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Meet uneven skin tone: Our skin cells contain melanocyte cells, a cell that produces melanin, a chemical that gives skin its color. Too much melanin leads to hyper pigmented skin – including freckles, darkening of the skin in patches, and age spots. Hyper pigmentation can occur from over sun exposure, trauma to the skin (i.e. laser treatments, peels, etc.) or as a side effect of certain drugs. While hyperpigmentation is not a serious medical condition, it is one of the most common skin conditions and arguably the most difficult to treat and correct. We had a chance to sit down with Dr. G to better understand the root cause of hyperpigmentation and what we can do to prevent and treat this skin condition.

What is hyper pigmentation?

Hyperpigmentation is defined as any spot on your skin that’s dark enough to effectively stand out against the surrounding area. This phenomenon is usually the result of your skin’s efforts to protect itself from the harmful effects of ultraviolet light. It occurs when overexposure to sunlight causes the melanocytes in the deeper layers of your skin to produce cells that contain a skin-darkening pigment called melanin. These specialized cells known as melanosomes are picked up by your keratinocytes that are constantly migrating upwards toward your skin surface.

What causes hyper pigmentation?

Hyperpigmentation occurs when overexposure to sunlight causes the melanocytes in the deeper layers of your skin to produce cells that contain a skin-darkening pigment called melanin. These specialized cells known as melanosomes are picked up by your keratinocytes that are constantly migrating upwards toward your skin surface and cause the dark spots/areas. Hormones, birth control pills can also cause this and sunlight can increase the severity.

The different types of hyperpigmentation:

  • Age spots or sun spots (sun damage)
  • Melasma : caused by pregnancy, hormones and some birth control pills. Usually appears on the upper cheeks, forehead, upper lip, and nose. In severe cases during pregnancy melasma can appear as a mask, which is why it is sometimes referred to as “the mask of pregnancy”.
  • Post-inflammatory hyper pigmentationis usually temporary and can be caused by inflammatory acne, a severe burn or injury to the skin. While anyone can suffer from this, it is more common in dark skin types
  • Scarring : The difference between acne scars and hyperpigmentationcan be very difficult to differentiate. Acne scars can appear dark and be Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, which should go away (as it is temporary). However, if exposed to the sun then this may become long-term hyperpigmentation. General rule of thumb, if the acne mark or lesion is still visible after 6-12 months then it is considered a scar

Is there a difference between hyperpigmentation, sunspots and freckles?

All fall under the umbrella of Hyperpigmentation. Sun exposure has a lot to do with the darkness and severity. If you have freckles and have sun exposure the melanin will be activated and the freckle will be darker.

Who is prone to hyperpigmentation, such as different races or skin tones?

Darker skin types are more prone. All skin generally has the same amount of melanosomes, the difference in lighter skin and darker skin is the size. Darker skin has larger melanosomes (what contains/distributes the melanin) hence more susceptible to hyperpigmentation.

How to prevent hyperpigmentation?

Wear an SPF at all times when exposed to the sun. Wear sunglasses to protect the eyes and skin around them. Wearing sun protective clothing, long sleeves and a hat is also preventative.

How to treat and reduce the signs of hyperpigmentation?

Exfoliation can help the appearance as it removes dead, dry, dark skin cells fort he surface of the skin. Using proper actives to protect against sun damage and treat sun damage and dark spots. In office micro-dermabrasion treatments and laser treatments are beneficial as well.

What are the most effective ingredients people with hyperpigmentation should look for in daily skincare products?

Vitamin C, Glycolic Acid/Lactic, Alpha Arbutin, and Kojic Acid.

Is there a difference between sun spots and hyper pigmentation?

Sun spots/sun damage is hyperpigmentation. Hyperpigmentation is defined as any spot on your skin that’s dark enough to effectively stand out against the surrounding area. This phenomenon is usually the result of your skin’s efforts to protect itself from the harmful effects of ultraviolet light. It occurs when overexposure to sunlight causes the melanocytes in the deeper layers of your skin to produce cells that contain a skin-darkening pigment called melanin. These specialized cells known as melanosomes are picked up by your keratinocytes that are constantly migrating upwards toward your skin surface. The different types of hyperpigmentation are sun spots (sun damage), melasma (hormonally triggered), scarring and post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation.

Do the best treatments for pigmentation on your face differ to those for your body?

Facial skin is more delicate than the body and therefore. Treatment for the body and face could be the same in some instances. Although the facial skin is more delicate, there are wonderful topical treatments as well as in-office procedures (microdermabrasion, peels and lasers). Rules to follow on the face and body areWear an SPF at all times, exfoliation (can help the appearance as it removes dead, dry, dark skin cells fort he surface of the skin), use of proper actives (Vitamin C) to protect against sun damage/dark spots.

Is there a part of the body/face that’s more prone to pigmentation?

The face is extremely prone to hyperpigmentation and particularly melasma. Melasma is caused by hormones, birth control pills, pregnancy, peri-menopause and menopause. Exposure to sunlight makes melisma darker and more difficult to get rid of.  Facial skin is delicate and needs to be protected properly. The neck and chest areas are also prone to hyperpigmentation as they’re not always properly protected and also very delicate. Always wear SPF and tops that cover the chest area when in sunlight.

Hyper-pigmentation is one of the most common complaints from women. Did you know that it is not only caused and activated by the sun but also by heat? This alarming truth is one of the reasons hyper-pigmentation and dark spots are so stubborn and challenging to get rid of.

So what actually happens?

Patches of skin become darker in color due to excessive melanin, the pigment that produces skin color. Types of hyperpigmentation include sunspots, which result from cumulative sun exposure; melasma, which arises primarily in women due to hormonal causes; and post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, which arises from an injury or insult to the skin. While these conditions are conventionally treated with toxic topical agents such as hydroquinone, natural agents may also be helpful in managing them.

“Plant-derived agents such as alpha arbutin, kojic acid and birds of paradise have been found to be beneficial in lightening the appearance of the skin and evening its coloration,” says Dr. G!

Heat is also a culprit! Heat whether outside or inside increases vasodilation, which is the dilation or widening of blood vessels. This causes more redness to appear, particularly in areas of melasma. Heat can also lead to inflammation and stimulate melanocyte pigment production. While UV sources like the sun are defiantly enemy number one, there are many other triggers. Hyper-pigmentation can occur from heat sources like overhead LED lights, a BBQ grill, a hairdryer or the temperature in a hot yoga class. Wearing an SPF daily along with an environmental anti-pollution serum and dark spot corrective treatment will help combat many of these.

How to properly protect and treat:

The Best Thing You Can Do For Your Skin: The process of exfoliation is a lot like peeling away the dry, outer skin of an onion to reveal the living layers beneath. Whether the exfoliation is done using mechanical abrasion or a controlled chemical reaction, removing dead and damaged skin cells on the surface allows the fresh new skin underneath to become visible. This newly exposed layer of skin feels much softer and smoother. Its surface reflects light better, making fine lines and other small imperfections harder to see. Age spots and other areas of unwanted pigmentation are less noticeable because the dead skin cells containing the pigment have been removed. Exfoliation unplugs clogged pores and allows for the release of natural skin oils. Regular exfoliation also helps to maintain open pores, decreases pore size, and minimizes many types of superficial scarring. In addition, removing the top layer of dead and damaged cells allows other health-promoting agents such as moisturizers, antioxidants, and collagen-boosting ingredients to better penetrate the skin and work more effectively.

As a bodyguard:

Not only does your skin shield your insides from ultraviolet radiation and other forms of physical damage, it also carries a powerful defense system that seeks out and destroys any foreign invaders that manage to get through. When you consider that every square inch of your skin can be covered with millions of micro-organisms, you can understand how vital this is.

Look at your skin as “in defense” during the day. Integrate antioxidants into your AM regimen.

The nutrient, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of the polyphenols found in antioxidants that span across tea, fruit, plant derivatives, have been scientifically proven to combat the effects of photo-aging.  Cumulative exposure to the ultraviolet rays of the sun produces free radicals that can damage the sensitive lipids, proteins and DNA in your skin cells. This UV-induced damage to your skin can result in gradual loss of tone, wrinkling, discoloration, increased redness, and even cancer. Topical treatment with antioxidants has been shown to help prevent the DNA damage that leads to skin cancer and to support the general health and long-lasting beauty of your skin.

Dr. Goldfaden’s advanced brightening and antioxidant serum help aid against the appearance of photoaging and free radical damage while leaving skin feeling hydrated and looking radiant. Stay protected.

Don’t forget SPF. Here are some of our clean favorites from Credo Beauty. 

Inside the nucleus of every cell, from skin cells to brain cells, there are tiny organelles called mitochondria. These are the essential powerhouses that produce the energy needed for normal cell function and survival. The decline of mitochondrial function caused by free radical damage is often associated with aging. Antioxidants that has been proven to fight the effects of aging and provide essential protection to our complexion. We had a chance to get the 411 from Dr. G on how and why it’s so important to incorporate anti-oxidants into our diet and skincare regimen.

What are the benefits of antioxidants? 

Antioxidants come in many different shapes and sizes, including foods, topical plant derived antioxidant actives, to name a few, but the quality they all share is that they are able to neutralize free radicals, preventing them from damaging the body – both internally and externally. Free radical formation is normal. Plants, animals, and humans produce free radicals all of the time. Our bodies have defenses against free radicals, but when the strength of these defenses are outweighed by the amount of free radicals themselves, they can cause lasting harm, and even cell death. That’s why incorporating anti-oxidants into both your skincare and foods are crucial for obtaining a youthful existence.

Why are they essential for skincare? 

Research has been substantiating the benefits of super potent antioxidants for a long time and they are absolutely essential for the skin for both the protecting and nourishing skin properties that they contain.

Antioxidants not only help combat and protect the skin from the toxic elements that are the leading cause for the visible signs of aging (photo-aging, sagging, loss of elasticity), but anti-oxidants in all forms also contain various enzymes, nutrients and vitamins that can help to revitalize the skins texture and tone and also calm irritated skin.

Can antioxidants in food have a similar effect on your skin that skincare has? 

Overall wellness and healthy-looking skin certainly requires more than just incorporating topical treatments. So much of what we see on the outside (in terms of a healthy-looking complexion), is a result of how healthy we are internally.

In the same way that anti-oxidants help to fight free radical damage to our skin cells caused by environmental stresses on the skin, ingesting anti-oxidants (*mostly come from fresh fruits and vegetables) they help prohibit and also prevent the oxidation of harmful molecules that can form in the body. If free radicals are left to roam freely within the body, it can lead to a wide range of illnesses.

What are the best sources of antioxidants in food? 

Fruits, vegetables, seeds, tea, and legumes.

We see free-radicals thrown around as a buzzword, what are they and why are they harmful? 

Cumulative exposure to toxins in the form of ultraviolet rays of the sun, pollution and environmental stresses (smoke, UVA/UVB rays, pollution, etc.) produces free radicals that can damage the sensitive lipids, proteins and DNA in your skin cells. This environmental-induced damage to your skin can result in gradual loss of tone, wrinkling, discoloration, increased redness, and even cancer. Topical treatment with green tea polyphenols has been shown to help prevent the DNA damage that leads to skin cancer and to support the general health and long-lasting beauty of your skin.

What are your favorite sources of antioxidants and why?

Fruits and vegetables of course, but uniquely, Red tea (also known as Roobis) contains some of the most potent natural antioxidants known for protecting your skin from the free radical damage that can cause aging. These include vitamins C,E and beta-carotene. Red tea is known to possess 50 times the antioxidant capacity of green tea due to a high concentration of a special enzyme called superoxide dismutase(SOD for short), a major scavenger of free radicals. The combination of these natural vitamins and enzymes found in red tea aids in promoting new skin health after the removal of dead and damaged cells, giving your skin a smoother, brighter, and healthier appearance. In addition, red tea also contains a number of powerful polyphenolsand flavonoidsthat help heal and rejuvenate the skin.