August 28, 2021
“I love dark spots” said no-one ever! Hyperpigmentation is a big skin enemy of mine and can be incredibly frustrating to deal with because it can take a long time to fade and requires you to commit to a very diligent skincare regimen.
Hyperpigmentation from sun damage is most likely from not putting on proper sun protection in your youthful days. EEK! But now, armed with what I know on this frustrating skin topic, here I share with you our top ingredients to help you tackle dark spots so you are on your way to clear, glowing skin!
What is hyperpigmentation? Is it the same as Melasma?
Hyperpigmentation, also known as sun spots, dark spots, age spots and brown spots, occurs when there is an excess of melanin pigments on your skin. The most common cause is sun damage with other reasons being due to hormones, trauma to your skin, medications and even your skin type.
Melasma also refers to dark spots and a form of hyperpigmentation that has resulted from hormonal changes. Melasma can be more difficult to treat wit better results from a more intense skincare regimen.
However, all below ingredients have their place in any skincare routine to defend and fight against dark spots - especially SPF sunscreen because UV rays are also responsible for making hyperpigmentation and Melasma worse!
How do I treat dark spots and hyperpigmentation?
1. Look for ingredients that:
(a) Inhibit tyrosinase which suppress and slow down the process of melanin production by blocking the tyrosinase enzyme - the rate at which melanocytes (evil dark spot producing creatures) make melanin (dark pigment) on your skin.
As hyperpigmentation can be the result of your skin's defence mechanism against damage, targeting this 'tyrosinase' enzyme can help suppress and slow down the process of melanin production to keep skin even toned and clear. Eg. Hydroquinone, Resorcinol, kojic acid, Licorice Root extract etc.
(b) Inhibit the melanosome transfer by reducing the transfer of melanin from melanocytes to keratinocytes on your skin. Eg. Niacinamide and soybean.
(c) Shed the outer layer of skin and speed skin cell turnover to reduce overall melanin content on skin. Eg. Retinoids, retinols, bakuchiol, salicylic acid and glycolic acid,
(d) Have potent antioxidant activity to neutralise free radicals on your skin like sun damage which is the most common reason for dark spots. Eg. Vitamin C, Vitamin B3 (Niacinamide).
What ingredients should I look for?
Below are 5 powerful, research-supported ingredients known to tackle dark spots at either the tyrosinase stage or melanosome transfer stage to help keep your skin clear and brighter looking.
1. Hydroquinone and Resorcinol
Hydroquinone is one of the most popular, golden leading treatments for lightening skin and targeting hyperpigmentation. It is a highly effective tyrosinase inhibitor ingredient however its long term use is widely debated because it can be highly irritating and cause skin dryness.
It is recommended for use at intervals of 3-4 months or shorter. It is not suited for dry and sensitive skin concerns. Be wary though if you have a darker skin tone that is richer in melanin because hydroquinone has been known to actually make dark spots more visible (see below notes on Azelaic Acid instead)
A skin lightening ingredient that compares with hydroquinone is 4-n-Butylresorcinol. This ingredient is a resorcinol derivative that was first reported in 1995 and since researched to be a highly effective tyrosinase inhibitor ingredient. Studies show 4-n-Butylresorcinol exceeds the potency of hydroquinone, arbutin and kojic acid in safe concentrations of 0.1% to 0.3%.
2. Kojic Acid
Often formulated in combination with hydroquinone and glycolic acid, Kojic Acid is another tyrosinase inhibitor that lightens skin tone. It works as an antioxidant with some anti-inflammatory properties on skin however can cause local irritation and contact dermatitis because it is a sensitising ingredient.
3. Azelaic Acid for both Acne and Hyperpigmentation
Seen in formulations of 15%-20%, Azelaic acid is a naturally occurring acid derived from wheat, rye, and barley that helps skin renew. It targets the bacteria that causes acne and rosacea as well as fading hyperpigmentation, making this ideal for anyone who has post inflammatory hyperpigmentation caused by acne.
4. Vitamin C - the ultimate antioxidant for hyperpigmentation
Vitamin C is a potent antioxidant that has tyrosinase inhibiting properties. It not only helps lighten and fade existing pigmentation, it helps prevents hyperpigmentation by neutralising free radical damage from UV exposure to keep skin brighter and even toned.
Vitamin C is also known to help stimulate collagen production making it an impressive ingredient providing overall skin benefits that go beyond fading dark spots!
L-Ascorbic acid form is the most common form of Vitamin C often found in skincare products, however can be highly unstable and oxidise quickly so we recommend THD Ascorbate form or Ascorbyl Tetraisopalmitate form (as I wrote here in this post!) for more efficacy and stability in your skincare regimen.
5. Licorice Root - a powerful plant-based tyrosinase inhibitor
Licorice Root is an effective plant-based tyrosinase inhibitor - it is an effective skin brightening ingredient that targets dark spots thanks to its glycyrrhizin and glabridin properties that delivers antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits.
By fighting free radical exposure and inhibiting melanin production at the source, Licorice Root helps to fight existing dark spots and protect skin after UV damage to prevent dark spots forming.
It is an incredibly soothing ingredient for atopic dermatitis, rosacea and psoriasis as well as skin that has excess melanin production caused by inflammation.
6. Niacinamide to brighten and improve skin barrier
Niacinamide, also known as Vitamin B3 and nicotinamide is an effective skin lightening ingredient that works instead of inhibiting tyrosinase, but by inhibiting melanosome transfer. Niacinamide is an impressive ingredient that not only brightens skin tone, but is very safe and soothing for everyday use. It helps fade hyperpigmentation, regulate oil production and strengthens your skin barrier at the same time with studies showing it is beneficial for all skin concerns. The benefits of this ingredient are backed by many studies which show that 5% niacinamide can help block the enzyme responsible for producing melanin to reduce appearance of dark spots and even out skin tone. You can find 5% niacinamide packed in our Clearing Rescue Serum!
LASTLY PROTECT AND PREVENT WITH SUNSCREEN AND ANTIOXIDANTS ON YOUR SKIN ALL DAY LONG
To protect and prevent new spots from forming, apply an antioxidant (like Vitamin C) on your skin daily to neutralise spot-causing free radicals. Double up with the most important application - SPF 30+ SUNSCREEN and ensure it's on your skin all day long. Without sunscreen, all the products you’re applying on your skin are going to waste.
Zolghadri S, Bahrami A, Hassan Khan MT, Munoz-Munoz J, Garcia-Molina F, Garcia-Canovas F, Saboury AA. A comprehensive review on tyrosinase inhibitors. J Enzyme Inhib Med Chem. 2019 Dec;34(1):279-309. doi: 10.1080/14756366.2018.1545767. PMID: 30734608; PMCID: PMC6327992.
Kolbe L, Mann T, Gerwat W, Batzer J, Ahlheit S, Scherner C, Wenck H, Stäb F. 4-n-butylresorcinol, a highly effective tyrosinase inhibitor for the topical treatment of hyperpigmentation. J Eur Acad Dermatol Venereol. 2013 Jan;27 Suppl 1:19-23. doi: 10.1111/jdv.12051. PMID: 23205541.
Huh SY, Shin JW, Na JI, Huh CH, Youn SW, Park KC. The Efficacy and Safety of 4-n-butylresorcinol 0.1% Cream for the Treatment of Melasma: A Randomized Controlled Split-face Trial. Ann Dermatol. 2010 Feb;22(1):21-5. doi: 10.5021/ad.2010.22.1.21. Epub 2010 Feb 28. PMID: 20548876; PMCID: PMC2883392.
Kaliterna D (2017) Melasma Review of current treatment modalities and efficacy assessment of a new resorcinol-based topical formulation. Glob Dermatol 4: DOI: 10.15761/GOD.1000212
Hakozaki T, Minwalla L, Zhuang J, Chhoa M, Matsubara A, Miyamoto K, Greatens A, Hillebrand GG, Bissett DL, Boissy RE. The effect of niacinamide on reducing cutaneous pigmentation and suppression of melanosome transfer. Br J Dermatol. 2002 Jul;147(1):20-31. doi: 10.1046/j.1365-2133.2002.04834.x. PMID: 12100180.
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