Hyperpigmentation is one of the most difficult skin conditions to resolve and one of the easiest to cause and aggravate. It is challenging for us as professionals to diagnose effectively and disheartening for our clients when they see unsightly dark spots that seem to appear overnight. Clearly articulating the source and causes of hyperpigmentation will assist in initiating a dialogue with our clients to help them understand their newfound condition.
Treatment for hyperpigmentation does not come easily; it takes commitment from both the esthetician and the client. This commitment includes consistent and frequent therapy and lifestyle changes that play a role in the overall outcome. Without diligence and follow-through, our clients can be back to square one in their condition faster than they can say “melanocyte”.
Natural treatments for addressing hyperpigmentation are gaining popularity due to an increased understanding of the potential side effects of more aggressive treatments.
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These treatments include chemical peels, hydroquinone, microdermabrasion, and laser resurfacing. While they are effective treatments for some, many experience side effects from these harsher treatments, including hyperpigmentation. These risks and potential side effects make natural, botanical treatments an appealing, viable option. Botanical treatments can improve the issue without causing additional harm or damage.
Licorice root extract comes from the perennial herb, Glycyrrhiza glabra. It is found in many food and dietary supplements to treat a variety of health concerns. When used in cosmetic formulations, licorice root extract pos sesses unique compounds that can help inhibit tyrosinase activity, boost antioxidant support, and reduce inflammation. Conveniently, these are the main factors in treating, preventing, and controlling hyperpigmentation in the long term. The primary bioactive components of licorice root are glabridin and liquiritin. Glabridin has demonstrated the ability to inhibit tyrosinase activity better than commonly used, kojic acid. Additionally, glabridin has been shown to inhibit inflammation and melanogenesis or the creation of new melanocytes. Liquiritin contains many properties that assist in treating hyperpigmentation, including the ability to disperse melanin, and has been shown to be useful in treating melasma topically.
Alongside glabridin and liquiritin, licorice root contains other components, such as glabrene and isoliquiritigenin, that contribute to the strong inhibitory function. These botanical chemicals have shown a 16x greater skin lightening effect than the widely used chemical hydroquinone, without harmful side effects.
• Arbutin is a naturally occurring alternative to hydroquinone without the toxic effects. Arbutin is most well known to be found in the dried leaves of the bearberry plant but can also be found in several different plant species, such as blueberries and pears. It boasts the ability to reverse tyrosinase activity and inhibit melanin production.
• GigawhiteTM is a trademarked blend of various alpine herbs such as peppermint leaf, yarrow, and mallow flower, containing antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. GigawhiteTM inhibits the production of tyrosinase and has vasoconstriction properties. These beneficial aspects help to control the inflammatory reaction in the skin that can trigger hyperpigmentation.
• African potato, or South African star grass, is an herb with an underground stem that looks like a potato. It is rich in plant sterols possessing anti-inflammatory and free radical scavenging effects. The main constituent, hypoxoside, has been shown to inhibit tyrosinase and reduce melanin production in hyperactive melanocytes.
Mainstream professional treatments typically include aggressive peels such as Jessner solutions and Trichloroacetic acid (TCA); however, addressing the condition with newer and less harsh acids can reduce side effects, downtime, and the risk of worsening the condition. A slow and steady approach will allow you to achieve the most desired results for your clients safely. While every case of hyperpigmentation is different and requires customized treatment, these are some ideal ingredients to look for in professional peels:
• Pyruvic acid is an alpha-keto acid. Pyruvic acid is a newer, novel acid known for the treatment of many skin issues such as acne, scarring, and pigmentation disorders. It contains keratolytic, or protein dissolving, properties, and pyruvic’s small dimension allows for it to penetrate quickly and deeply into the skin, without creating excessive sensitivity. Additionally, pyruvic acid contains antioxidant abilities that reduce melanin production, making it an ideal peel ingredient for hyperpigmentation.
• Encapsulated salicylic acid is an upgraded form of the beta hydroxy acid, salicylic acid. This upgrade includes a vegetable lipid encapsulation, which creates a time-release effect, allowing the acid to remain active for longer in the skin, all while avoiding the irritation and heat of a traditional salicylic acid peel. Due to its exfoliating and antiinflammatory properties, encapsulated salicylic acid can lend great benefit to the condition of hyperpigmentation.
• Mandelic acid is an alpha-hydroxy acid that is derived from the bitter almond. It has one of the largest molecule sizes of the AHAs, allowing it to penetrate slowly, reducing potential inflammatory responses and irritation. Mandelic acid is particularly well suited for lightening and brightening sensitive hyperpigmented skin types and darker skin tones less tolerant of more aggressive acids. Additionally, it can be combined with salicylic acid in chemical peels for an even more effective treatment.
Frequency and consistency are the best approaches to hyperpigmentation treatments. Natural products, including licorice root, pyruvic acid, encapsulated salicylic acid, and mandelic acid, effectively reduce the appearance of hyperpigmentation. Of course, the key to any effective treatment plan is a regular professional regimen and consistent home care protocol. The best approach to treating hyperpigmentation is to be diligent, patient, and set realistic expectations of yourself and your clients.