Hyperpigmentation is the annoying flipside to having beautiful brown skin. Here's what you can try
Treatments, beauty products and even a DIY, according to skin experts
It’s a special kind of betrayal when even a multi-step night time routine doesn’t protect you from pimples. Acne is hard enough to deal with, but what can come after can be more frustrating – hyperpigmentation.
According to the Fitzpatrick scale, developed by Thomas B. Fitzpatrick to asses how different skin types respond to ultraviolet (UV) light, Type IV to VI (people on the browner side of things) have a high risk of hyperpigmentation and scarring.
When we talk about hyperpigmentation, think dark spots caused by the sun or left behind by pimples and patches of discolouration.
Hyperpigmentation can be hard to recover from, but with the growing beauty industry, there are plenty of products, tested ingredients and in-clinic procedures that can help you get the even-toned complexion of a Kinder Joy egg.
Know the kind of hyperpigmentation you’re dealing with
“Hyperpigmentation (dark spots) is caused by excessive production of melanin in the skin. Asian skin tends to have more melanin than Caucasian skin, and as a result, Asian skin is more prone to skin discolouration,” says cosmetologist Dr Geetika Mittal Gupta of ISAAC Luxe.
People with brown skin have more active melanocytes, so when the skin is triggered, it produces melanin more easily (and abundantly) in the healing process. Not all hyperpigmentation is the same, making treatments vary a bit.
“Pigmentation can also be the result of faded acne scars, sun exposure, dryness and sometimes, hormones too,” explains Gupta. “There are two types of pigmentation: pigmentation that happens as a result of dryness, exposure to the sun and hyperpigmentation in blue or grey patches better known as melasma.”
Can it be prevented?
Call the broken record company because we’re going to be talking about cleansing and sun protection.
A double cleanse after a long day of sunscreen reapplication, makeup, sweat and pollution ensures a clean surface, clear of free radicals and potential pore-clogging dirt.
Gupta does a double cleanse in her own skincare routine.
You have a fresh base to work into your treatments and serums too. A double cleanse doesn’t have to involve fancy high-end products, if you want to keep things on a budget. There are some pretty good micellar water options when it comes to Indian drugstore skincare products you can get at the chemist.
“Since we live in a tropical country, protect your skin at all times from UVA and UVB rays as well as pollution with SPF 30 or more with PA ++,” she adds. Sunscreen can prevent signs of early ageing, damage to your collagen and skin dullness.
Another method of sun protection, Gupta suggests, is oral sunscreen, like the Heliocare Purewhite Radiance (available at ISAAC Luxe) which packs in pomegranate extract, vitamin B3, cystine, vitamin c and other ingredients to reduce damage by blocking melanin production.
Hyperpigmentation-battling ingredients to try
The damage is done and that stubborn discolouration just won’t go. Now what? Fear not, cosmetic chemists have a slew of ingredients that can help even things out.
Picture vitamin C as Pacman eating up the dots of free radicals that are angering your skin. Clarity, smoothness, brightness and overall skin health, vitamin C products help do it all.
Studies have noted vitamin C’s ability to reduce melanin production (no, this will not change your skin tone) which in turn helps to fade acne marks.
It’s a tricky ingredient. It can be unstable and oxidises easily, is sensitive to heat and sun rays. Keeping it in a cool, dark place ensures the product lasts longer at its optimal state. It’s not just the colour that changes but the formulation itself, and unstable vitamin C could cause more harm than help.
Kojic acid can really penetrate the skin’s layer and inhibit the production of melanin. Despite being called an ‘acid’, it’s safe to use if done properly.
You’ll find it in a lot of products that are targeted to lighten sun damage, age spots and scars. Its overall brightening effect makes it a go-to brightening ingredient when it comes to zapping dark marks.
Hydroquinone is more hardcore, working as a skin-bleaching agent to get rid of discolouration. It’s definitely an ingredient you shouldn’t use without the guidance of a dermatologist.
It interrupts the skin’s production of melanin by blocking the enzyme tyrosine. In turn, reducing the amount of pigment and resulting in skin lightening.
It can be more irritating, especially for people with sensitive skin, and make the skin photo-sensitive, so sunscreen is non-negotiable.
Hydroquinone use can potentially cause dryness, redness and itching. Use a good moisturiser and SPF alongside, go slow and always consult a specialist if you’re feeling adverse side effects
“Start with lower concentrations and introduce these ingredients slowly into your skincare regime. Apart from this, oral glutathione also helps tackle pigmentation,” adds Gupta.
Hydroquinone can be quite intense and tricky to use if you’re not careful. Arbutin is a relatively safer, water-soluble and effective derivative of hydroquinone. It provides similar skin brightening benefits without the risky nature of hydroquinone.
Talk to a specialist and opt for in-clinic treatment
If your hyperpigmentation is widespread and refusing to respond to any skincare product you’re using, it may be time to try a skin treatment.
Gupta says that hyperpigmentation, whether it is melasma or other kinds of discolouration, can be corrected with a combination of clinical procedures and facials. She gives us the low-down on some of the treatments that can help:
GG glow – An exclusive treatment offered at ISAAC which involves usage of growth factors along with natural pigments which are infused in the skin with nano needless to give a flawless even tone skin instantly. Offered at: ISAAC Luxe (Delhi)
Laser toning – It is performed using non-ablative lasers which hit your skin and create a ‘controlled thermal injury,’ explains Gupta, triggering a natural response in the body to produce more collagen and elastin. Offered at: Dr Nivedita Dadu’s Dermatology Clinic (Delhi), Apollo Cosmetic Clinics (Chennai)
Microdermabrasion – An exfoliating treatment performed by introducing tiny particles that help improves the appearance of skin discolouration. It is minimally invasive and can renew your skin’s overall tone and texture. Offered at: Kosmoderma Skin and Hair Clinic (Chennai), The Esthetics Clinic, (Kolkata, Ahmedabad)
Chemical peels – Chemical peels with azelaic acid help correct brown spots and pigmentation, says Gupta. Different acid solutions are applied to the face (can also be on your hands and neck) to cause exfoliate the upper layer of your skin.
Chemical peels are a skin-resurfacing procedure that required very particular after-care and downtime and should be done with proper consideration and guidance by a professional. Offered at: Skin Lab by Dr Jamuna Pai (Baroda, Pune, Mumbai)
Q-switch laser – It works effectively in treating stubborn patches of pigmentation. The laser energy is absorbed by the pigments (usually brown, or grey in colour) which breaks off into smaller fragments and is naturally cleared away by the body and skin. Offered at: Kaya Skin Clinic (Delhi, Bengaluru, Mumbai, Kolkata)
DIY remedies you can try at home
DIY home remedies are our favourite passtime. They can be useful for soothing sunburns, redness and irritation, calming angry red pimples and a little lip exfoliation. But they can also be a hit or miss.
Cosmetic chemists, skincare specialists and dermatologists have spent years creating products with just the right ratios, potent extracts and chemical combinations.
As fun as playing chemist at home is, we don’t always get it right. Our DIYs have not be as effective as a store-bought product, but in times of crisis and with consistent, careful use, they can slowly mitigate the appearance of hyperpigmentation over time.
Gupta says a combination of potato skin and tomato juice may work on areas like the neck, elbows and knees to get rid of skin discolouration.
The skin on our body is very different from the skin on our face. Even there our under-eye area is a lot more delicate than the rest of our facial skin.
If your skin is irritated and reactive, it’s best to leave the treatments to the professionals and trust their training.