Hyperpigmentation and Darker Skin Tones
As a consumer who has dealt with severe acne in the past, I found that my hyperpigmentation became a reminder of how I felt at the height of painful acne flare-ups. I began a personal journey of research to uncover effective ways to treat hyperpigmentation and hopefully educate my growing audience at the same time.
As soon as I mention the word ‘hyperpigmentation’ on social media, I am always met with an influx of questions and experiences from my community. While hyperpigmentation is not a new topic, there always seems to be a lot of confusion around it. Let's take a dive into some background knowledge on the subject.
Hyperpigmentation describes those pesky dark marks or areas we see on the skin which are usually the result of an inflammatory response. Excess pigmentation is caused by the overproduction of melanin by the melanocytes. This will occur after damage to the skin. The overstimulation of the melanocytes results in extra deposits of pigmentation appearing on the damaged area. The colour of the hyperpigmentation can give you an insight into the depth of the hyperpigmentation: grey hues indicate dermal melanosis, while brown indicates epidermal melanosis. Knowing how deep the lesion is will help guide you when choosing the correct treatment.
During my research, I discovered how much information and misinformation about hyperpigmentation flooded skincare spaces. A lot of the information that was credible required a very deep understanding of scientific language and biological processes – which would be a lot of faffing for someone who just wanted to treat their skin.
Something I noticed in my research is that the treatments I found useful for hyperpigmentation were not always the hyped-up treatments. One of the most popular products for treating hyperpigmentation is a Vitamin C serum. You cannot search hyperpigmentation without a Vitamin C serum popping up. Controversially, I do not find them useful for hyperpigmentation. I think this is because I saw how frustrated my community was becoming when trying to find the perfect Vitamin C serum and feeling like their hyperpigmentation would never reduce.
As mentioned earlier, hyperpigmentation is caused by the overproduction of melanin and, therefore, people with deeper skin tones are more likely to get hyperpigmentation and require a more intensive treatment other than Vitamin C. The key to truly effective treatment is to use products that help with inflammation and inhibit tyrosinase. However, while vitamin C does have tyrosinase-inhibitor properties, it is not the gold-standard treatment. There are many efficacious tyrosinase inhibitors besides Vitamin C and that is a hill I am willing to die on! Alternatively to Vitamin C, I am a huge fan of azelaic acid and kojic acid which are both amazing tyrosinase inhibitors. Azelaic acid at 20% is wonderful for treating both acne and pigmentation. Kojic acid is a little harder to get your hands on, but I am such a huge fan! Kojic acid can usually be found in consumer products at 1%, but is available at a higher percentage in a professional treatment clinic.
There is no way I could talk about hyperpigmentation without dispelling two of the most common myths.
Myth 1: ‘People with deeper skin tones should not use AHAs as they can cause burning or bleaching’.
This is super FALSE! Your skin tone does not dictate which ingredient you should use; your skin type (oily, dry, sensitive, normal) has more of an impact. I find this myth very damaging to a lot of people’s skincare journeys. Deeper skin tones can absolutely use AHAs, and I often recommend them. One tip I advise people to remember is that formulation of a product matters and you should not discount an ingredient based on one bad product experience (unless you are allergic to it).
Myth 2: ‘Hydroquinone is dangerous and illegal in the UK’
Hydroquinone remains the gold-standard tyrosinase inhibitor and it is NOT illegal in the UK, but it is available by prescription only. The main danger with using hydroquinone is obtaining it from an unregulated source or improper use.
The Pigmentation Box is a great example of treating hyperpigmentation in a multifaceted way and it is great for both pros and beginners to kick their pigmentation into line!
Desai S. R. (2014). Hyperpigmentation therapy: a review. The Journal of clinical and aesthetic dermatology, 7(8), 13–17.
Del Rosso J. Q. (2017). Azelaic Acid Topical Formulations: Differentiation of 15% Gel and 15% Foam. The Journal of clinical and aesthetic dermatology, 10(3), 37–40.
Punchard, N. A., Whelan, C. J., & Adcock, I. (2004). The Journal of Inflammation. Journal of inflammation (London, England), 1(1), 1. https://doi.org/10.1186/1476-9255-1-1