By Heidi Gibbon, Aesthetician
Maintaining a healthy skin tone is crucial to ageing gracefully. Over my 20-plus years in the skincare industry, this issue of tone has caused the most distress to my clients.
Everyone desires an even skin tone and as we age, this gets more difficult to maintain as uneven patches appear. Different factors cause hyperpigmentation (excessive pigmentation of the skin), but treatment is similar.
There are three different types of pigmentation, all caused by an overproduction of pigment called melanin. Melanin determines your skin tone.
The first type of pigmentation can crop up as early as our teen years as we battle the acne phase of puberty. This type of hyperpigmentation, Post-Inflammatory Hyperpigmentation (PIH), is most predominant in skin of colour.
As part of the healing process, the skin produces excess melanin. This is a normal response to the inflammation caused by acne. These are not scars but rather a flat area of discoloured, darker skin left behind after the skin heals.
PIH can also be caused by a mosquito bite, a cut, scratch, or any trauma to the skin. If left untreated these marks could take months or years to fade on their own.
The second type of hyperpigmentation is caused by sun damage. These burns often occur in our youth and don’t show up on our skin for 10–30 years after exposure! I usually see these popping up on the faces of my clients in their 30s. They are commonly known as age, sun, or liver spots; the technical term is Solar lentigines. Solar lentigines are round, oval, sometimes irregularly shaped, dark marks. They are more common in fair complexions. We often see these brown spots turning up on the right side of our face from sun damage while driving. Sun damage can also cause hypopigmentation which are white spots. This is when the melanin has completely disappeared! These are mostly permanent.
The third type of hyperpigmentation is Melasma. It is characterised by brown or gray-brown patches on the skin. Melasma generally covers a larger area and develops symmetrically on the face. Most cases are seen in women and can result in considerable social and emotional stress to the sufferer.
It usually develops in persons 20–40 years and is more common in olive tones or darker skin types. The major triggers include sun exposure, pregnancy, and high estrogen levels.
Melasma is an incredibly challenging condition to treat. For most people, treatments can produce reasonable to good results, but the condition is likely to return over time. It requires constant care to keep it in check. Patience is key and if you stay dedicated you will see results.
Sun: If you want to keep your hyperpigmentation at bay, sun protection is key. I often tell my clients to keep their sunblock next to their toothbrush and apply it before the sun even comes up! The sun is much stronger than your skincare products and just five minutes in the sun can make your pigmentation worst! If you are treating pigmentation with medical-grade products, the skin becomes sun sensitive. Do not let direct sun touch your face if you have unwanted pigmentation.
Heat: Any kind of heat triggers inflammation, and inflammation sets off a response to increase melanin activity in the skin. On a recent trip to Chicago where temperatures were 0–10 degrees Celsius, my hyperpigmentation literally vanished in three days. It reappeared as I landed at Piarco!
We have a tough time in the Caribbean keeping our skin cool and wearing a mask has made it worse! I recommend avoiding things like saunas, lasers with heat, hot yoga etc.
If you are exposed to heat, try using something simple, such as a block of ice to quickly cool your skin. You can also try keeping certain skincare products, like toners and gel-based masques, in the fridge for an extra cooling effect.
Stress: Manage your stress levels. Cortisol, which is produced by the body to help with stress, imbalances our estrogen levels.
What to do
Try a chemical peel. In Trinidad, there are many aestheticians doing the VI Chemical Peel. I like this peel because its virtually painless and a course of three peels spaced four to six weeks apart can help improve hyperpigmented skin. Contact me if you need help locating a spa offering this service in your area.
There are also some women and men who suffer with body pigmentation that can be very disheartening. There are also peels for the body. Aestheticians can treat underarm, bikini, and inner thigh pigment irregularities with professional body peels.
Products to use
Medical grade products are the most effective on hyperpigmentation. I recommend a visit to your aesthetician/doctor to invest in an entire regime of products: cleanser, toner, treatment serums, hydrators, and good sunblock. I recommend a combination of Vivant skincare and Elta sunblocks for my clients.
Exfoliate two to three times a week. I prefer a chemical exfoliant rather than an abrasive scrub which can cause trauma to the skin. Even though Retinol isn’t technically an exfoliant, it is also helpful because it increases cell turnover. This will bring pigmentation to the surface where it can be sloughed off by exfoliants more quickly.
Use a skin lightener. Look for ingredients like hydroquinone, azelaic acid, kojic acid, arbutin, licorice extract and Vitamin C. Let your aesthetician/doctor guide you with what’s best and how to acclimate to these.
Use a moisturiser with hyaluronic acid. Don’t be afraid of make-up. I think of make-up as an extra protective barrier for your skin.
Note: When treating hyperpigmentation, it will disimprove before it gets better as the uneven pigmentation comes up and out of the skin. Also, the longer the pigmentation is there, the longer it will take to fade.
So, start sooner, rather than later to treat your unwanted brown spots
I would love to hear from you. I can be reached at email@example.com or on Instagram at mysalontt.