Since before I can remember, hyperpigmentation has controlled too much of my self-esteem; I've got a big, dark line smack in the middle of my forehead, odd marks on my face from sun exposure, and dramatic scarring from the smallest of nicks. As a Master Esthetician, there is guilt associated with each of these marks: could I have prevented them? Should I have tried harder to treat them before this point?
The truth is, darker skin like mine is more susceptible to hyperpigmentation. While still treatable, some of these spots might truly be out of my control, and many occurred due to sun-filled days of childhood fun, when aging skin wasn't on my mind. From here on out, I am freeing myself from this guilt - here’s why.
What is hyperpigmentation?
Hyperpigmentation is a concentration of pigment, known as melanin, in one specific area. Perhaps the most important thing to understand about hyperpigmentation in darker skin is that melanocytes, or the cells in the skin that produce melanin, are more active in this skin tone. What this means is that when darker skin is exposed to UV rays, inflammation, or heat, the body feels threatened and floods the skin with melanin as a way to try to protect the skin from these elements.
The Biggest Cause of Hyperpigmentation
For far too long, there has been a myth floating around that individuals with darker skin tones don’t need SPF. This truly is nothing more than a myth. Though we don’t always see the damage from the sun occurring in the same way we would with a fair-skinned beauty that burns, the damage is still happening. Sun damage occurs in all skin tones, it just may be harder to tell in some cases.
During exposure to the sun, an individual with darker skin will likely feel like a nice glowy tan is occurring, rather than a burning sensation that a lighter-skinned individual would take as a warning to get the heck out of the sun. This lack of a burning sensation sometimes even encourages sunbathers that tan, rather than burn, to ignore the dangers of UV rays. For the sake of your health, and the condition of your skin down the line, we lovingly urge you - please, use SPF no matter your skin tone.
SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor. What the number on your sunscreen indicates is how long after applying sunscreen it will take for the skin to burn. For example, SPF 30 means the skin will not redden for 30 times longer than if the individual is not wearing any sunscreen. We always recommend selecting an SPF of 15 or higher. Be sure to apply at least fifteen minutes before facing sun exposure, and to reapply every two hours.
When choosing your sunscreen, you should also be sure your sunscreen is labeled “broad spectrum.” This means that your skin will be protected from both UVA rays as well as UVB rays. A sunscreen that is not labeled “broad spectrum” is only guaranteed to protect your skin from UVB rays. A little incentive to use broad-spectrum sunscreen: UVA rays have a nickname of “aging rays,” as they have longer rays that penetrate deeper into the skin, leading to aging down the line. UVB rays have a nickname of burning rays, as they are shorter rays and burn the skin immediately. One thing is for sure, we all want protection from both aging and burning rays!
It is so essential to protect your skin anytime you are exposed to the sun. It is especially important to protect your skin during peak hours. Typically known as the hours between 10:00 A.M. - 4:00 P.M. For our snow bunnies out there - this is even true during ski season. Did you know that the sun reflects off of snow and even concrete? SPF up, lovelies.
A few of my favorite SPF options
Fortunately, these days, there are many options to choose from to provide your skin with sun protection. It really just comes down to what you’re looking to address in conjunction with preventing sun damage. Do you prefer a full-coverage concealer, or an easy, lightweight product to throw on and go? Each of the following options is water-resistant and has benefits for the skin in addition to UV protection.
Jane Iredale's BB cream is a favorite for those that prefer a full coverage look. This product is known as the all-in-one face product because it is formulated to prime, protect, and hydrate the skin while providing ultimate coverage. If you prefer a lighter coverage, Jane Iredale also makes a tinted moisturizer that offers the benefits of a moisturizer and sun protectant with just a hint of color.
Looking for a truly transparent SPF? We all know that sunscreen can have a bad rap for leaving skin looking chalky. The truth is that this can be particularly true for darker-skinned people. Supergoop's Unseen Sunscreen is a great option; not only does it go on unseen, as the name suggests, but it also carries many nutrient-rich ingredients such as Frankincense, and Complex derived from Meadowfoam Seed to aid in the skin’s resilience, hydration levels, and skin texture. This product even contains Red Algae to protect against blue light from electronics! (Yes, blue light causes skin damage too).
Other causes of hyperpigmentation
Just like with all skin types, sun damage is generally the most common cause of hyperpigmentation, but it isn’t isn’t the only cause. Other causes include:
- Hormonal changes - A change in hormones can trigger an overproduction of melanin, which can lead to permanent hyperpigmentation, if not treated.
- Scarring from inflammation - There are a few common causes of inflammation in the skin. Acne is likely the most common reason that skin is left inflamed or scarred. Again though, darker skin can overproduce melanin from the slightest of triggers. For example, dark scars from accidentally scratching a face itch, or a light, innocent dog nip or scratch have left unfortunate scars on my face.
- Being too aggressive with chemical-based topicals - Hey, even many of us in the beauty industry will admit to learning the hard way about the negative effects of using a chemical-based product too aggressively, myself included. Whether an individual accidentally used too harsh of a topical exfoliant, or if a procedure from an overly zealous professional left dark marks behind, this skin concern can be addressed and improved.
Start with a brightening face wash or masque to prevent and control hyperpigmentation.
These are baby steps to addressing hyperpigmentation. If this skin concern is bothering you enough that you’re considering investing in addressing it, but not enough that you want to dip your toe in the deep waters of chemical treatments, a brightening face wash or masque might be just the trick
Incorporate a concentrated serum.
Serums are lightweight treatments made up of tiny molecules that really sink into your skin, rather than just sit on top of the skin. As an avid hyperpigmentation battler, I am here to vouch, if you stick with it, this stuff really works! Just be sure to stay on top of your SPF usage, like you would with any active product. GlyMed boasts of their Derma Pigment Skin Brightener: “Thirty days to brighter, clearer skin. Derma Pigment Skin Brightener is a revolutionary serum formulated to fade sun spots, pigmentation, and age spots, for the gradual fading of pigmentary disorders without the use of hydroquinone.”
(Hydroquinone is a controversial skin lightening treatment that many prefer to avoid.)
Try out a well-reviewed brightening kit
Anytime you see the word “brightening,” you can be sure that this is a cute way for a brand to say that their product is addressing hyperpigmentation. A kit is always a cost-effective way to try out products that address your skin concern. Bringing in a variety of products will often be an inevitable part of aggressively treating any skin concern, so you might as well get the most bang for your buck by purchasing a kit to determine your favorite products.
If hyperpigmentation is affecting your self-esteem, you might consider a chemical peel. This route can remove excess pigment from sun damage, hormonal change, and interestingly, this can sometimes be one of the only options to remove hyperpigmentation from overexposure to chemical exfoliants. Just be sure to have a lengthy consultation with a professional that you trust. You must also be prepared to take using your SPF more seriously than you ever have before, and perhaps even for some lengthy down-time. Something to note is that darker skin tones happen to be the most prone to skin damage from chemical peels, so be careful out there!
Note: Always be sure to consult a trusted skincare professional before attempting to treat your skin with any sort of chemical exfoliant. While topical exfoliants can be very beneficial for hyperpigmentation, an uninformed individual can do much more harm than good when it comes to finding the best chemical-based product.
Sasha has been a Got Beauty Girl for nine wonderful years, and has been an esthetician for eight of them. More recently, she has taken on the position of blogger for Talk Beauty, as well as social media liaison. She is a major skincare junkie, and loves spreading knowledge about self-care and giving services that make her clients feel pampered.
Posted by Sasha Booker