How to treat hyper-pigmentation and blemishes safely.
Please Note –I am neither a qualified dermatologist or a biologist, I am a beautician with a basic understanding of skin biology. Any information contained in this article is written from a lay person’s perspective, written in a clear, and hopefully easily understood manner.
Hyper-pigmentation is the process by which too much melanin is produced by the skin. Typically, hyper-pigmentation occurs as a result of stress or damage to, or prolonged inflammation of, the skin. The most common cause is sun damage, though hyper-pigmentation is often a consequence of inflammation following acne, eczema, psoriasis, dermatitis etc. Hyper-pigmentation may also occur in the skin due to hormonal changes in the body typically associated with pregnancy or the taking of oral contraception.
When melanocytes (the cells that manufacture melanin) produce too much melanin the result is rarely uniform and parches of darker pigmentation occurs which gives the skin a blotchy, uneven appearance. Safe treatment of hyper-pigmentation does not involve bleaching or lightening the affected areas. Although products do exist that can actually bleach the skin these products contain dangerous or toxic ingredients (such as hydroquinone and mercury) and are banned in most countries. They are, though, available over the internet but should never be considered.
Why blemishes remain.
People are aware that the skin replaces itself continuously – in youth the skin is replaced every 28 days or so but, as we age, the turnover process slows and by 50 may be as long as 3 months. So if the skin is continually replaced why do blemishes remain? Here’s why - as new cells are formed in the lower levels they move up through the layers. As the skin cells move up they push the cells above them towards the top, until, reaching the very top, they are shed. The new skin cells inherit the characteristics of the cells above. This duplication means that the cells tend to inherit the damaged characteristics of the cells they are destined to replace. Hence blemishes can remain even though the skin is replaced many times over.
Effective treatment of blemishes and hyper-pigmentation does not target the currently blemished layer of skin. The approach is to intervene in the duplication process so that the new layer of skin does not inherit the characteristics of the damaged layer. By targeting the enzyme which triggers melanin production (tyrosinase) we can prevent the excess production of melanin. There are many safe ingredients that inhibit tyrosinase and thereby reduce melanin production - Niacinamide, Glucosamine, Kojic Acid, Alpha Arbutin, Liquorice Extract, Mulberry Extract, Sepiwhite and others. Please note that these ingredients will not lighten your skin beyond its genetically pre-determined colour, they will simply act upon and fade darker areas and patches to even out skin tone.
Using a cream or lotion containing the ingredients above will reduce the amount of excess melanin produced by the melanocytes. Such a cream will not remove excess pigment and therefore will not really affect or lighten the current, over pigmented, layer of skin. The approach is to ensure that when the surface layer is shed, the new layer that replaces it is not so over-pigmented or blemished. Therefore any effective blemish reduction technique will take at least a month (the amount of time required for a complete skin cycle).
The process of replacing the surface layer with a new layer can be accelerated by the employment of a mild chemical peel. Chemical peels dissolve the bonds that hold the surface layer of skin in place and allow it to be shed more quickly than usual.
So using a mild chemical peel in conjunction with a melanin inhibiting cream can be a highly effective combination. Typically more effective than using either a peel or a blemish reducing cream alone.
There are caveats. Some melanin inhibitors are stronger than others and should not be used with strong exfoliants. Alpha Arbutin, Kojic Acid, and Sepiwhite at concentrations of 2% or above are effective but can over lighten the skin if used with chemical peels over 10% strengths. However they can be safely used with very mild peels (5% ideally) without the risk of causing hypo-pigmentation (de-pigmented skin evidenced by pale patches).
Use of natural plant extracts – liqourice, bearberry, mulberry etc can be employed with peels (Glycolic, Salicylic, Lactic etc). Indeed there are combinations of peels and plant extracts which provide a one-product solution to milder cases of hyper-pigmentation.
One of the newer approaches to blemish reduction is the combination of Niacinamide and Glucosamine. These two tyronisase inhibiting active ingredients actually form a synergistic process which means that they actually work better in conjunction with each other. Further, the two ingredients confer additional benefits on the skin. Glucosamine stimulates the production of hyaluronic acid and collagen by the skin resulting in a plumper, firmer, and less lined complexion. Niacinamide also promotes the synthesis of collagen by the skin but its main additional benefit is its ability to alleviate acne. The ideal product to use if you suffer blemishes and hyper-pigmentation arising from acne is one which contains the Niacinamide Glucosamine combination.
Which ever approach you decide on, remember that the work carried out to reduce blemishes and hyper-pigmentation, will be rendered useless if you fail to protect the skin from further stress and inflammation. Ensure you use a good sun screen to protect the skin from sun radiation especially if you are using peels in your treatment.
Treating Blemishes and Hyper-pigmentation safely
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8 January 2010
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