Apologies for the delay in finishing this series, but work, college and celebrating Ireland’s recent sporting achievements have all been a bit distracting – but finally, here is the last in the Skin Clearing Series. One of the supposed benefits of growing older, and dealing with adult problems (like rent, career decisions, and deciding whether or not wine constitutes a food group), is the clearing up of acne. This may not always be the case, which is why I wrote this series, and sometimes the after affects of scarring and patches of hyperpigmentation can be as frustrating and confidence-defeating as the initial spots. I’ve already discussed how to avoid hyperpigmentation, but unfortunately most of us only worry about it after it has appeared – however despair not! There are number of products and treatments that can really help with the clarity and tone of your skin.
Skin Lightening Agents
There are a range of ingredients with skin lightening effects and they can be found in over the counter products and prescribed in greater strength by a dermatologist. Vitamin C and retinol target pigmentation, as do liquorice extract and kojic acid. Hydroquinone is possibly the most effective skin lightening agent, but must be used with caution as it comes with some pretty undesirable side effects. All skin lightening agents have the capacity to make your skin more sensitive to to sun damage, and of course further hyperpigmentation – so (and I know I’m a broken record) wearing suncream is essential. I use retinol at night time only to avoid UV exposure completely while it’s on my skin.
There are a variety of these, and some are medical grade, while others can be performed by a beautician or aesthetician. Samantha from Sex and the City did no favours for the facial peel’s reputation – but do keep in mind that’s not exactly the typical result! A few hours after a low strength glycolic peel, my skin looked perfectly normal. Chemical peels range from very gentle mandelic acid peels, to deeper, 2 weeks-of-a-paperbag-over-your-face types. Salicylic acid is used frequently in the treatment of acne itself, as it targets excess sebum, while glycolic acid can be used to target ageing, hyperpigmented skin. There is a limit to how much a peel can do – what essentially happens is the very outer layer of skin is removed, it works as a liquid exfoliator. If there are areas of uneven pigmentation these can be lightened, but it may not eliminate more stubborn patches.
Intense pulsed light is sometimes inaccurately referred to as “laser” when used for treating unwanted hair growth – and is not as effective as an actual laser when it comes to hair reduction on most body areas. However, it is very useful for treating areas of uneven pigmentation. As with anything, IPL comes with its risks – further hyperpigmentation, along with hypopigmentation (lightening of the skin – basically the opposite of the dark patches, which can be particularly problematic in darker skin types) and scarring – although this is also very rare.
As with most skin related issues, prevention is key, as unfortunately these patches can be difficult to get rid of completely. There are a couple of things you can do to limit the progress of any established pigmented areas.
- Protect your skin: this involves suncream, peaked hats when playing sport or running and not overdoing the exfoliation, serums or vitamin C products – all of which can sensitise your skin. Those lovely (cold!) blue skied winter days can be just as damaging as the week long Irish summer.
- Do not squeeze your spots or blackheads: trauma to the skin surface increases the likelihood of scarring and pigmentation. If you have very congested skin, a professional facial is the best solution – even with the strictest skin care routine, you can’t beat a facialist that knows what they’re doing. Julie in Nu Essence is my go-to lady in Dublin, but I will trek all the way to Cork for an appointment with Adoré’s Janice.
- Avoid sun beds like the plague: I tried these once when I was much younger, as a treatment for acne and whatever you choose to do is up to you. If you add a lightening cream like hydroquinone to your skincare routine, you absolutely must avoid them while using it, and I would advise avoiding them altogether, but if you insist, please, please, please cover your face and neck. The tan here doesn’t last very long anyway, and I promise you hyperpigmentation is far worse than a white face. The pigmented areas also tend to darken with fake tan, so a white face with brown spots is your future anyway if you’re not careful. St. Tropez do a daily self tanner specifically for the face, which is amazing if you don’t break out with it. The Chanel bronzing base (which is now available in Boots) and Hoola’s liquid bronzer are excellent, non-cakey, alternatives for the more sensitive skinned of you.
- Watch your medications: a number of antibiotics and medications make your skin more photosensitive (sensitive to sunlight). One medication that slips below the radar however, is the contraceptive pill. Any oestrogen containing pill (some are progesterone only), while certainly helping with spots and breakouts, can increase the likelihood of pigmentation – so skin protection is even more important.
The forehead and cheeks/cheekbones are common areas for hyperpigmentation (hence the obsession with a peaked hat) but it can occur anywhere, including the backs of your hands. Age spots, liver spots, brown spots – they really sound about as much fun as they are, and can be more ageing than wrinkles. Certainly in my experience, people tend to get more frustrated with hyperpigmentation than wrinkles as it can be hard to hide, and doesn’t always have a quick fix. Have you tried any of the above with success? I would love to hear how you deal with these annoying patches!