[By Carol Hoo]

Having a clear complexion is the gold standard of beauty across all age groups and ethnicities. Even when a face is lined with wrinkles with the passage of time, one will look much better if spared of the dark spots and pigmented patches that come with aging. Unfortunately, as difficult as it is for “a leopard to change its spots”, pigmentation is equally notorious to treat. Consequently, there are two key actives required for managing hyperpigmentation — patience and diligence. A third requirement is perhaps to have realistic expectations.Before we talk about treatment, you need to appreciate that hyperpigmentation is stubborn. It has taken years, probably most of your adult life to form, worsened by elements such as sun exposure and changes in your hormonal (estrogen and progesterone) level. The absolute number of pigment producing cells known as melanocytes might have decreased with age but what’s remaining show an increased in size, leading to more melanin production and deposition in the outer layers of the skin. Freckles, for example, are red or light brownish spots particularly common in fair skinned individuals due to hyperactive melanocytes that start in infancy. With age and UV exposure, it’s not uncommon for them to turn darker or increase in number. They might look adorable and earn you the nickname of Strawberry Shortcake but that’s when you were 14 and not 40. Melasma is a common pigmentation problem that affects Asian skin and is caused by genetics, hormonal disharmony and UV exposure. It usually appears as brownish or grayish patches over the cheeks, at times also affecting the forehead, temples and nasal bridge. Melasma tend to affect women more than men and can be aggravated during pregnancy and with the use of oral contraceptives.

Judging from the plethora of whitening products and services available in the market to aid us in our quest for a spot-free visage, it’s not difficult to realize there’s no single magic cream in the jar to help erase our spotty woes. One should take note that at best, a regimen, rather than a single product application, will produce better and more lasting results. To simplify matters, ReadySetBeauty broke this down to 4 main components, to tackle pigmentation for a clearer complexion.

Exfoliate Away

Melasma can occur in many different layers of the skin. Most of the time this is located in the epidermis which is the layer above the bottom layer of skin cells where the stem cells reside. There are times when the pigmentation gets deposited into the dermal layers, or the layers beneath the stem cells. With a Wood’s lamp, an experienced doctor will be able to tell if you have predominantly epidermal or dermal melasma or a mixed variant. Professional Chemical Peels made from fruit acids differ in the level that they penetrate and will work beautifully if the correct type is used, proving effective even on darker skinned individuals. For example, 10-20% tricholoroacetic acid peels (TCA) usually stay in the epidermis but if applied more times can go beneath the stem cell layer. 20-35% TCA peels tend to go a little deeper and can go below the stem cell layer and get some of the deeper pigmentation. One thing to remember is that the deeper you go the more time it takes to heal and the more risk.

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Shun the Sun

One can never over-emphasize on the need for adequate protection from the harmful rays of UV radiation. It is pertinent to wear a good sunblock on a DAILY basis, let alone after a chemical peel to protect the new skin from sun damage. Besides avoidance and sunblock, additional sun protection with a wide brim hat and parasol are recommended.  Sunscreen is incredibly vital for preventing rebound hyperpigmentation. It can also to some degree treat it, since the blockage of UV rays allows melanin to return to normal and damaged DNA to repair itself. Without using sunscreen,  you cannot use peels, AHAs or retinoids since these lightening products are photosensitive  and  cause the skin to be more prone to damage and darkening from the sun.

The SW1 UMBRELLA UV Protection & Light Diffusing Cream is a powerful 100% chemical and fragrance-free physical blocker that offers top notched sun protection, providing mega dose of SPF 70 with potent UV-shielding ingredients including Titanium Dioxide and Zinc Oxide, suspended in a blend of 3 antioxidant teas with an invisible shine-absorbing micro mesh of UV reflectors. A super lightweight and non-comedogenic formula that doesn’t clog pores, this soleil protecteur extraordinaire forms a breathable shield to safeguard you from both burn-causing UVB beams and wrinkle-inducing UVA rays. Added potent tea and botanical extracts provide extra perks of smoothening and brightening skins, giving complexions the desirable youthful glow along with excellent sun protection against pigmentary changes and other ill effects of UV exposure.

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Stop the Melanin

Melanogenesis or the production of melanocytes is a multi-step procedure that can be inhibited at different levels and this had led to a boom in cosmeceuticals over the years.  Hydroquinone is one of the earliest available bleaching agent and is effective in strength from 2 to 8%. It achieves this by being cytotoxic to melanocytes. As such, concerns about cancer were raised and had led to its restricted use in some European countries and Japan. In addition, rebound hyperpigmentation following monotherapy with Hydroquinone is also fairly common. Generally, these days, people tend to give it a miss if possible. The current trend is veered towards synthetic tyrosinase inhibitors and the natural varieties as both are considered safer alternatives to hydroquinone.Retinoids such as tretinoin and adapalene are derivatives of vitamin A. Besides accelerating epidermal cellular turnover, retinoids inhibit tyrosinase induction and interfere with pigment transfer. They also have the ability to disperse pigment granules within keratinocytes and may act as penetration enhancers when used with other lightening agents such as hydroquinone. Mequinol, Vitamin A, Ascorbic acid are a trio of dermal lighteners that work synergistically to fade facial discoloration caused by sun damage, blemishes & scarring found in SW1 SPECIAL EFFECTS Whitening & Brightening Cream. It evens out skin tone, re-texturizes roughened skins, illuminating dull & damaged skins while repairing cellular aging from daily environmental attacks so skin looks radiant, luminous and pigment free in no time.

Melanin forms through a series of oxidative reactions involving the amino acid tyrosine in the presence of the enzyme tyrosinase. A tyrosinase inhibitor will help prevent the overproduction of this enzyme, and hopefully help prevent hyperpigmentation of the skin. Kojic acid,arbutin, licorice, mulberry extract and burdock root extract have all been demonstrated to be useful to varying extent. Optimal for problematic skin with colour woes, SW1 WHITE PLASMA Whitening & Illuminating Serum is a high-tech facial serum that is oil-free and hydroquinone-free, helping to combat pesky discolouration and even out skin tone with vitamin C and tyrosinase inhibitors including tranexamic acid.

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Laser & Light Therapy

Any lightening regime can be given a big boost with appropriate laser and light therapy. The more common form of melasma affects both the epidermis and dermis and for this variety, topical treatments are generally ineffective. Over the years, various light and laser treatment had been used to treat melasma with varying success. When it comes to spots-busting pigment lasers, those falling under the umbrella of the latest generation engaging Pico laser technology are the ones to embrace, literally “lightyears” ahead of NdYag Pigment Lasers, a predecessor from the previous decade often used in an anti-pigment treatment commonly referred to as Laser Toning.

The difference between Pico vs Laser Toning is that the Discovery PICO Plus Laser is able to work in picosecond pulses, harnessing triple laser wavelengths in both pico and nano-second pulses, placing it well above its peers such as the Revlite NdYag Laser with no trouble removing stubborn pigmentation including notorious tattoo ink colours faster and more comfortably than any other technology available on the current market.Pico second pulsing enables the “PICO Dusting Effect”, which is pulverization of both superficial and deeply embedded pigments using ultra-short, pico second laser pulses to shatter unwanted pigmented particles at high pressure. For instance, this photo acoustic effect breaks tattoo inks into a fine dust cloud, with dust particles tinier than those fragmented by traditional nanosecond NdYag lasers. Pulverized pigments are absorbed much more efficiently, resulting in speedier elimination of the ink particles by the body. The ultra-short bursts also mean even lesser thermal damage to surrounding normal tissue, thus there is less erythema and swelling compared to its traditional counterpart, dramatically reducing the risks of PIH (Post Inflammatory Hyperpigmentation) and scarring.

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