Hyperpigmentation is a choice, discoloration is a choice. Is my melanin really magical?

How my PH is the Secret to Conquering Hyperpigmentation

Written By Taye Beaty 

Professional Care Scientist

Barex Tech & Innovation Labs

Is all hyperpigmentation created equal? The battle for beautiful skin is a constant struggle that seems unattainable for modern everyday people. We see these gorgeous extraterrestrials  models with perfect complexions and skin tones throughout our newsfeed; and somewhere between the inevitable *zoom in here* on said celebrities photo, and our screengrab group text discussion as to if its lighting, a filter or plain old photoshop. I prefer the photoshop explanation, it makes me feel better about those dark patches on my cheeks that won't allow me  to be great, but feel free to choose your own envious reaction. 

What if there was actually  an excuse? What if you're not imagining it that you have the “perfect” routine yet cannot seem to achieve the donut glaze covered glow of your skin crush? Welp fortunately for you we will discuss these things in this article and help you achieve this enviable glow. Don't toss your concealer just yet, but perhaps explaining your skin in a way we can all understand. 

Let's talk about hair for example. Sometime in the 20th century we stumbled upon the fact that all hair textures are NOT the same and cannot use the same haircare products to achieve similar results. The haircare industry suddenly realized words like porosity, curl patterns, textures, and yes even skin tone significantly affects one's ability to achieve desired results from said product that was being advertised to us. Suddenly a hair care revolution evolved, followed by a cosmetic revolution for skincare companies. Niche marketing and formulation became the norm, and lo and behold hair care and cosmetic aisles became diverse. Thank goodness, because my curly fro would never have seen a glow up with the vaseline my grandmother insisted on using to condition my scalp and hair strands wishing to not end up with massive frizziness once again. 

Well, if our hair is complex, and our makeup is complex, then why would we think skin tones are all treated the same and with the same skincare products? At this point, it may be a good time to mention that I am a Professional Personal Care Scientist and want to explain this using a topic we all understand ,  Makeup! In many ways our skincare application needs are similar to makeup applications. Let's start with the comparisons.

Foundation: Just as the perfect color match in our liquid foundation is the basis for our color palette, choosing the right skincare elements and ingredients is the most important base in your ''skincare foundations''. The ''foundations'' are double cleansing with specialized balms or oils , moisturizer, and sunscreen SPF 30. It's quick, easy to understand, and is best used for maintenance. Treatments, retinoids, toners, AHA’s, BHA, peels, ez.

This may be a surprise to you but those with higher amounts of melanin content in their pigment, have a different PH and solubility from those that have a ''light'' pigment. When creating solutions for hyperpigmentation,  especially those with skin of color, it is paramount to thoroughly document via history and physical, the timing, onset, and duration of symptoms. More importantly, it can be difficult to differentiate diffuse hyperpigmentation in a patient of ethnic skin background, mainly because you have to differentiate the patients “native” or “normal” pigment, and the abnormal skin color (discoloration).  

How to protect your skin?  The most essential weapon in your skincare arsenal to protect the gains made by effective treatments.  Just as the sun can tan the parts of your skin without hyperpigmentation, it has an even stronger effect on the scars and lesions exposed to UV rays and makes the dark spots darker. Exposure to sun causes oxidative stress to our skin leading to the formation of free radicals and to the activation of melanocytes which produce melanin.In case of overexposure to sun,melanocytes produce more melanin and cause skin coloration. It is absolutely essential that consumers use sunscreen daily with SPF 30 at least , preferably containing physical blockers such as titanium dioxide or zinc oxide, on all sun-exposed skin on a daily basis ,365 days a year. If it is hard to remember simply place your sunscreen beside your toothbrush so that you will remember daily.  Sunscreen must also be worn indoors to combat reflective UV Rays. Chemical sunscreens, though very effective, can rarely cause allergic contact or irritant contact dermatitis in patients with skin of color, which itself can cause PIH(post inflammatory hyperpigmentation), thus further exacerbating the overall darkening of the skin. Additionally, patients should practice ultraviolet (UV) avoidance through the use of physical barriers, such as hats and clothing that will reduce exposure. It is really important to note that patients must apply the right amount of sunscreen which is about 1 teaspoon and pat it gently into the  face, and neck. Of course, reapplication  after a maximum 2 hours of being outside is the key, and can usually last throughout the day when applied under your makeup especially when outside. A great tip is to have in your bag a ready to go spray sunscreen that is easy and quick to use but also makeup friendly.

In the case of melasma( a type of hyperpigmentation caused by hormonal changes especially during pregnancy) or PIH, topical treatment options include retinoids, azelaic acid, hydroquinone,vitamin C, glycolic acid, chemical peels, and cosmeceuticals. Reassurance and time are also essential elements of the treatment regimen that are sometimes overlooked by the physician and the patient.

Superficial chemical peels are generally effective for the management of PIH and melasma when properly applied. Standard options include glycolic acid 20-70%, salicylic acid 20-30%, trichloroacetic acid (TCA) 10-25%, or Jessner’s solution. Pretreatment with a course of hydroquinone 4% topically (if available) is thought to improve outcomes. Any patient using topical retinoids  and acids should discontinue their use for seven days prior to the peel. They may continue to use a non comedogenic, sun protection factor (SPF) moisturizer.

Support for the use of glycolic acid peels comes from a study that involved 19 subjects randomized to apply a twice-daily regimen of 2% hydroquinone/10% glycolic acid gel, along with tretinoin  0.05% cream nightly or to undergo six consecutive glycolic acid peels (up to 68%) with no additional topical therapy. Overall, patients treated with peels alone showed a trend for more rapid and greater improvement.

Salicylic acid peels have been shown useful in PIH treatment , including for patients with darker skin types. In an open label trial, 25 patients were treated with five salicylic acid peels (20-30% concentration) provided at two-week intervals. Patients underwent two weeks of pretreatment with hydroquinone 4%. Four out of five patients with Fitzpatrick type V(brown skin) or VI(dark brown or black skin) had greater than 75-percent improvement in pigmentation.

Laser therapy can be also effective for hyperpigmentation with durable improvement. In one study of 27 female subjects, phototypes II to V, with mixed-type melasma refractory to previous therapies, low-fluence Q-switched Nd:YAG laser treatment was provided at 1.6 to 2J/cm2 with 5 or 6mm spot immediately following microdermabrasion. Daily application of a broad-spectrum sunscreen  with at least SPF 30 began immediately post-procedure. Additionally, subjects used a topical skin care regimen of hydroquinone with tretinoin or vitamin C. Treatments were repeated at four-week intervals. Most subjects showed more than 50-percent clearance of melasma one month after the first treatment. Side effects were limited to mild post-treatment erythema, which developed after the microdermabrasion and lasted approximately 30 to 60 minutes. Four subjects noted temporary exacerbation of melasma after inadvertent sun exposure, but this resolved within several weeks of resuming the topical skin care regimen. Remission lasted at least six months.

Hyperpigmentation can also be treated at home with popular ingredients used as a part of the daily skincare routine. The best one is the daily morning use of vitamin C and more specific L- ascorbic acid as the key ingredient . We love the 25% L- Ascorbic Vitamin C by Dark Parts found on their website www.darkasparts.com  for its simple formulation and natural ingredients. Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that works by inhibiting tyrosinase and reduces the melanin production and prevents but also treats the hyperpigmentation caused by sun exposure. Azelaic acid also, is among the safest and most effective ingredients. It is a mild acid produced by Pityrosporum ovale and  used to treat post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation caused by acne by inhibiting tyrosinase. Last but not least, another way to treat the skin discoloration is niacinamide serums that have major effects on several skin concerns too. Niacinamide is a vitamin B3 derivative. It is used to treat hyperpigmentation and works by inhibiting melanocytes transfer to keratinocytes. Also, it boosts collagen production ,minimizes the pores and reduces any inflammation.

It is beyond clear that the right and guided skincare is the new makeup. In 2020 there are thankfully a lot of treatments and products for every single skin type and  concern that will help you obtain the glowing and clear skin you always wished for. Hyperpigmentation as all the other skin problems , is manageable and you just need the right guidance by doctors and  professional skincare scientists. The  donut glazed and ''photoshopped'' skin you see on Instagram and on fashion shows is a few steps away  from becoming your skin!