Inflammation of the skin can cause redness, swelling, pain, and heat. This is the body's normal response to injury or infection. Many everyday events and exposures can also lead to a low level of inflammation that is less obvious but can result in damage to the skin, hyperpigmentation included. In addition, skin cells are exposed to inflammatory agents like smoke, pollution, and chemicals, as well as other factors like sunlight and stress. All of these can contribute to inflammation, which leads to a cascade of biochemical events that result in the overproduction of melanin, causing hyperpigmentation and uneven skin tone. Dark spots on the skin can also arise due to age, sun exposure, pregnancy and other hormonal changes, or acne scarring.
Treatments range from non-surgical cosmetic procedures, such as laser resurfacing and peels, to at-home regimens. Some aggressive treatments that deliver immediate benefits can actually cause an inflammatory reaction in the skin, contributing to damage and pigmentation over the long term. Chemical peels and physical procedures can also elevate the risk of pigmentation, as they cause greater sun susceptibility.
Hydroquinone (banned in Europe and I will not carry any product containing it) and kojic acid, which both have a bleaching effect on the skin, are two ingredients long associated with brightening. As concerns about harsh chemical treatments have emerged, however, natural health and beauty companies have come forward with botanical alternatives whose function is not to lighten the skin overall. Rather, they work with the client's skintone and texture to achieve a clear and luminous appearance.
Most major professional and retail brands offer brightening regimens and treatments. These products target concentrations of melanin, which appear as areas of hyperpigmentation. Brightening products reduce the appearance of pre-existing dark spots by breaking them down through exfoliation and dispersing them into smaller, less visible particles. They help prevent new discoloration through the use of antioxidants and SPF protection and soothe with anti-irritant ingredients.
Antioxidants are considered the first line of defense. Examples of plant-based antioxidants found in brightening products include grape, mulberry root, and rosemary leaf extracts and vitamins C and E. Rosemary leaf extract also serves as an anti-irritant, counteracting inflammation, along with other botanicals like brown algae, caffeine, gentian extract, and scutellaria.
Proper hydration is required for skin to serve as a protective barrier, which can also help with hyperpigmentation. The skin barrier relies on lipids and water to maintain function. Replenishment of native skin lipids has been proven to restore the moisture barrier and reduce evaporation of water from the surface of the skin using plant ingredients, such as palm oil and shea butter. Increasing the water-loving components of the skin, including hyaluronic acid, is also an effective means of rejuvenating the skin's state of hydration.
Exfoliation also plays a key role in creating a smooth and glowing complexion, as it prepares the skin to more readily absorb ingredients. Glucosamine and salicylic acid are leading exfoliators, and glucosamine also stimulates the skin to produce more of its own hyaluronic acid.
There are many tools available in the brightening category and treatment techniques that enhance their efficacy.
Brightening may currently be considered a trend, but as skincare professionals, we know it will be an ongoing concern.