Skin Lightening 101
Flawless, porcelain skin and a bright complexion clear of blemishes or brown spots: for most of us, it’s a pipe dream. We all have spots we’d like to improve upon, whether they are freckles, age spots or other forms of hyperpigmentation such as melasma.
Before learning different ways to lessen or eliminate skin blemishes, it is important to understand what they are and what causes them.
Freckles are extremely common — more so in the summer and on individuals with fairer skin — and can be caused by numerous different factors, including genetics, disorders marked by an extreme sensitivity to sunlight or sun exposure. They are generally small brown spots and are most commonly found on the face, neck, back and arms. Freckles themselves are usually harmless, although people who freckle easily may have a higher risk for skin cancer.
Age spots, sometimes called liver spots, are caused by long-term unprotected exposure to the sun, which causes changes in the color of the pigment in the skin. They are most frequently found on the hands and forearms. Age spots are not dangerous and have nothing to do with the liver, nor do they indicate disease.
Hyperpigmentation is a darkening of the skin due to a change in melanin, which is what causes the color of a person’s skin, also called pigmentation. It can be caused by disease, but most women become familiar with hyperpigmentation during pregnancy or during the use of oral contraceptives, when hormonal changes can affect the melanin. This form of hyperpigmentation is called melasma, or “the mask of pregnancy” and often occurs on the cheeks, upper lips, forehead and nose. Although it is a hormonal condition, melasma can be exacerbated by the sun, and it often goes away after pregnancy or after the cessation of oral contraceptive use.
While none of these conditions are in and of themselves dangerous, there are many other more serious skin conditions that often can be mistaken for these innocent blemishes. For this reason, it is extremely important to consult with a dermatologist before embarking on any skin lightening regiment so that he or she can confirm that the spots you are trying to fade are not an indicator of a more critical situation. In addition, pregnant women should see their doctor before doing any skin lightening, as many of the active ingredients in skin lightening products may not be safe to use during pregnancy.
The easiest way to prevent or lessen the risk of freckles, age spots and/or hyperpigmentation is to use a sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or higher at all times.
Dermalogica has several products that make using sunscreen a great deal easier. Their Solar Defense Booster SPF 30 can be used alone or mixed with your favorite moisturizer or foundation to increase its protection factor. Keep a few Full Spectrum Wipes SPF 15 in your purse, makeup bag, car, computer bag and desk — anywhere you may need a sunscreen touchup. These individually sealed towelettes are an easy way to refresh your SPF quickly and without the mess.
Dr. Brandt has created a quick-absorbing, no-shine moisturizer with an SPF of 30 and active UVA/UVB protection. Daily UV Protection SPF 30 – Face comes in a colorless version, as well as light bronze and medium bronze formulas for those who want to maintain a sun-kissed glow.
If you already are seeing signs of freckles, age spots and/or melasma, take heart. There are numerous at-home treatments out there that can reduce the appearance of these blemishes.
Fade Away Gel by Cellex-C is an oil-free gel that uses only natural chemicals to greatly reduce the appearance of age and sun spots, and can be used by individuals with all but the most sensitive skin types.
Exuviance Intense Lightening Complex Skin Lightener Gel Pigment/Age Control is a professional-strength skin lightening gel containing 2% hydroquinone, one of the most recommended and effective skin lightening agents. When used in a regimen with sunscreen, the gel gradually lightens freckles, age spots and melasma.
Peter Thomas Roth AHA/Kojic Under Eye Brightener includes lactic acid, kojic acid, azelaic acid, ceramides, liposomes and antioxidant micellized vitamins A & E to clarify the skin. This treatment reduces the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles, age spots, uneven skin tone and other signs of aging.
A few tips for at-home skin lightening:
1. These treatments dramatically increase the skin’s susceptibility to sun damage, so always use a sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher; some dermatologists even recommend an SPF of 30 or higher.
Article posted 11/13/2006.