Pigment Erasers: Simple solutions that really work

Call it what you will–freckles, hyperpigmentation, age or sunspots–discoloration that appears on the surface of the skin stems from one thing and one thing only: an overproduction of melanin.

The sun, hormones and inflammation can all send your skin’s melanin production cycle into extreme overdrive, causing your complexion to be unevenly toned. But, there are ways to eliminate unwanted discoloration once and for all.

Why skin becomes discolored…

We all have melanin in our skin. But some of us have more of it than others. According to Beverley Hills, CA dermatologist Zein Obagi, MD, all skin types contain the same number of melanocyte cells, but the quantity and the type of melanin produce varies—darker skin generates more black-brown melanin pigment than lighter skin. “Melanin is produced by melanocytes as a way of protecting the skin from the sun, resulting in a darkening of the skin when it’s exposed to UV rays,” says New York dermatologist Julie Russak, MD. Regardless of skin color, the cause of  discoloration is the same: A trigger (sun or inflammation) sends a signal to melanin-stimulating hormones to activate the enzyme tyrosinase. After the enzyme has been “turned on,” the melanocytes produce pigment. Pigment containing cells are dispersed through certain areas of the skin. The end result: pin-size spots or patches of discolored skin that can be pink, red,  brown, or even black.

Q Will it fade away?

One common misconception about discolored skin is that it will fade away by itself. Some types of pigmentation, like those caused by acne, can lighten up over time (it may take a few months, if not longer.) But the majority of discoloration needs to be treated with high-powered active ingredients and in-office treatment to eradicate spots on the surface of the skin. How deep the discoloration goes into the skin will determine how long it will take to lighten up naturally. “Once your skin experiences pigmentation, you’ll always have a tendency for it to occur, especially with things like melasma,” says New York dermatologist Patricia Wexler, MD.

Treat it all at the doctor’s office

Intense Pulsed Light (IPL)
A popular choice for targeting sun-induced discoloration, IPL involves light-based energy pulsed into the skin while simultaneously targeting blood vessels. The light seeks out the discoloration in the skin to lift it up and out. Expect for the treated areas to turn dark and flake off in a few days. “We sometimes do an IPL treatment following two laser treatments to really clear up the skin,” says Dr. Wexler.

The best discoloration erasers

No matter which pigment-busting ingredient you choose to use, these have a proven track record.

Licorice extract
Good for: Sunspots and acne scars (and acne)
For more of a natural approach, consider licorice extract. “The main ingredient is licorice is glabridin, which inhibits tyrosinase activity to lighten discoloration,” says Dr. Wexler. Another benefit of licorice: It’s an anti-inflammatory, so any active breakouts will subside and your skin will be less susceptible to further pigmenting (inflammation is a precursor to discoloration).
Find it at: Sisley Paris Phyto Blanc Lightening Hydrating Emulsion $200, Sisley-paris.com
Perfect for acne-prone skin, this lightweight, mattifying hydrator gives skin a perfectly even glow, almost like it’s been airbrushed.

Source: New Beauty. Spring/Summer, 2016.