With research indicating that wrinkles and lines are only partially responsible for making us visibly age, our attention has turned to the other culprit – blotchy, uneven skin tone.
As Kristine Colman, dermal therapist for Vitruvius Divine Cosmetic Clinics in Victoria says, “This shift is due to the fact that we are very conscious of the UV damage that the generation before us has, and we are now very mindful of the underlying heath risks associated with UV rays.”
So what products really work? And what ingredients should we look out for? We thought we’d help you narrow it down.
What causes uneven skin tone?
The main causes of uneven skin tone are hyperpigmentation, sun spots, hormones and discolouration due to acne scarring. An excess of melanin or pigment in the skin due to sun exposure creates freckles and eventually, isolated dark spots. Women also tend to develop dark spots from taking the contraceptive pill or due to hormone fluctuations during pregnancy. Your skin can also sustain damage cumulatively, from exposure to pollution and other environmental factors.
How do we treat it?
The desire to create uniform, luminous skin tone has been around for centuries: in China during the Tang dynasty, people would rub crushed pearls on the skin; in Japan, geishas used animal-derived bleaching agents; and in the 1800s, European women used arsenic to create even skin tone.
Now there are numerous professional brightening treatments including cryotherapy, but they come with their own risks. “You risk hypopigmentation, which leaves you with a loss of pigment,” warns Colman. Intense pulsed light (IPL) photofacials and chemical peels are also popular and yield fast results, but it’s best to consult a dermatologist first and have a treatment package tailored.
For at-home brightening, a new category of creams designed to target dark spots and irregularities in pigmentation is the hot cosmetic ticket. Already popular in east Asia, where brands such as SK-II and Shiseido have become synonymous with ‘skin whitening’, over-the-counter whitening creams promise to counter photo-ageing, brown spots, wrinkling and loss of elasticity.
5 key ingredients to look out for
For DIY, we recommend anti-pigment creams and masks. Keep an eye out for these key topical ingredients:
Have marks left from your recent breakout? Choose a product that contains soy. The proteins help get rid of redness and blotchiness. And opt for one with SPF, as sun exposure can often turn a red mark into a permanent scar.
The mushroom-derived enzyme melanozyme breaks down melanin, which is responsible for dark pigments on your skin. Just be wary of products containing retinoids and hydroquinone, which has been banned in some countries due to side effects such as redness, dryness and a burning sensation.
“Hydroquinone has been the recent leader in the skin-whitening category, but still needs TFA approval,” says Colman. “Hexylresorcinol concentration at 0.5 per cent has proven to be just as effective as two per cent concentration of hydroquinone.”
A number of plants, such as yomogi and angelic root, have been found to have skin-brightening properties. They act to speed up cell turnover and break down melanin, diminishing dark spots, age spots and acne marks. Colman suggests liquorice for lightening skin and arnica flower extract, with its anti-inflammatory properties, for brightening.
Acids like alpha hydroxy, glycolic, salicylic and kojic act to remove dead skin cells, buffer the appearance of fine lines, even out skin tone and enhance skin clarity. Choose products that combine acids with skin-brightening ingredients.
A classic ingredient when it comes to skin brightening. The antioxidant works to lighten hyperpigmentation and prevent further spots. Choose a formula that strategically combines vitamin C with other ingredients to maximise skin brightening.
If the above treatments are all a bit too much, stick to light-diffusing make-up. The evenness of light reflecting off the skin is key – rough, pigmented, sallow skin just doesn’t reflect light in a way that suggests youthfulness and health. We recommend iridescent powders and translucent finishers to give your skin an instant boost while acting as a cover up.
Our most valuable tip? Your greatest investment isn’t expensive creams and procedures, but sunscreen. Whatever age you are, keeping out of the harsh rays and protecting your skin with SPF is the most tested and true way to stave off pigment irregularities and dark spots.