Summer. Is. Over. How devastating is that?! I had just gotten used to enjoying the sun (slathered in SPF, as per the norm, obviously) and now it has gone… Come back, Mr. Sun! Each year, some of us are left with a parting gift from Mr. Sun and it is perhaps not as welcome as a pair of earrings.
Pigment. Whether it’s in the form of more traditional looking “sun spots”, a little “moustache” across the upper lip area or in the more insidious pigmentation posing as true freckles, many hoomans find themselves left scarred after the Summer months.
Dealing with pigment, whether it be hyperpigmentation (an excess of pigment, characterised by darker patches) or hypopigmentation (a lack of pigment, characterised by paler patches), is notoriously difficult.
Let’s get nerdie for a second and talk about what skin pigmentation actually is in terms of skin physiology. Within the basal layer of the skin (the deepest of the 5 layers of the epidermis), there is a type of cell called the melanocyte. As you may guess if you are a nerd yourself, melanocytes produce melanin which is pigment. This melanin is transferred into the keratinocytes and it is this cluster of melanin-rich cells that creates the appearance of darker patches on the skin.
When it comes to pigment, trying to fade it and trying to protect from it, we need a multi-pronged attack.
Post-summer pigmentation: acids in the fight against sun spots
Many therapists, clinicians and brands look at pigment and want to work to bring it up through exfoliation. That makes sense, doesn’t it? The skin renews itself so why not simply cause the skin to exfoliate faster? Et voilá, good as new. Unfortunately, it is not that simple.
Pigmentation occurs through damage. Our skin basically works to make more melanin to help to protect our skin from UV damage so when you see too much of it, it’s your skin saying that it has become damaged.
Alpha-hydroxy acids, AKA exfoliating acids, such as glycolic acid, lactic acid and azelaic acid do play a very important role when it comes to treating pigment and they should be in your skincare routine somewhere if this is what you’re trying to do. However, I believe that you additionally need…
- Topical vitamin A
- Tyrosinase inhibitors
- Topical vitamin C
- SPF everyday
Vitamin A (retinyl palmitate)
You need retinyl palmitate in your life if you are trying to heal your skin in any way but specifically when it comes to pigment. Vitamin A helps the skin to recover at a cellular level and helps to repair its DNA. This means that it is aiding you whilst you are using it and making it less likely for you to develop pigment in the long run.
Tyrosinase is an enzyme that basically prompts for melanin to be created. When we stop this enzyme in its tracks, we help to stop pigment from forming and worsening. Tyrosinase inhibitors include but are not limited to vitamin C, liquorice root extract, niacinamide and kojic acid.
Académié Derm Acte Brightening Hydrating Cream (€55.60) is a cream that contains liquorice root extract, vitamin C and niacinamide to target and prevent pigmentation on a daily basis. This is perfect for those who feel that serums don’t quite offer them enough hydration and like the comfort of a true cream.
Free radical damage, aka the damage caused to the skin by factors such as pollution, smoking and the sun, can cause pigmentation. We need antioxidant skincare to balance out free radicals, the wily molecules looking for something to attach to their unpaired electron, to prevent this pigmentation from forming.
The key antioxidants are vitamin C, vitamin E and vitamin A but there are more than you can count. I go into this in much more detail in my new debut book (!!!), The Skin Nerd: Your Straight-Talking Guide to Feeding, Protecting and Respecting Your Skin, released on the 13th of September and available from Easons, Dubray, WHSmith and Amazon.co.uk!
You can get all three of those super powerful antioxidant vitamins onto your skin using the IMAGE Vital C Hydrating Antioxidant A C E Serum (€72.50) which also contains green tea extract and nearly everything else your skin needs. It’s a topical multivitamin that protects you and helps your skin to function optimally and it can be easily mixed in with other serums – a true gem of a product.
Topical vitamin C
Not enough can be said about topical vitamin C – it kicks pigment in the bum, it’s an incredibly potent antioxidant, it helps us to make collagen… Most importantly, in this context, it really does kick pigment in the bum. If you are not spot-prone or still dealing with active acne and your main goal is pigmentation, you should be getting lots of high quality topical vitamin C onto your skin.
A classic is Skinceuticals CE Ferulic (€150.00) – as far as vitamin C serums go, this is one of the originals (if not THE original) and there is so much research and so many reviews behind it that it is hard to argue against it. It is pricier but it is very worth it.
As I said earlier, UV greatly contributes to the formation of pigment. This is one of the reasons that I’m so vocal about wearing a broad-spectrum SPF everyday, aka one that protects you from both UVA and UVB rays. You just don’t get enough protection from the SPF in your moisturiser or foundation unless you are applying half a teaspoon to your face, neck and ears. Test it out – it’s more than you think. There’s a piece on choosing your daily SPF here if you want some more general advice.
Spot treatments vs. serums
If you’ve looked into skincare for pigmentation before, you’ll have seen that there are oodles of all-over serums on the market as well as targeted spot treatments to be applied directly to dark spots. So… should you be using one over the other?
A targeted spot treatment usually isn’t enough on it’s own. The reality is that the damage has spread throughout the lower layers so you simultaneously need to continuously prevent whilst additionally targeting any pigment spots.
An overall serum is a fabulous route for the prevention aspect of pigment and in brightening the general complexion. If there is already visible pigmentation, I would tend to recommend that you spot treat in addition to using a brightening serum.
For example, certain clients of ours will be recommended the IMAGE Iluma Intense Lightening Serum (€52.00) as well as Neostrata’s Enlighten Pigment Lightening Gel (€18.85) and question it as they contain very similar ingredients and serve a similar purpose. I adore both of these products but where the ILUMA Serum acts as your daily protectant that also gives you a glow like nothing else, the Neostrata Enlighten Pigment Lightening Gel is your targeted pigment assassin.
The Neostrata Enlighten Pigment Lightening Gel contains kojic acid, an incredibly potent tyrosinase inhibitor and lightening agent, as well as vitamin C and plenty of other fab ingredients. It would simply be too powerful to apply it as you would a serum!
Other modes of dealing with pigmentation
If you are looking to get rid of pigment at hyper-speed (ie. a wedding next year), it is probably time to look into some in-salon or in-clinic skin treatments. Peels suited for pigment and certain technological modalities like IPL can be phenomenal for ousting pigmentation. Have a chat with a therapist from your chosen salon and they will be able to advise you on what will be the most beneficial for you… There’s lots of info on skin treatments in my new book, if you do feel so inclined to read it!
If you are looking for a daily routine that will help you and your pigment marks, whether they be marks after spots, sun spots or hormone-related, join the Nerd Network where we can advise you on the active skincare that will help your individual skin! There are a host of other perks, such as webinars and podcasts (coming soon…), shipping direct to your door and follow-up consultations whenever you please. We also stock the IMAGE, Neostrata and Skinceuticals products listed!