Had a little too much fun in the sun and suffering with patchy and uneven skin tone? This is hyperpigmentation, it's the blotchy, dark patches on your skin caused by an over-production of melanin and unfortunately nothing will age you quicker.
But you are not alone! It's a common problem, especially for Australian women. While hormones, medication, skin scarring and pregnancy can all play a part; one of the main causes of pigmentation is sun exposure.
Now that Summer is over and the damage has been done, what can be done to fix it?
We had a chat to Australian Skin Clinics' National Training Manager, Darlene O'Gara, to find out exactly what we can do to treat pigmentation and look after our skin.
But first - What is hyperpigmentation and skin spots?
Hyperpigmentation occurs when the melanocytes in the deeper layers of the skin produce a skin-darkening pigment known as melanin. If melanin is over-produced, it may result in darker skin patches appearing on the skin's surface. "It's one of the most common skin conditions and can be difficult to treat. Hyperpigmentation occurs when you get an increase in melanin – the natural substance that is designed to protect your cells and gives your skin its colour," said Miss O'Gara.
There are two common causes of pigmentation.
"Sun induced pigmentation is caused when UV rays stimulate your pigment cells, called melanocytes, to manufacture melanin. This gives you a tan but can also cause those dreaded, irregular dark patches.
"It's commonly treated with topical creams, the most popular of which is hydroquinone. Such creams can be harsh and can even make the problem worse, so more natural, plant-based products are a better alternative to lighten patchy skin."
The second cause of hyperpigmentation is hormonally induced, often referred to as melasma. This tends to appear in defined patches on your face – often your cheeks – and appears on both sides (bi-lateral). This is often called 'pregnancy mask' as it is commonly triggered during pregnancy.
What can we do to fix it?
"When treating hyperpigmentation at home, we recommend you use products with effective pigment inhibitors. Products with ingredients such as vitamin C, retinoids and alpha hydroxy acids are known to be effective," said Miss O'Gara.
"These will help lighten dark marks, brighten dull skin and exfoliate dead skin cells to reveal a brighter, fresher complexion. We recommend Balense Illuminate Brightening Serum, which contains liquorice root (to slow down pigment production) and exfoliating enzymes to brighten the skin and increase cell renewal."
On a clinical level Miss O'Gara said there are several treatments that can assist with hyperpigmentation.
"There are many Australian celebrities out there, like Zoe Foster Blake and Lara Worthington, who swear by advanced medi-aesthetic treatments such as skin peels to help with their hyperpigmentation, and for good reason," said Miss O'Gara.
Laser rejuvenation treatments and micro-needling also offer some of the most effective ways to diminish imperfections such as hyperpigmentation, broken blood vessels and general redness.
"Micro-needling is a great treatment for stimulating the deeper layers of the skin with vibration-free micro needles, working to rebuild and restore the skin by reducing wrinkles and fine lines, and evening the texture and tone of the skin," said Miss O'Gara.
As you can see, there are plenty of viable treatment options – but it's always best to check with your dermal technician what will work best for you.
"Tailored treatments directly suited to your skin's needs provide the pathway to healthy, maintained skin and diminish the signs of hyperpigmentation," said Miss O'Gara.
For more information on Australian Skin Clinics' and their treatments, visit www.australianskinclinics.com.au
Question: What is the cause of pigmentation?
Darlene O'Gara: Hyperpigmentation is a common and usually harmless skin condition that occurs when there's an excess production of melanin in the body; a pigment which gives the skin colour. As a result, darker patches or spots can form on the skin, causing discolouration and often leaving many feeling self-conscious. It can be caused by photo-damage (UV), inflammation, hormonal factors or other skin conditions such as severe acne. With many Australians spending our summer's out and about, hyperpigmentation from sun exposure is common, with sunspots appearing on unprotected areas like the shoulders, hands, feet and face.
Question: How does the sun cause pigmentation?
Darlene O'Gara: As much as we all love the sun, it can be one of our skin's biggest foes. The sun's rays cause free radical damage, which wreaks havoc on the skin; breaking down foundational proteins like collagen and damaging cellular DNA, causing the skin to age prematurely. Over time, as we expose ourselves to the sun, our skin senses a type of external aggression and extra melanin (or pigmentation) is produced as a first line of defense. The melanin or pigmentation then travels into the skin cells and sit on top of our cellular DNA to create a physical barrier of protection.
When we are younger, the physical effects of pigmentation can take form as freckles, which eventually fade. Unfortunately, as we age, our skin becomes more stubborn and loses the efficiency to restore itself, and we can notice discolouration in the skin after a sun-filled summer.
Question: How can we avoid getting pigmentation on our face and body?
Darlene O'Gara: Resorting back to the 'slip, slop, slap' method is always a useful way to avoid any unwanted skin pigmentation. It's essential to apply a broad-spectrum sun protectant that's SPF 30 or above to not only to prevent hyperpigmentation but also protect our skin if we are treating our skin with laser therapies or chemical peels.
Avoiding hyperpigmentation begins in the home, have an effective skincare routine involving skincare actives like vitamin c, niacinamide and retinol as your first line of defense to keep the skin light and bright.
Question: How can we treat pigmentation on the face, shoulders, and hands?
Darlene O'Gara: Firstly, treating hyperpigmentation takes patience. Just as our skin has taken time to build up discolouration in the skin, it will also take time to treat. With our outer layer of skin shedding every 2-4 weeks, most products and treatments will take at least 4-8 weeks to see results.
Hyperpigmentation on the face, shoulders, and hands can all be treated in the same way, at home and in-clinic. While having an at-home skincare routine will help improve skin texture, in-clinic treatments can take it one step further, improving the skin more quickly. Treatments like laser therapy can particularly target and reduce pigmentation, where chemical peels, micro needling, and microdermabrasion are other great ways to buff away the top layer of skin, revealing new and less pigmented layers underneath.
Question: Is it possible to treat pigmentation at home, too?
Darlene O'Gara: It's essential to have a detailed consultation with a qualified skin therapist to first recognise what the potential triggers of your hyperpigmentation are to determine a realistic treatment plan, which will include an at home routine. The daily application of pigment inhibitors will slow the production of the melanin, sunscreen SPF50+ must be applied to protect the skin from further stimulation of pigmentation and weekly exfoliation will remove the darkened cells.
Question: Will treating the pigmentation heal the skin damage?
Darlene O'Gara: At Australian Skin Clinics we treat hyperpigmentation cosmetically, which can help to reduce the appearance of the condition but does not address possible cell damage. In combination with your regular treatments, we also recommend an annual medical skin check with your dermatologist.
Question: What other treatments should Australian women investigate this Winter?
Darlene O'Gara: Australian Skin Clinics has a range of treatments that are perfect for the wintertime. Investing in a medi-aesthetic peel, or High Performance microdermabrasion are fantastic for those with dry skin types or hyperpigmentation, as the chemical exfoliants used in the treatments help remove any build-up of dead skin cells which usually occur in the colder months.
Question: What's next for Australian Skin Clinics'?
Darlene O'Gara: Australian Skin Clinics continue to remain at the forefront of medi-aesthetic treatments, with our National Product Development team constantly testing and trialing the latest treatments and products that come to market. We're always keeping abreast of the current trends both here in Australia and abroad – you'll just have to stay tuned to find out what hot treatments will land next!
Interview by Brooke Hunter