Hyperpigmentation Unravelled: What Causes It And How Should You Treat It?

Sun spots, acne scars, brown patches or freckles - an imbalance in pigmentation comes in many forms and can get annoyingly tricky to do away with. It can sometimes take from a month up to one year to restore balance. What causes it? How can you treat it with simple changes in your daily routine? Let us dive in!

What is Pigmentation?

While you often hear the term “pigmentation” thrown around to describe discolouration of the skin, in reality, pigmentation simply refers to the normal colour of your skin. Our skin’s colour is influenced by a pigment called melanin and combined with numerous other factors it can cause different people’s skin shades to vary from pale white to dark brown. The more melanin your body produces, the darker your skin. Levels of melanin are primarily determined by genetics combined with other factors such as hormones or exposure to UV rays. 

Factors such as sun exposure, hormonal imbalance or inflammation can oftentimes alter the amount of melanin your skin produces. This, in turn, causes pigment disorders in certain places leading to either hyperpigmentation (excess melanin production) or hypopigmentation (lack of melanin production). Hyperpigmentation such as age spots or sun spots causes darkening of the skin whereas hypopigmentation such as albinism or vitiligo causes lightening of the skin. Hypopigmentation is usually the result of trauma or injury and can end up becoming a permanent disorder. Hyperpigmentation on the other hand is treatable. 

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Types of Hyperpigmentation and How Are They Caused?

1. Age Spots/Sun Spots

They are the brown dots that appear on your skin and are usually caused due to sun exposure or ageing. The lighter your skin, the more prone you are to getting these. 

2. Acne Scars

Sometimes after a pimple subsides, it leaves a mark on your skin that may be caused due to overproduction of melanin in one specific spot leading to acne scars.

3. Post-Inflammatory Hyperpigmentation (PIH 

This is the temporary hyperpigmentation that occurs after an injury or wound that results in inflammation of the skin.

4. Melasma

This is the condition that leads to brown discoloured patches on the face. These patches are symmetrical (they appear on both sides of the face) and are caused due to stress, hormones, thyroid diseases or during pregnancy. 

Hyperpigmentation caused due to acne scars, PIH and melasma is more common amongst darker-skinned individuals (so do not pop those pimples!)

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Hyperpigmentation Fighting Ingredients

1. Niacinamide

Niacinamide, a form of Vitamin B-3, has proven to be extremely effective in treating hyperpigmentation. It does so by inhibiting the transfer of melanin from the pigment cells (melanocytes) to the skin. Niacinamide is also one of the gentler ingredients for the skin, having a neutral pH of 7 makes it non-acidic and non-irritating. It is known to have photoprotective properties i.e. it protects the skin from any form of UV damage. Studies have shown that niacinamide reverses the signs of hyperpigmentation in as little as four weeks.

Is Niacinamide the right ingredient for you? Absolutely! Niacinamide is known to have almost no side effects and suits all skin types. It is an all-rounder ingredient that is well-tolerated, even by sensitive skin types. However, be sure to do a patch test before starting continual use of the product.

Hydrate your skin inside and out by using derma rollers. The House of Beauty Derma Roller gently pushes your skincare treatment deep into the subsurface layers of your dermis by creating ultra minute dermabrasions on the skin for maximum absorption of the product.

2. Retinol

Retinol helps in increasing the rate of cell turnover and in turn, this high rate causes dark spots on the skin to fade quicker due to quicker formation of newer cells. They inhibit the activity of tyrosinase, an enzyme that stimulates melanin production in the skin. This in turn, makes the skin thicker, lighter and less prone to ageing.

Retinol, in comparison to Niacinamide, is slightly milder in its effect and can take upto 6 months to show any form of improvement in hyperpigmentation. However, continual use has been proven to be highly effective in the long term. Usually, all Retinoids, including Retinol, are comparatively well tolerated on darker skin as compared to lighter skin. Individuals with darker skin using Retinol are less likely to suffer from any side effects such as dryness, irritation or redness. Retinol is best applied at night due to its sun sensitivity properties which makes the skin more sensitive when exposed to the sun. However if you wish to apply it during the day, be sure to follow it up with a sunscreen with SPF 30 at least.

3. Vitamin C

Vitamin C, an antioxidant plays a vital role in combating dark spots. It has excellent anti-aging and anti-inflammatory properties. Vitamin C also inhibits the enzyme tyrosinase which prevents melanin production. It does not contain any UV-absorbing tendencies but it exerts UV-protecting effects by neutralising free radicals and preventing any signs of ageing. While it helps treat pigmentation, it does not lighten normal skin. Vitamin C is most effective at combating hyperpigmentation when combined with Vitamin E. Once you incorporate Vitamin C into your skincare regimen, you might see significant improvements in your skin after 2 months. It is best applied during the day since its ability to combat free radicals protects the skin from pollution and other environmental aggressors. 

4. AHA'S ( Alpha Hydroxy Acids )

AHAs help in removing the layer of dead skills that form on your skin to reveal healthy skin. This ingredient is particularly effective in treating PIH as it removes the dead skin cells that remain on top of the skin once a wound or injury has healed. 

AHA’s can be slightly aggressive on the skin since they essentially work by gently buffing away the top layer of your skin to reveal newer skin. 

  • Lactic Acid is an effective AHA that helps with hyperpigmentation and improving overall texture and tone. However, it should be used with care since it does cause sun sensitivity.  
  • Mandelic Acid, another AHA is also effective in treating hyperpigmentation. It is best suited for sensitive skin types and less suited for oily skin.
  • Kojic Acid inhibits the overproduction of melanin to help treat melasma and dark spots. It specifically targets dark spots but does not help in overall lightening of complexion. It is well tolerated by all skin types and should always be followed up with a mineral sunscreen. 

AHA’s are best layered with Vitamin C for maximum effectiveness but should be avoided being layered with Retinol as both ingredients are exfoliants.

5. Hyaluronic Acid

Hyaluronic acid, like Retinol, is extremely moisturising and helps increase cell turnover. Its high antioxidant level stimulates collagen production to keep skin elasticity high and your skin youthful and plump. However, when used on its own, it might not be as effective. Therefore, it should be paired with a Vitamin C serum or Niacinamide to combat hyperpigmentation.

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A Day-Night Skincare Routine to Avoid and Treat Hyperpigmentation

1. Start off your morning right by cleansing your skin thoroughly.

The Detoxie Anti-Pollution and De-Tan Refreshing Face Wash promotes healthy and even-toned skin. It’s packed with antioxidants, Vitamin C, Vitamin A and Alpha Arbutin which inhibits melanin production. It also inhibits the negative effects of UV rays, all thanks to its sun protecting properties.

2. Apply a serum after cleansing

For the AM: Apply a nourishing Vitamin C serum 

The MartiDerm DSP-Bright Ampoules address depigmentation by evening out your skin tone. It’s active ingredients act only where the dark spots are and it provides total protection from sun damage.

For the PM: Apply a serum rich in Retinoids or Niacinamide every night

Retinoids and Niacinamide are the two of the most ideal ingredients that treat hyperpigmentation. The Neemli Naturals Retinol Peptide Serum is infused with Niacinamide as well as Retinol that boosts cell turnover and brightens the skin, preventing any signs of depigmentation. 

3. Moisturise your skin daily

The Ilana Organics All Time Moisturiser provides intense hydration and long-lasting luminosity. Infused with antioxidants and Hyaluronic Acid, it inhibits oxidative stress on the skin and speeds up the process of acne scar healing.

4. Wear SPF every morning

The Mom’s Co Mineral Based Sunscreen is broad spectrum, water-proof, hypoallergenic sunscreen that provides ample protection from the sun. Shea Butter also provides moisturisation and soothes the skin. 

5. Apply AHA's 2-3 times a week

The MartiDerm Night Renew Ampoules are rich in AHA’s that gently exfoliate and renew the skin. It is formulated using 10% AHA’s such as Malic Acid, Lactic Acid and Glycolic Acid amongst others. They help to even out the skin tone, reducing any signs of hyperpigmentation and increases the skin’s elasticity for a firm-looking skin. Added bonus? It also improves penetration of other skincare products which are specifically designed for use at night. 

Is Hyperpigmentation Forever?

Hyperpigmentation, while is a slow healing process, does fade away. Depending on the condition, it can take from up to one month to 2 years to fade away. Best way to avoid it altogether: start early and maintain a steady skincare routine and healthy daily habits.

 Daily Practices to Avoid Hyperpigmentation

  • Apply SPF: Apply a minimum of SPF 30 broad-spectrum sunscreen daily to protect your skin.
  • Avoid Picking at Pimples and Blemishes: Constantly popping and picking at pimples causes inflammation of the skin that stimulates melanin production. This increases the chances of hyperpigmentation.
  • Make a Change in your Diet: Your diet can be a vital deciding factor for your hormonal changes that influence skin pigmentation. Incorporating sweet potatoes, carrots, citrus fruits or avocados into your diet helps maintain hormonal balance, thus increasing the chance of avoiding pigmentation.  
  • Spray your Perfume Right: Spraying your perfume directly onto your skin can also lead to hyperpigmentation. An important ingredient in perfume is alcohol, which causes photosensitivity, meaning that the skin becomes more sensitive when exposed to sunlight. This increases the chance of sunburn, and thus, hyperpigmentation. To avoid this, the best way to spray perfume is on your clothes instead of your skin.
  • Reduce the Intake of Alcohol: Excessive consumption of Alcohol can cause inflammation of the skin, leading to acne or flare-ups that can thus lead to hyperpigmentation due to overproduction of melanin in response to inflammatory stimulation. Alcohol also dehydrates your skin, causing you to age faster.
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    Bottom Line

    A steady skincare routine, regular SPF application and healthy lifestyle habits are the key to maintain a balance in your pigmentation. 

    - Rishita Chitalia

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