So, your acne has finally cleared, the redness is soothed, and your crow’s feet finally look less scary, but those pesky brown spots — the unwelcome skin souvenirs leftover from your time in the summer sun — are proving tougher to budge than the beet stain on your favorite tee. Oh, hyperpigmentation, you haunt us so. Hyperpigmentation is just like it sounds: crazy pigment — or melanin — the protective, brownish stuff made by a little octopus-type cell called the melanocyte that's found in the deepest layer of your epidermis. Its job? To spread its legs, push out parcels of pigment and soak up harmful UV rays before they take out your cell nucleus and mess with your DNA. The result is what we see as a suntan, but is actually a sign of stress, oxidative injury, and inflammation in the skin. Yep, there is no such thing as a healthy, safe, just-a-little-bronzed tan. Read through and out how to fade them — and fast!
The issue with this enthusiastic, busy cell is that it can pump out pigment with a flip of a switch. Even better? It's hard to slow down once it gets started. The older we get and the darker your genetic skin color, the more pigment woes you’re likely to have. It’s also super sensitive to various stimuli like sun, stress, estrogen, trauma, pollution, and certain meds, so it can take months — sometimes even years — to slow the little chap down. And, if irregular skin tone wasn’t bad enough, it also can add another 10-15 years to how strangers might perceive your age. Lovely, right? I speak from personal experience: My half-Asian, half-caucasian skin that has lived under scorching Texas sun for the past 40 years bares the proof. The black light skin scope never lies. So, what to do? To start, investigate what your particular trigger switch might be. Is it lunchtime outdoors and not enough SPF? The birth control pill? Are you pregnant? Post-acne scars? Or maybe you went a bit crazy with the microdermabrasion and retin A a few months back. If hormones are the stimuli, then it’s going to be tough to lighten those spots. The good news is that sun-induced brown spots are actually are the easiest to lighten and newly-caught, post-pimple marks respond well, too.
Next, you need to exfoliate the pigmented skin away for two reasons: to help your treatment products get in and do their job, and to slough off the mottled cells. I recommend exfoliants with hydroxy acids like lactic acid, because at 5% and above, it helps to slow down the pigment production. Also look for products with ingredients like rice bran, vitamin C, and retinol, as they lift dead cells while also helping to slow the melanin production down. If you can swing it, see me for a series of chemical peels: These really help speed up the process and have an abundance of other skin benefits like boosting collagen and clearing breakouts in the process. The latest professional formulas no longer require downtime like peels of the past. Now, for the two basic rules with brightening irregular skin tone: Never leave the house without a generous layer of (at least!) SPF 30 on your skin, which you should re-apply if you are out for a few hours. Do yourself a favor and also wear a wide-brimmed, tightly woven hat. Baseball caps look cute, but they won’t cut it. Religiously apply a pigment treatment serum every day and night on the area under your moisturizer. Serums, which have higher percentages of the active ingredients that treat the root of the issue, are designed to sink deep into the skin. Additionally, don't be afraid to try formulas with oligopeptides, zinc glycinate, niacinamide and phytic acid, which are proving to be revolutionary. Just be sure whichever route you go, that you're consistent for at least two months to really see results. Here's to clear, spot-free visages all around!