As you may know, everyone’s skin types are different, and it’s even almost impossible to silo a vast variety of skin complexities into skin types. However, all skin shares exactly one experience in common – hyperpigmentation.
We’re sure you’re familiar with the phenomenon of hyperpigmentation, and we’re sure you might find it less than favorable when faced with (no pun intended) an uneven skin tone. In fact, darker skin tones are more prone to hyperpigmentation.
What is Hyperpigmentation?
Hyperpigmentation is a common, usually harmless condition in which patches of skin are darker than the surrounding skin. It occurs when special cells in the skin make too much of the pigment called melanin. Hyperpigmentation may appear as freckles, age spots, or larger areas of darkened skin. Hyperpigmentation may be caused by injury or inflammation of the skin, sun damage, abnormal skin growths, hormone changes, pregnancy, or other medical conditions (National Cancer Institute, 2022).
In order to truly understand how to combat hyperpigmentation, it’s important to know how hyperpigmentation happens. Borrowing from Dr. Julian Sass’ ASTP model, below is a summary of how hyperpigmentation visibly forms.
A - Activation of cells that produce pigment
S - Synthesis of melanin
T - Transfer of pigment to the upper layer of the skin
P - Visible pigmentation
Key words to know:
- Melanin: The skin’s natural pigment that causes both regular pigmentation and hyperpigmentation
- Synthesis: Creation
Therefore, it’s important to note that a proper hyperpigmentation product should attack all four steps of the ASTP model to both prevent and reduce visible pigmentation.
What causes hyperpigmentation?
Hyperpigmentation can be caused by any stress imposed on the skin. Some common stressors that produce hyperpigmentation are:
- Breakouts, such as acne
- UV rays (from carcinogenic stress caused by the sun)
- Chronic skin conditions, such as melasma, acne, eczema, and psoriasis
Obviously, it’s impossible to avoid any of the stressors above. However, as mentioned earlier, a proper hyperpigmentation product should ideally attack all four steps of the ASTP model. So, what kinds of ingredients are helpful?
Hyperpigmentation Focused Ingredients
Scientifically, we call hyperpigmentation focused ingredients tyrosinase inhibitors. From a scientific perspective, these ingredients target an enzyme called tyrosinase that is essential to the biological pathway that generates melanin. However, not all tyrosinase inhibitors attack all 4 steps of the ASTP model.
(If you’re interested, below is the pathway that causes melanin
(Ando et. al, 2007)
Some popular, clinically-effective tyrosinase inhibiting ingredients are:
- Kojic acid
- Alpha arbutin
- Some Vitamin C derivatives, such as tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate or 3-O-Ethyl Ascorbic Acid
- Tetrahydropyranyloxy Phenol
- Glycyrrhiza Glabra (Licorice) Root Extract
- Acetyl Glucosamine
- Ferulic Acid
- Alpha Hydroxy Acids
- Lactic acid
- Mandelic acid
- Glycolic acid
In many cases (and I can tell you this from formulation experience lol), a successful hyperpigmentation product will usually have multiple hyperpigmentation focused ingredients. Additionally, it’s important to note that leave-on products will ultimately bring on better results rather than masks and cleansers with these ingredients, because consistency is essential to preventing and reducing the appearance of hyperpigmentation. Lastly, an occlusive hydrocolloid material, such as the MULTI Patch, are helpful for combatting added stress to the skin when hyperpigmentation results from acne.
Ultimately, the most important thing we’d like you to understand are the following:
- Hyperpigmentation is normal, and a completely even skin tone is simply a beauty standard.
- Consistency is key when it comes to hyperpigmentation.
- Your skin is doing its best.
Woolery-Lloyd, Heather. “Treatment of Hyperpigmentation - Mdedge.” Cdn.mdedge, https://cdn.mdedge.com/files/s3fs-public/issues/articles/Vol30_i3_Woolery-Loyd.pdf.
Dréno, Brigitte, et al. “How People with Facial Acne Scars Are Perceived in Society: An Online Survey - Dermatology and Therapy.” SpringerLink, Springer Healthcare, 18 Apr. 2016, https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s13555-016-0113-x.
“About CDC's Division of Cancer Prevention and Control.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 20 Apr. 2022, https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/dcpc/about/index.htm.
“Hyperpigmentation vs Acne Scars: The Difference and What to Do.” Hyperpigmentation vs Acne Scars: The Difference And What To Do, https://navamd.com/face-forward-blog/hyperpigmentation-vs-acne-scars-the-difference-and-what-to-do.
“NCI Dictionary of Cancer Terms.” National Cancer Institute, https://www.cancer.gov/publications/dictionaries/cancer-terms/def/cancer.
DISCLAIMER: THIS POST DOES NOT CONSTITUTE AS MEDICAL ADVICE. THIS POST IS NOT MEANT TO TREAT, CURE, PREVENT, OR DIAGNOSE CONDITIONS OR DISEASES; AND IS MEANT FOR EDUCATIONAL PURPOSES. AS ALWAYS, PLEASE CONSULT YOUR DOCTOR BEFORE TRYING ANY NEW TREATMENTS OR SUPPLEMENTS.