPF of 30 or more.
  • Broad spectrum coverage (to protect against both UVA and UVB rays).
  • Applied daily, even if you plan to be indoors (those screens!)—and reapplied every two hours if you’re out in the sun, and even more frequently if you’re swimming or sweating.

Because UVA rays can pass through glass windows, it’s important to wear SPF inside your home, as well as inside your car (where your hands on the steering wheel can receive a lot of exposure).

And remember that long sleeves and leg coverings, hats, and even gloves, are very effective sunscreen! It’s also beneficial to avoid exposure from 10 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., when the sun’s rays are strongest. Finally,

Eat your sunscreen. It has been proven that certain foods that are high in lycopene—such as pomegranates, watermelon, and tomatoes—increase the effectiveness of topical sunscreen use. Plus, these foods hydrate the skin from the inside, while providing vitamins, antioxidants, and other important phytonutrients.

Treating hyperpigmentation

Although the best treatment for hyperpigmentation is prevention, there are topical ingredients that can lighten discolored areas of the skin. The most effective are:

Hydroquinone, which works by reducing the activity of one of the key melanin-producing enzymes, tyrosinase.

Phenylethyl resorcinol, which is a synthetic antioxidant that has been found to be effective at lightening hyperpigmentation.

Retinoids, which include retinoic acid, retinol, and retinyl palmitate, which are all derived from vitamin A. Clinical studies have shown that retinoids not only reduce uneven pigmentation, they also strengthen elastin fibers and support structural collagen, two proteins that help prevent wrinkles and other signs of aging.

Arbutin, which is a natural plant extract derived from bearberry, pear, and cranberry leaves. When applied to the skin, arbutin is slowly converted by the skin enzymes to hydroquinone, resulting in a slow release of this active ingredient. providing a slow-release effect. Combined with a retinoid, alpha-hydroxy acid, and anti-oxidants, regarded as the best hydroquinone-free dark spot remover.

Bearberry extract is another plant-based treatment for hyperpigmentation, containing antioxidants and anti-inflammatory agents that protect against free radical damage and UV rays and prevent new melanin formation in existing dark spots.

Salicylic acid (BHA), which is derived from willow bark extract, works as a superficial professional peel to increase cell turnover. Like glycolic acid (below), it helps increase the effects of dark spot fighting compounds while also helping prevent acne breakouts.

Glycolic acid (AHA) is a naturally occurring alpha-hydroxy fruit acid found in many over-the-counter skincare products. Through exfoliation, glycolic acid enhances other ingredients’ penetration to achieve faster results.

Vitamin C helps lighten hyperpigmentation, again by inhibiting the enzyme tyrosinase. Vitamin C also combats free radical damage and boosts collagen production when applied topically and when taken orally.

Licorice root extract has also been used for its natural “skin lightening” effects, again by blocking tyrosinase enzymes. Licorice root extract can also help reduce collagen loss and improve the skin’s ability to absorb other ingredients.

Many over-the-counter products combine these ingredients to amplify results. The bottom line is that, with early and vigilant protection from harmful light rays (both from the sun and our devices) and air pollution, much hyperpigmentation can be prevented. In cases where your best efforts yield less-than-perfect results, hyperpigmentation can be treated and even reversed.

That’s Modern Wellness!


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