Dullness and uneven skin tone can affect anyone – whether you’re a 20-something sun bunny with freckles, a participant in outdoor sports or work with darkened hands, entering middle age and seeing age spots, or you’ve been through a pregnancy and struggle with sudden new dark patches across your face,
The causes of these issues come with different names – freckles, post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (aka. PIH), and melasma. But often these seemingly separate issues are caused by the same underlying skin function – pigmentation.
What they all have in common is an excess of melanin in the skin as compared to your ‘usual’ skin tone. When this happens in patches it can give the appearance of a blemished or textured skin (even though I personally love freckles and wish I had more!).
If you struggle with confidence in your skin because of a pigmentation-related issue, you should seek to reduce your underlying pigmentation to achieve a more even and clear complexion.
To do so, you’ll need a lot of patience – pigmentation issues can be reverse in many cases, but it takes time. It took time to accumulate the excess pigment, and it’ll take time to fade it too! Thankfully, you can have some say over the process and nudge your skin in the right direction by using these ingredients below:
Vitamin C, in many of its forms (hint: look for ‘ascorb-‘ to find the vitamin C derivative) is currently considered the pinnacle of anti-ageing. It’s a potent antioxidant that can prevent sun damage and trigger the growth of healthier skin. But it has the added benefit of being a fantastic pigmentation treatment, restoring your melanin levels back to their natural state when used in conjunction with sunscreen. Vitamin C interrupts the creation of new melanin, preventing worsening of the condition and allowing the skin to fade back to a baseline level of pigment. Read more about the science of Vitamin C and our bodies here.
Vitamin C is unfortunately highly unstable by nature, reacting poorly to both light and water. So while there are a lot of Vitamin C products on the market, only a few are designed so as to be maximally effective:
My personal favourite and current Vitamin C serum is the cheap and simple The Ordinary Ethylated Ascorbic Acid 15% Solution.
Pairing Vitamin C with Ferulic Acid is a surefire way to increase its potency and stability, as in Mad Hippie Vitamin C Serum with Konjac Root, Hyaluronic Acid, and Ferulic Acid.
If you’re looking to splash out and get a luxurious, highly effective product with wonderful ingredients, look no further than the coveted Drunk Elephant C-Firma Day Serum with 15% Ascorbic Acid.
It’s not only effective for treating rosacea, acne and UV-triggered free radical damage, but azelaic acid has shown promise in lightening melasma and hyperpigmentation as well, without the risks that come along with hydroquinone, especially on darker skin tones (read more here). Unfortunately, it’s currently very difficult to source in large enough concentrations in the United States. You can however get Finacea prescription gel 15% from a dermatologist.
As always, The Ordinary is to the rescue with a simple and affordable product that won’t irritate your skin with unnecessary ingredients, in The Ordinary Azelaic Acid Suspension 10%.
Consider hydroquinone the big guns when it comes to reversing severe pigmentation issues. This ingredient will actually reduce the amount of melanin your skin is capable of producing. Over time, it can ‘bleach’ the skin even beyond natural levels, so it’s something to treat very seriously. Apply only to pigmented areas and not on unaffected skin. For large and deep areas of hyperpigmentation where you think the use of hydroquinone is necessary, though there are products on the market with this ingredient, you ought to see a dermatologist and receive specialist advice, care and products.
With all the above treatments, and anything else targeting pigmentation, there is one thing you can’t skip: sunscreen. Without sunscreen, you will see no progress as the excess pigmentation darkens exponentially faster in UV presence. You will undo all your hard work, and then some. So do yourself a favour and pair these ingredients with liberal every day application of an appropriately high-SPF sunscreen, such as the lightweight Missha All Aound Safe Block or the mattifying Biore UV Milk (my personal favourites).