I often get asked how do I treat pigmentation. Hyperpigmentation, sun damage, sunspots, age spots, pigment, etc, are all words used to describe the uneven skin tone, patches and marks we get as we age. Over 90% of these marks are caused by UV damage – body skin cells (melanocytes) produce pigment (melanin) to protect us from damaging UV rays from the sun, and over time, this pigment becomes permanent (look at your skin compared to an 8-year-olds…). We all have a certain amount of pigment in our skins – the amount we have determines our skin colour – the more melanin, the darker the skin.
With all of the awareness about skin cancer, I think as a nation we are far better at being careful against UV(B) rays. These are the hot ones that burn us in the summer. We know now that burning is bad for us – it damages skin, even causing blisters in some cases, and ultimately can cause damage to DNA in the skin, leading to the most dangerous type of sun damage – melanoma.
However, what many people are not aware of is the damage done by UV(A) rays. These are in the same concentrations all year round, from the dullest, dreariest winters day, all the way through to the most glorious, hot sunny August day – and the biggest concern of all is that they come through glass, so even when we think we are protected because we are inside, we are still being exposed to these rays. Some pigmentation is caused by hormones – melasma is a type of pigmentation that is predominantly seen in women and often appears during pregnancy.
I do have a caveat to this though – I firmly believe that the human body needs sun exposure for optimum health, it is no accident that we turn, like sunflowers, to the sun when it comes out – we have a natural desire to be in sunny weather, not necessarily hot, but sunny. Our body converts Cholesterol to Vitamin D, turning a substance linked to inflammation into one that is known to be inflammatory, and is protective against a range of cancers including melanoma, and even linked to improved outcomes with Covid-19. So please, please do not stop your body getting any sun at all, but there are some key rules. Don’t burn – EVER. Use a sunscreen EVERY day of the year on your face -this is so you don’t age so quickly, and reduce the damage caused by continuous UV exposure. Get some sun and fresh air regularly – earlier in the day, later in the afternoon, on your body, roll up your sleeves outside in the winter to get your vitamin D in. General exposure to lower levels of UV rays will ultimately reduce burning in the summer, too.
However, we were not so good back in the day… I clearly remember laying in every beam of light I possibly could, and using horrors such as cooking oil, baby oil and the like to maximise the ‘tan’!! I know I’m not alone….
This kind of behaviour has undoubtedly led to the problems I see today – this kind of damage stays hidden deep in the skin, and can show itself years later – the ‘age spot’ that you see appearing was probably caused during one of your baby oil sunbathing sessions!!
So, you see pigmentation is unlikely to be caused overnight, and as a result cannot be treated overnight. There are other causes of pigmentation, including inappropriate treatment with lasers, chemical peels, and chemical sunscreens, as well as perfumes and other chemicals (I often see pigmentation on the sides of the neck from years of spraying perfume on there – please please just spray it on your clothes!) – this is known as Post-Inflammatory Hyperpigmentation (PIH). Other skin conditions can contribute to pigmentation, as can scarring from acne and picking of spots. These is far more likely in darker skin tones – I often treat Asian skins for this kind of pigmentation.
So what can be done about pigmentation?
Treating pigmentation is not for the faint hearted – once you make the decision to treat it, you should commit to it. It is really all or nothing – there is no quick fix, and no magic potions! (well, some of the
The first, most important and completely non-negotiable thing to do is to wear a high factor, physical sunscreen EVERY SINGLE DAY of the year (remember what I said earlier about UV(A) rays?!). We recommend our Alumier range of sunscreens – they are gorgeous to use, safe with no nasty chemicals, and leave your skin looking fabulous – and even better, they are full of antioxidants, peptides and lovely hyaluronic acid for hydration and plumping, and some of them have lovely tints too!
Skincare products for pigmentation
It is important to get a personalised routine in place, gradually adding to it to cover all of your concerns.
Firstly, I am always concerned with your skins’ barrier function – this means that your skin has a fully functioning protective layer so it can protect itself and keep properly hydrated etc.
Then, if pigmentation is your main concern (bear in mind that uneven skin tone is actually more ageing than lines and wrinkles!), you would need to introduce some active pigment serums – we use Eventone and Intellibrite, full of fabulous brightening ingredients, and key molecules that prevent melanin production. They also prevent transfer of pigment that is produced in the melanocytes to the skin cells. These specialist ingredients include kojic acid, liquorice, oyster phoenix mushroom, embilica and vitamin c. Initially I recommend using them both, twice a day, and then after three months, separating them to one in the morning and one in the evening.
Vitamin C – Everactive C&E
This crucial ingredient is an antioxidant that protects skin cells from free radical damage caused by sun and pollution, it supports collagen synthesis to reduce the signs of ageing, and helps to brighten and even out skin tone. Everactive Vitamin C is an amazing, innovative product, containing the only bio-available form of vitamin C – L-Ascorbic Acid, at the best strength for absorption (15%), as well as being supportive and supercharged by vitamin E. the addition of our own peptide, Matrixyl Synthe-6, helps to support and strengthen the skin.
Retinol for pigmentation
Retinol should be an ingredient in literally everyone’s skincare routine! Retinol is the only ingredient other than Peptides that is legally allowed to be described as ‘reversing the signs of ageing’ – there is a plethora of research out there proving this! Retinol, originally used in acne, is a key ingredient in anti-ageing skincare. For pigmentation, it is important to encourage new skin cell production, and increase rates of skin cell turnover.
Exfoliation for pigmentation
This step is key to encourage the removal of skin cells, stimulate skin cell turnover and brighten the skin. We have a range of exfoliants, including Bright & Clear Solution and AHA renewal serum, as well as our amazing treatments.
In-clinic treatments for pigmentation:
So how do I treat pigmentation in the clinic? Depending on your skin type, we recommend a combination approach for the best results in improving the look of pigment on the skin.
Initially, I tend to start with Radiant Peels – these help condition the skin and gently encourage skin cell turnover, then over time, as the skin becomes used to treatments, I would add in Wow! Fusion treatments (the initial one should be an advanced treatment – please ask for more information) and alternate with Alumier MD chemical peels. Our signature Glow Peel is amazing for this, as well as effective anti-aging.
The key to effective pigment improvement is consistency. Get a plan and stick to it. You are unlikely to get long term benefits from a couple of treatments and a half-hearted skin care routine.
How do I get the right skincare for pigmentation?
How do I treat pigmentation with homecare? So, there are a couple of options – if you are a brand-new skin client, who has had no previous consultations there are two options.
Firstly, you can have a brief, 15 minute online (zoom, facetime, or whatever works for you!) consultation. We can get an idea of your concerns, and prescribe an initial basic routine for you to start with at home. This is often a really great way to start – no commitment, low budget (usually just 2-4 products to get you started), and some advice. The other option is our more intensive 1.5 hour in clinic appointment. Here is a link to give you more detail on what you get, but it includes a treatment, a full-size product and a more in-depth plan and product prescription.
If you want more information, this article is great in explaining why I use Wow! Fusion as part of my tool kit for treating pigmentation, and here’s another great article from Alumier to explain why peels are such a great addition!
So why not book in to see how we can help your pigmentation?