Ugh, hyperpigmentation. I just think about it and I feel tired. Unlike a wrinkle that you can zap with Botox and forget about, diminishing the look of dark marks requires a sustained attack with several weapons in your bathroom cabinet. Happily, it’s not impossible to beat – you’ve just got to be patient and persistent. Before we jump into the resolution, let’s just get a little Dark Mark 101 out of the way so you get to know thine enemy.
The making of excess melanin
Melanin is the substance that gives your skin its color. It’s produced in the deeper layers of your dermis via little melanin factories called melanocytes. When they’re in working order, you’ll have evenly toned skin. However, things like our hormones, too much sun and inflammation can cause them to go into overdrive, resulting in the creation of too much pigment – hence, hyperpigmentation.
Now it’s time for a #OMG fact! In the case of hormonal pigmentation, I used to think that once you’d corrected the underlying imbalance, that hyperactive melanocytes would eventually calm down. Alas, the skincare experts I’ve chatted to over the years all say that, once triggered into hyperdrive, the switch on an overactive melanocyte often remains flipped. Eek!
As far as inflammation goes, this is interesting. Many don’t realize it but it’s one of the main triggers for hyperpigmentation. This is why you might develop a dark mark in the wake of a particular bad pimple. In fact, anything your skin might perceive as a “wound” can result in an unwanted dark mark known as post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH).
Fade like a boss
Regardless of the cause of your pigmentation, the essence of any successful treatment is the same – prevent, inhibit and exfoliate. Your best tool to do the former is always sunscreen. If you’re hyperpigmentation prone, you’ll want to wear a high SPF and the best is the one you’re happy to wear every single day. My favorite is Cetaphil Oil Control Moisturizer because it feels like a light-textured lotion with zero stickiness; plays well with foundation and packs an SPF of 30.
To inhibit the formation of new dark marks, there are loads of active ingredients to choose from and some of the most proven include niacinamide, arbutin, azelaic acid and kojic acid. These work by putting the brakes on your hyperactive melanocytes or interfering with the way excess pigment travels from the deeper layers of your skin to the surface where it becomes visible. As they all work in slightly different ways, you’ll get the best results by using a product that contains a nice mix of several “inhibitors”, not just one. To date, the best dark spot-fading product I’ve used is still Dermaceutic Yellow Cream.
If you’re dealing with mild pigmentation, topical skin care is often all you need to keep it in check. The products I’ve mentioned have all done a great job of fading the dark patches I tend to get under my eyes when I take oral contraceptives or return from a long stint working in sunny South East Asia. Still, if you’re dealing with the kind of dark marks that don’t respond to topicals, get thee to a dermatologist. They can recommend a series of peels or laser treatment that can deliver dramatic, speedy results.
Still – and I can’t stress this enough – be sure to see a dermatologist or an aesthetic doctor, not Sally at the local beauty salon. Treating pigmentation with peels and light is a pernickety balance of fading and zapping in a way that’s effective but still gentle enough to not cause the kind of inflammation that’ll only make it worse. Happily, an expert will know how to walk this kind of tightrope and, with the right care, you’ll get to enjoy a more evenly-toned and luminous-looking complexion. Now don’t forget to apply your sunscreen!
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