One of the main topics of conversation I’ve noticed in skincare circles is the topic of sun spots and hyperpigmentation. In fact, it’s one of the top concerns I’ve noticed among my friends (now in our early to mid 30s). Hyperpigmentation can be troublesome at any age, and for those of us in our thirties and forties, it can be a more obvious sign of premature skin aging than fine lines and wrinkles.
What Causes Hyperpigmentation?
Hyperpigmentation has a variety of causes, including hormonal ones (for example, melasma during pregnancy, which may resolve on its own), inflammation (such as post-acne pigmentation), and of course sun damage (sun spots and dark patches). Of course, treating the root of the problem is the first step in preventing further pigmentation, whether that’s cleaning up your diet, seeing your doctor for hormonal imbalance, or being more diligent with SPF.
Three Ways To Treat Hyperpigmentation
1. Inhibiting Melanin
The first way to prevent further pigmentation from forming is to use ingredients that inhibit the formation of melanin (the dark coloring that causes sun spots).
Niacinamide: This form of vitamin B is an all-round star performer, doing everything from decreasing inflammation to brightening the skin. Niacinamide can reduce hyperpigmentation by preventing the transfer of melanin from melanocytes to keratinocytes, that is, preventing melanin from transferring into skin cells.
Vitamin C: Vitamin C, in addition to being an effective antioxidant which can reduce the effects of sun damage, also reduces hyperpigmentation by inhibiting tyrosinase (an enzyme instrumental in melanin formation) and preventing melanin production at various stages.
Licorice Root Extract: This gentle, natural compound is often found in herbal KBeauty products. Like Vitamin C, it is a tyrosinase inhibitor that prevents the formation of melanin.
Other melanin inhibitors include azelaic acid and alpha arbutin. There has also been some research into fermented products that naturally contain melanin inhibiting compounds (See our All About Ferments post for more information about fermented cosmetics).
While inhibiting melanin is fine and good for preventing further pigmentation, what about the dark spots that are already there? Exfoliation is one effective way to decrease the damage -- by removing the top layer of skin, it stimulates cellular turnover and encourages the softer, younger, less damaged skin to peek through.
AHA: The most effective exfoliant for treating hyperpigmentation is Alpha Hydroxy Acid, or AHA. These acids (such as glycolic, lactic, and mandelic acids) essentially unglue the skin cells at the surface of the skin, allowing them to slough off and reveal undamaged skin. For more information about how to start with acids, check out our Beginner Acid Post!
PHA: This newer category of exfoliants, Poly Hydroxy Acids, show promise in exfoliating skin without the irritation and dryness that can result from AHA use. Preliminary studies show that results are comparable to those of AHAs. In general, I’ve found that the PHA products I’ve used impart a subtle glow and slower, less dramatic improvement than AHA products.
3. Protect Skin With Antioxidants
In addition to slathering on the SPF every day, using products high in antioxidants can help to prevent damage to the skin and the pigmentation that can result. Antioxidants scavenge the free radicals that cause damage to skin cells, which can prevent hyperpigmentation as well as fine lines and wrinkles.
Some great antioxidants that are common in KBeauty products include ginseng, which is proven to reduce oxidative stress and has brightening properties; Vitamin C, which is photoprotective (protects against damage from UV radiation, especially in combination with Vitamin E); Vitamin E, and many herbs and berries.
At the end of the day, however, over-the-counter treatments can only do so much to fade sun spots and hyperpigmentation. And that brings me to my last option for treating dark spots...
Those freckles and sunspots on your face may bother you, but chances are, they don’t bother anyone else. And although we all use beauty products to look like the best version of ourselves, I’d venture to suggest that we should sometimes embrace our spots as just part of life. After all, maybe those sun spots appeared because you enjoyed a fun day in the sun. That melasma may have arrived during pregnancy as part of a bundle of new life. Those pigmented acne scars are evidence of acne that healed, and will eventually diminish on their own with time.
I’m a firm believer that we should accept ourselves, spots and all. So although it would be nice to have more even-toned skin, don’t let hyperpigmentation discourage you from loving what you see in the mirror!
Here are a few products that can help with fading dark spots and evening out skin tone:
Swanicoco PHA 10% Coco Soft Peeling Cream
I'm pretty excited about one of our newest product launches, the Swanicoco PHA 10% Coco Peeling Cream. This exfoliating cream contains 10% PHA in the form of gluconolactone, which exfoliates the top layer of skin similar to AHA, but because it doesn't penetrate deeply into the skin, is less likely to cause irritation. It also contains niacinamide and a variety of lovely moisturizing plant extracts and oils.
Cosrx Mela 14 Light Ampule
The first ingredient in this serum is apple fruit water, which contains naturally exfoliating compounds, as well as niacinamide to prevent dark spots from forming. Glycolic acid (an AHA) gently exfoliates the top layer of skin, while betaine salicylate (a BHA) also exfoliates inside the pores.
Wish Formula I'm Pro Ampoule Pad C
Vitamin C is an excellent brightening agent and antioxidant. The Wish Formula I'm Pro Ampoule Pads contain 10% vitamin C, and the individually packed pads make them perfect for travel and for maintaining the freshness of the product. Just swipe over your face as an easy brightening step.
We hope you enjoyed this week's topic! I'll be back next week with more skincare tips!