Two causes of hyper-pigmentation you're probably not addressing

facial treatments for hyperpigmentation brown spots

One of the biggest problems (and most difficult to address) is hyperpigmentation.  Hyperpigmentation means discoloration, or literally “too much pigment” and mostly refer to brown spots.  These spots show up anywhere on the body, but the most troublesome for many clients are the brown spots that are on face and decollete.

Some brown spots are small; others are larger patches.  These patches are called melasma because they usually show when there’s a large hormone change.

 

Hyperpigmentation is a growing problem.  Why now?

There are many factors that contribute to hyperpigmentation.  Some of the include;

  • excess UV radiation exposure that results in permanent damage to skin - think sun tanning, tanning beds
  • picking at pimples that leave behind brown marks
  • drastic hormonal shifts such as in pregnancy, breastfeeding and menopause
  • disease related to hormone imbalance like underactive or overactive thyroid, polycystic ovarian disease, etc.
  • medications that make skin more sensitive to UV radiation or change hormone levels, like antibiotics, anti-depressants and IVF treatments
  • over-exfoliation including acids, Retin A, retinols, mechanical scrubbing, etc.

 

Almost all hyper-pigmentation is a result of inflammation or the skin believing there is injury potential. “Post-inflammatory hyper-pigmentation” is the term estheticians use to describe the discoloration they see with the understanding that it is a result of inflammation or injury.  The mechanism is a chemical reaction that triggers a protective response.  Think of hyper-pigmentation as a shield; the pigment is covering underneath structures that the body believes are in need of protection.

 

 Did you know?  People with brown eyes are more prone to post- inflammatory hyper-pigmentation.


However, there are two more factors that are only recently being addressed - and they may surprise you. 

Let’s look closely at these two factors - pollution and blue light exposure.

 

Pollution and hyperpigmentation

Pollution creates an irritant in the body that results in hyperpigmentation.  Many people have allergies that are worse in pollution - same with skin issues. 

Hyper-pigmentation is the body’s way to protect the underlying structures in your skin.  So pollution triggers this response in the body as a protective measure. 

Pollution is not just limited to us here in the big city.  It is any chemical exposure - swimming in chlorinated pools; living on a farm that uses chemicals as pesticides for produce; runoff from factories using chemicals in production. 

But also look around your own home - are you using plastics, artificially preserved foods and skin/hair/nail preparations with unrecognizable ingredients?  You’re exposing your body to chemical pollutants that can trigger hyper-pigmentation (as well as cause other issues within your body).


Blue light exposure and hyperpigmentation

Based on new research findings, I started asking clients this year how much time they spend on their cell phones and other electronic devices.  Wow, was I surprised, and so were some of my clients.

I also had to look at my own usage of computers and cell phones.  This is because blue light from electronics produces UV radiation - and many of us are exposed to a lot of UV radiation through our devices.  You would think as an esthetician I have almost no exposure in work to UV radiation from electronics.  It isn’t the case, since I keep all client treatment notes electronically. 

Lighting also produces UV radiation, however LED and incandescent bulbs produce very little.  Fluorescent lighting emits a greater amount, which increases your exposure to UV radiation.  This answers the question from my clients about wearing spf indoors - yes, its wise to wear spf indoors.

 

What you can do

There are a few things you can do to start addressing existing hyper-pigmentation and to lessen the risks of more.

  • wear a non-chemical spf of 30; apply it every 2 hours and after sweating or swimming.  It is also helpful to invest in a wide brimmed hat and sunglasses.  These can be worn while out and about, but add a flow-y coverup for when you head to the beach.  There are even companies that make UV clothing that are even better than a regular hat and coverup.
  • cut down on your use of exfoliants like acids, scrubs or mechanical devices.  It is especially important to use proper moisture and spf after exfoliation.  Alternatively, you can exfoliate at night.
  • add potent antioxidants to your skin care routine to fight the effects of pollution.  A diet rich in organic fruits and vegetables is also full of fresh, non-chemical antioxidants.
  • limit your use of electronics.  Most phones are equipped with voice activated systems, which means you can send texts and email by using your voice.  You can also have some systems (like Siri) run searches for you.  Audio books, music and podcasts are available which will save screen time.  And please, don’t take your phone to bed! 
  • If you are currently affected by hyper-pigmentation, see your esthetician for treatments that can help.  Some treatments can be given during summer like the Oxygen Dome, Oxygen Mist, LED therapy and alginate masks with specialized serums.  Others, like Microdermabrasion, Peels, Dermaplaning, may need to wait til your beach days are over for the year.  Your esthetician will assess what is prudent, so make sure you discuss your lifestyle factors so she or he can strategize with you the best course of action.  Home care is a necessary part of working with hyper-pigmentation, so follow the home care plan your esthetician provides for best results.
  • Be realistic.  The hyper-pigmentation you see is not just sitting on the top of your skin; it is in deeper layers, especially if you regularly expose your skin to hyper-pigmentation promoters.  This means that treatments are done in series and can take many months.  Some spots are too deep in the dermis to realistically come to the surface to be neutralized or exfoliated away.  Also, since the damage is almost always at deeper levels, it can be reactivated when the skin is in contact with hyper-pigmentation promoters.  For example, you may tame hyper-pigmentation caused by melasma, then start using chemical exfoliators or get a sunburn and the hyper-pigmentation returns - sometimes worse than before.  This means you’ll need to wear your spf, limit exposure to risks and work with your esthetician to deal with what comes up.

So enjoy your summer, be sun safe, and visit me when you'd like to address hyper-pigmentation.

Regards from your esthetician,

Joanna Tringali

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