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The Problem with Pigmentation

The Problem with Pigmentation

Pigmentation is a hot topic right now and I was recently interviewed by the Women's Weekly on my thoughts on the best ways to deal with it.

Putting it simply, fixing your pigmentation can knock a good 5-10 years off your skin age!

Maintaining an even skin tone is all about understanding how to prevent, protect, and perfect your skin. What you use on your skin every day is imperative, and as I’ve said before look for skincare with the right ingredients in the right concentrations for real results.

We will get into the nitty gritty for those skincare obsessives out there - covering everything from how much UV exposure will trigger pigmentation through to combination treatments and why I choose some ingredients over others.

1. How much sun exposure can cause pigmentation? Is it as little as an hour in the sun? 


You need very little UV exposure to get pigmentation, It is also the regularity of it over long periods of time. So 10 to 15 minutes a day without sun protection will ultimately lead to pigmentation and cause blotchy, uneven skin tone. This can make you look 10-15 years older than your biological years.

People also forget that sitting in the car is sun exposure and creates pigmentation. UVA penetrates glass and damages the skin. That is why people in Australia have worse sun damage on the right side of the face compared to our northern European and north American counterparts. This is often referred to as accumulative sun exposure/damage.

This is exactly why the Concentrated CC+ with SPF 30 is such an amazing weapon when it comes to cutting down that accumulative exposure. The zinc and titanium dioxide blocks UVA/UVB while the 5% B3 boosted formula stops pigmentation production whilst wearing it. It’s lightweight formulation and colour correcting particles means it can substitute as a skin perfector in place of a foundation, or even sit beneath it. 

Beyond sun protection, it is important to invest in the right ingredients in the right concentrations for real results. My go to for even skin tone and pigmentation prevention is B3, aka niacinamide. The best products will contain concentrations of 5-10%. This superstar vitamin readily not only prevents the pigmentation process but also stops oxidative damage from the sun. Check out my Concentrated Illuminator that not only contains 10% niacinamide plus 10% vitamin C, essential if you are serious about even skin tone. 

Discover more here.

2. You talk about infrared radiation contributing to pigmentation, how hot would it have to be for the skin to be damaged and is it long periods over time? 

First things first - Infrared energy is heat energy. It doesn’t have to be too hot but around the 28 degrees and higher. New research has shown that this heat energy can create pigmentation. Like I said before It’s why Bickram yoga is now thought to be a big culprit in creating pigmentation (read more here).

3. Why do you prefer lactic acid, mandelic and tartaric over glycolic or salicylic for pigmentation? 

Lactic is a far more gentle acid than glycolic, which has a higher risk of irritancy. Tartaric and mandelic have the added benefits of working on key pigment production pathways / enzymes. Lactic acid is also a humectant which means it hydrates and holds moisture into the skin.

Three of my products utilise these as key ingredients. They include the Concentrated Clarifier, Concentrated Micropeel and Concentrated Spot Destroyer. Each has a different concentration and combination of the acids, using alternative application methods to ensure you can tactically treat pigmentation as it appears. Learn more about the multiple benefits of AHAs & BHAs here.

4. What are your thoughts on Hydroquinone for pigmentation? What are the risks? 

 It is an excellent adjuvant treatment, for short periods of time. I frequently use it alongside a religious AM and PM routine that I have designed for my pigmentation patients.

 I use a 5% concentration during spring and summer then break in winter when there is less UV and heat.

 If used for excessive periods of time (like years with out a break), it can lead to a VERY RARE form of pigment in the skin called onchronosis. So it’s best to see your dermatologist to ensure you receive the right recommendations.

5. You mentioned it's good to have a combination of laser treatments. What types of lasers do you use and who do they suit best? For example, is IPL best for minor sun damage? 

 It depends on 2 key factors:

1. The diagnosis of the type of pigment we are dealing with. Is it a lentigo (large sun spot) a freckle, blotchy general sun pigment, seborrhoeic keratosis (AKA age spots) or melasma.

2. The second key factor is the skin type. Are you very pale skin, versus medium tanned skin, versus darker skin? Unlike skincare your treatment plan will change with laser based on your skin tone.

The darker skin types are more difficult to treat and require more careful consideration and gentler treatments. Often we will test patch areas before fully treating in these skin types. Dark skin tones will require more treatments, with lasers that are less “hot” on lower energy settings.

Combination therapy is usually required as MOST people have more than one type of pigmentation. What I see commonly is general background sun damage pigment, studded with larger lentigos (sunspots) and flat brown age spots.

The BBL / IPL is great to treat the general damage and background pigment. For flat age spots and larger sun spots, while a laser like the erbium laser which gently peels out the pigment one pass at a time.

The take away here, like I always say - see a specialist. The last thing you want is for an inexperienced practitioner to treat your pigmentation with the wrong laser or settings causing it to become worse. Even in good hands this can happen. At least with a specialist they can treat you if you get an issue.

6. Finally, how common is it for pigmentation to become worse after cosmetic treatments?

This is 10% of cases on average. Like I say above it depends on the operator, technology and the aftercare the patient follows. It is as vital for a patient to be complaint with after care as it is for the practitioner to perform the treatment correctly.

Variations in these factors can increase the risk considerably. I always advise it’s preferable to see a dermatologist as they are the best equipped to diagnose the pigmentation. The reason being is i’ve seen cases where laser is being done to pigmented lesions that are actually early melanoma.

If I am ever unsure of the nature of a lesion I do a biopsy before I commence treatment. Years of experience with diagnosing sun damaged skin is important if you are to treat safely and effectively.

Want to learn more about pigmentation? If you missed the first part of this interview read it here. Otherwise discover my favourite products when it comes to maintain even skin tone below.

 Australian Dermatologist Dr Natasha Cook.

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