Treatment of hyperpigmentation is one of the most frequent skin treatment requests in women over 30. We are seeing a lot more PIH and hormonal pigmentation (melasma) these days, largely due to sun damage, increased use of the birth control pill and over-exfoliating. But what is it?
Hyperpigmentation is very common (especially in sunnier climates) and is usually a harmless condition in which patches of skin become darker in colour than the normal surrounding skin. This darkening occurs when an excess of melanin, the brown pigment that produces normal skin colour, forms deposits in the skin.
“Hyperpigmentation is one of our biggest beauty fears,” says Jodie King, founder of Sydney’s Skin Clinic Blyss. “Studies have shown that hyperpigmentation can add well over 10 years to a woman’s actual age – some say up to 20 years. Unfortunately for women, hyperpigmentation is also one of the more difficult things to treat.”
Hyperpigmentation can be a smattering of freckles all over, to patches of darker areas and can have many causes, all of which require varying skin treatments.
The main cause is sun exposure. This is the body’s way of protecting itself and the easiest form of hyperpigmentation to treat.
Treatment Tips for Hyperpigmentation
As with everything, prevention is better than cure. Using high factor, quality sunscreens is our first line of defence.
Products containing Vitamin A, AHA’s and niacinamide as well as Vitamin C also work well for light pigmentation.
The side effects associated with the traditional go-to treatment, Hydroquinone (due to it’s allergenic properties) has sparked interest in agents that have similar skin-lightening effects to hydroquinone, without the serious side effects.
Regardless of the initiating factors – that is UV, hormone, inflammation (Post Inflammatory Hyperpigmentation or PIH), early steps of melanogenisis or hyperpigmentation involve the transformation of L.tyrosine L.dopa (Tyrosinase).
Then a series of intramolecular transformations occurs, continuing the process of melanogenisis. Finally, mature melonosomes are transferred to more superficial keratinocytes (the skin you can see).
As we age, this process becomes dysregulated, causing the skin’s outward appearance to develop unsightly dark spots and uneven areas of hyperpigmentation.
After years of rigorous research scientists have narrowed in on three ingredients that intervene in melanogenisis to favourably modulate skin pigmentation:
- Tyrosinase inhibitors
Since the key enzyme tyrosinase is a regulator of melanogenisis, it is a prominent target to control melanin formation and improve age related skin discoloration. Scientists have discovered that complex botanical extracts have exhibited a strong inhibitory effect on tyrosinase.
Studies have shown it has significantly faster skin lightening effects than other commonly used agents. In one study of 80 participants, scientists compared the efficacy of these botanicals against hydroquinone (a synthetic form of tyrosinise inhibitor) for decreasing hyperpigmentation. They found that topical application increased skin lightness 60% over hydroquinone.
Liver spots (age spots) are the most visible consequences of sun exposure. A three-month study revealed that more than 80% of participants who topically applied a formulation of botanical tyrosinase inhibitors showed noticeable reductions in the process of liver spots.
These have been played roles in many health ailments and now they can add skin lightener to their already impressive resume. In the laboratory, these mixes displayed potent free radical scavenging activity. Oxidative stress may be a big factor in the early production of tyrosinase.
Niacinamide suppresses the transfer of melanin to nearby keratinocytes on the surface of the skin by up to 68%. In other words, niacinamide blocks the accumulation of melanin in the epidermis that contributes to skin darkening.
In a double-blind clinical trial of 18 women aged 25-60, topical niacinamide was applied twice daily to one side of the face and placebo to the other for eight weeks. Compared to baseline, the treatment group reduced total area of hyperpigmentation by 25% versus only 15% in the placebo group. More subjects in the niacinamide group reported lighter skin than in the placebo group.
Jodie King is available for media interview, advice, tips and comment on Non-Surgical Skin Treatments, beauty treatment trends and practices.