All you need to know about hyperpigmentation
I have had hyperpigmentation since my late twenties. It all started with a tiny patch between by brows that has been getting larger and more noticeable over the years. To most people it is not noticeable, but it is the first thing I see when I look at myself in the mirror or in photos, and it makes me very self conscious.
Over the course of the past decade I have tried to find all the information I could about it, as well as tried a long list of products that claim will reduce the discoloration. The problem I have found is that the information out there is either incredibly scientific or marketing led. You are often bamboozled with names of ingredients, with some sites telling you they will help and others telling you they can have terrible side effects. Otherwise, big brands are trying to tell you their latest serum that targets dark spots and will even out your skin tone. However, I haven't found a place that explains the basics in simple terms and has unbiased advice about products, so a few months ago I set out to write a blog post that did exactly that.
What is hyperpigmentation?
Hyperpigmentation is the appearance of darkened patches of skin, typically on your face or hands. They vary in colour from light to dark brown and in size. This is due to an excess of melanin production.
What causes it?
Broadly there are two reasons why you may have hyperpigmentation: hormonal imbalance and sun exposure. Pregnant women are prone to develop melasma, also known as pregnancy mask. Normally they will have darkened patched on the forehead, cheeks and upper lip, and it subsides and even disappears once the hormone levels return to normal.
Sun exposure is a very common cause of dark spots, as UVB rays stimulate the body's melanin production. They are what makes us tan, and if you are regularly exposing your skin to the sun and don't protect it, these spots will eventually appear. This is the reason why Mediterranean women or ethnicities more prone to tanning easily when exposed to the sun tend to develop hyperpigmentation more easily.
Sometimes it can be very difficult to know what camp you are in and what really is causing your hyperpigmentation. I am Spanish, tan very easily and hardly ever burn, so in the past I wasn't that diligent with sun protection, but mine appeared for the first time when I was on the pill, which is a cocktail of hormones, so I think there is a combination of the two in my case, but I can't say I know for sure.
How to look after your skin when you have hyperpigmentation
The two key words are to treat and protect. In fact, I would say that protection is your top priority. Wearing a high SPF daily is essential. It is very easy to find foundation or moisturisers that have some basic sun protection, but I'm afraid that whilst that will be enough for most people, if you have sun damage already, you need something higher than the average SPF15. If you live in the UK, I would recommend an SPF30 in the winter and SPF50 in summer. If in doubt, go as high as you can. La Roche Posay have a fantastic range with different finishes depending on your skin type, so there really is no excuse. I would also recommend you make sure it protects you against UVB rays as well as UVA, and the former are responsible for making your skin tan and consequently darken.
As far as treatment goes, hundreds of products have appeared in the past ten years claiming to even out your skin tone and lighten dark spots. During the past 5+ years I have tried all sorts of treatments that claim to reduce hyperpigmentation, to various degrees of success. Noticing results can be tricky, so whenever I start using something new I will take a photo and then do the same once a month afterwards to see if there has been any change.
Usually these products aren't cheap and I have deeply regretted two of my past purchases, as it felt as though I'd thrown money down the drain. I will share with you what I thought about every single one of them.
This was the first serum I ever used that targetted hyperpigmentation. I've always liked Caudalie products and my skin seems to love them. It was a lovely product to use and it left my skin feeling hydrated and more radiant, but it didn't do anything to lighten my dark patches. I would say this is a wonderful product if you have some very faint sun spots or freckles and you want to give your skin a bit of a glow, but if you want to target something specific you may be a little bit disappointed.
One of the best things I have used, but a bit of a splurge if you use it regularly, which you must if you want to see results. When it was first launched a lovely Clinique consultant would give you a colour chart and match your discoloration with one of the shades in the card. That made it easy to track progress, and there definitely was some.
I'd heard great things about this brand and I have been a fan of their mineral sunscreen in powder for a while, so I thought I would give this one a go. It wasn't available in the UK at the time so I had to ask a friend to buy it in the US. This is one of the products I regret buying, because it did absolutely nothing. This may be more suitable if you have acne scarring, but as far as dark spots caused by sun exposure or hormones, it was pretty ineffective.
I don't like being negative, as different people may find different products useful, but I didn't see any change when I used this, which I did religiously morning and night. Like Caudalie's Vinoperfect, it was a lovely product to use, just not great at doing much more than giving me a little bit of extra radiance.
In the past I've used other products from Eucerin that I have really enjoyed, particularly their suncare range, so I decided to jump right in and used the day moisturiser, the corrector and the night cream. After 6 months of religiously applying them I saw no difference in my skin.
Its name feels very appropriate, because this is a golden product. It is a very potent product only to be used every other night, and there is nothing luxurious about it. It comes in a simple bottle with a pipette and smells very strong. However, the results are the best I have ever experienced along with Clinique's Even Better serum. This is due to its active ingredients, glycolic and ferulic acid, which inhibit your skin's ability to produce melanin.
There are plenty more products in the market, but I didn't want to talk about anything that I hadn't experienced first hand for a long period of time. If you would rather try something else, the ingredients to look out for are glycolic acid, vitamin C, liquorice extract and ferulic acid. Alpha hydroxy acids (commonly reffered to as AHAs) are derived from various plant sources or milk and they are great exfoliants that promote skin renewal, therefore a great ally to use in conjunction with something more targetted. Do not be scared about the word acid. I am the biggest fan of gentle natural skincare, and these can sometimes be quite gentle. The only precaution you need to take is to always wear a high SPF, as they will make your skin a little bit more sensitive to the sun.
If you have dark spots or patches on your face, it is likely that you feel a bit self-conscious about it (I do), and it may be tempting to slap on the make up to cover them. However, you don't need to wear a full on mask every day. I wear a very lightweight foundation (replace that with a tinted moisturiser in the summer) on a daily basis. A good concealer will be your best ally, and Dermablend are one of the best and widely available. There are two more products that I have not tried but that I have heard great things about. One is Laura Mercier's famous Secret Camouflage concealer and the other is a product that is very new by Cover FX, which is pure pigment and you can mix with products like moisturiser by adding a drop. I like the idea of being able to regulate the amount of coverage you want, so although it is only available at Harvey Nichols in the UK, I definitely want to give it a try.
There is something really important to remember, and it is that pigmentation is incredibly difficult to treat, especially when it is caused by hormones, and it takes a long time to see effects from products. It is all too easy to get disheartened and feel down about your skin, but what seems very obvious to you is something that others hardly notice, so don't give yourself a hard time.
I really hope you have found this interesting and helpful. If you have any product recommendations, please feel free to share in the comments section. I'm always looking for things that might help!