Why does hyperpigmentation get darker before it gets lighter?
You’ve been faithfully sticking to your brightening regimen, and yet, the excess pigment you’re targeting appears to be getting darker rather than lighter. What’s going on? Don’t panic. It’s a natural phenomenon of the brightening process.
You’ve heard the phrase “darkest before the dawn.” It’s kind of like that. We like to call it, the “worse before better” paradox of skin care. We’ll explain.
There are more triggers for pigment production than there are pathways for its elimination, which leads to the accumulation of melanin in the skin. Any trauma to the skin, including UV and chemical exposure, heat, cuts, bruises, irritation, hair removal, and acne, can cause the inflammation that triggers the skin’s protective melanin response (hyperpigmentation). Hormones or genetics are responsible for the patches of discoloration known as melasma. In dark skin tones, the greater concentration of melanin in the skin means hyperpigmentation is more common and takes longer to fade.
Pigment production begins in the deeper layers of the skin and naturally rises to the surface where it concentrates until it is removed via the shedding of dead skin cells. (The longer you leave it untreated, the more deeply rooted it becomes.) Active treatment accelerates cell turnover, pulling pigmented cells to the surface at a faster rate. This increases the concentration of melanin in the epidermis, creating a temporary darkening of the spots.
So, the darkening is what you want to see. It means the pigment is coming up and is ready to be shed away. You might be tempted at this point to over-exfoliate in an attempt to speed up the process even more. Don’t. Any harsh chemicals or excessive scrubbing can create irritation, which will trigger more inflammation and catalyze a melanin response.
An optimal treatment regimen is one that includes ingredients to:
- Inhibit pigment enzymes: Retinol - a tyrosinase inhibitor.
- Prevent pigment transfer: Inhibit the transfer of pigment to skin cells with Niacinamide - a melanosome transfer inhibitor.
- Inhibit pigment formation: Inhibit the formation of pigment with Vitamin C, Retinoid and sunscreen - melanin formation inhibitors.
- Resurface new skin cells: Remove the damaged top skin layer and reveal a more even-toned complexion with Salicylic acid and/or Glycolic acid. Glycolic acid is a keratolytic that penetrates deeper than any other AHA, resulting in more effective peeling of the pigmented skin cells. Salicylic acid is a desmolytic that's also a anti-inflammatory agent. Inflammation leads to hyperpigmentation, making Salicylic acid a perfect choice in treating post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation.
Some gentle physical exfoliation like removing your facial cleanser with a wet face cloth, will help to lift dead skin cells.
Additionally, we recommend a peel every four to six weeks.
DermExcel Radiance peel, DermExcel Rejuvenize peels, DermExcel Tri-Active Retinol peel, or DermExcel Clarify peels are excellent options to accelerate your results. All our professional chemical peels are in-office rapid peels that can be done at your nearest DermExcel Dispensing practice.
Melanin production is a complex, multi-stage process that requires various topical agents acting synergistically on different stages of this process. The goal of treatment is to reduce the triggers for melanin production (prevention) and increase the pathways for pigment elimination (active treatment). The darkening phase signals the coming dawn of your brighter, more consistent tone.
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Information in this post extracted from articles by: Dr. James Fulton. A member of the American Board of Dermatology and the American Academy of Cosmetic Surgery, Dr. Fulton authored more than 300 scientific papers, as well as the definitive skincare text Acne Rx.