What causes hyper-pigmentation? Inflammation. Sun exposure, allergens, eczema, acne, dermatitis, psoriasis, free radicals, and hormone imbalances can all trigger inflammation. And in those that are susceptible, this inflammation triggers the development of melanin, which is a dark pigment in the skin cell. Melanin is designed to protect the skin from further harm and inflammation.
To prevent hyper-pigmentation, inflammation must be reduced in the body. Not just the skin. When the body is inflamed, inflammation mediators make the body (and the skin) more sensitive to inflammation triggers, which can lead to a host of conditions including hyper-pigmentation. The most effective way to soothe inflammation in the body is to heal the gut and improve digestion. Research in the past five years has shown that most chronic inflammation in the body is related to an imbalanced micro-biome, which exists primarily in the gut.
Another important consideration to reduce hyper-pigmentation is the health of the moisture-barrier, which is the protective top layer of the skin. The moisture barrier looks like a brick wall – it consists of skin cells (the bricks), surrounded by fatty acids, lipids and ceramides (the mortar). Its function is to keep moisture in the skin and toxins out. If this barrier is compromised in any way the skin will be more susceptible to hyper-pigmentation. Using harsh cleansers and topical acne medications is one of the most common ways to compromise the moisture barrier, and it is one of the reasons that acne patients can experience such persistent hyper-pigmentation. Adopting a skin care regime using natural, gentle products that nourish and protect the skin will help heal the moisture barrier and prevent hyper-pigmentation.
Getting Rid of Hyper-pigmentation
Preventing new hyper-pigmentation is important, but getting rid of existing hyper-pigmentation is always a top priority for patients that are clearing their skin.
Following are some of the best topical active ingredients that help eliminate existing hyper-pigmentation:
- Licorice – 75x more effective than vitamin C at eliminating hyper-pigmentation, licorice helps to reduce inflammation that triggers hyper-pigmentation.
- Kojic acid – Extracted from mushrooms, kojic acid inhibits the enzyme tyrosinase, which converts tyrosine into melanin.
- Arbutin – Extracted from the herb uva ursi, arbutin has been shown to reduce hyper-pigmentation by 43.5%. If the concentration used is too high, research has suggested that it can be converted into hydroquinone by intestinal bacteria. Hydroquinone has been used as a skin lightener for many years, but studies have shown that it is a carcinogen. The bottom line – only use arbutin in a low concentration.
- Vitamin C – Even though vitamin C can help prevent inflammation due to its anti-oxidant ability and it also reduces the activity of the tyrosinase enzyme, it can be too stimulating for acneic skin. I do not recommend vitamin C if you have acne.
- Ellagic Acid – Extracted from red raspberries, ellagic acid helps to reduce the activity of the tyrosinase enzyme.
- Aloe vera – Studies have shown that aloe vera can help reduce hyper-pigmentation by over 34%, which is not far behind arbutin, one of the most effective skin-lighteners out there. It also helps to clear acne and increase hydration in the skin.
- Lemon essential oil – According to the research and traditional use, lemon essential oil is the best essential oil to reduce hyper-pigmentation. Frankincense essential oil has also been used traditionally.
- Argan oil – Although rosehip seed oil has been used traditionally to combat dark spots, argan oil is the only beauty oil that has research that substantiates its use as a skin-lightener. That being said, I use rosehip seed oil for hyper-pigmentation all the time with excellent results.
- Rose hydrosol
My Skin-Brightening Regime:
- After cleansing, spritz rose hydrosol on face, pat in until dry
- Apply a thin layer of 100% aloe vera gel
- Apply my Skin-Brightening Serum
- 25 ml (1 ounce) argan oil
- 25 ml (1 ounce) rosehip seed oil
- 15 drops lemon essential oil
- 10 drops frankincense essential oil
- Eminence Bright Skin Licorice Root Booster Serum
- John Masters Organics Bearberry Skin Balancing Face Serum