What’s the deal with pigmentation?

Back in the day when sunblock wasn’t a big deal, my beautiful mother would douse herself in coconut oil and lounge in the full sun until her body was burnt crisp for that golden goddess tan. Now, 30 odd years later, she is bearing the brunt of one too many sunburns and has recently noticed (to her horror) light brown patches of pigmentation appear on her face and décolletage. This made me wonder whether I’m doing enough to protect my skin from pigmentation. With fair Celtic skin, I am generally careful about spending too much time in our gloriously fierce African sun and always wear sun protection, but every summer my face is still sunkissed with freckles. Dreading the prospect of pigmentation, I decided to dig a little deeper into how pigmentation comes about in the skin and what measures can be taken to deal with it.

What causes this colour madness in the skin?

It all comes down to melanin, which essentially creates the pigment which determines our skin tone.

Exposed to sunlight, specialised skin cells called melanocytes produces more melanin, which is our bodies’ natural way of protecting the skin from damaging UV rays. This is essentially how our skin tans in the sun. For those with super pale skin, like me, however, these melanocytes tend to overcompensate in response to sunlight and produce more melanin, compared to those with darker skin tones. This explosion of melanin in the skin forms splatters of freckles over the skin and can lead to sun spots – which generally only become visible as we get older. A pale skin tone is also very much more prone to develop moles, which are dark clumps of pigmentation — I have too many to count.

While an overdose of the sun is the most common cause of pigmentation in the skin, here are a few other contributing factors causing melanin to congregate in discoloured spots.

  • We can certainly blame it on the hormones. Affecting 90% of women, Melasma or chloasma (coined the mask of pregnancy) is triggered by hormonal fluctuation occurring during pregnancy or brought about by birth-control pills, where dark irregular patches of pigmentation present on the face and arms. In line with this, the change in hormone levels experienced after menopause often causes age spots to become more visible.
  • Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation is a thing. Typically triggered by some form of injury or a bad dose of acne, patches of skin darken and leave a mark on the skin.
  • Certain medication or drugs can alter the production of melanin in the skin. According to the University of New Mexico Cancer Center, hyperpigmentation can also develop as a side effect of chemotherapy drugs

So what can we do about pigmentation?

First things first, the deeper the pigmentation the more difficult it is to treat, so now is the time for preventative measures peeps – for vanity’s sake. I had a look at some skincare products with active ingredients expertly formulated to prevent pigmentation and to help turn back the clock and sort out existing pigmentation — Here are my top picks:

Skin Nutrition Cleansing Gel

R 428,74 for 100ml, Foschini

Cleansing the face is oh so necessary to remove a buildup of dead skin cells, dirt, makeup gunk and bacteria, which often leads to breakouts, blemishes and red patches on the skin. The Skin Nutrition Cleansing Gel contains stabilised Vitamin C, a fantastic antioxidant that is known to brighten the skin and fight pigmentation. Lathering up a proper foam on my face, I found this light liquid cleansing gel soothing to my skin and my face was left feeling refreshed and silky soft. I particularly loved the fresh fruity scent — I literally felt as if I was embracing summer.

9Lives Skin Nutrition cleansing gel

Optiphi Classic Refine-Foliant α, ß, C

R720 for 8 x 5ml bottles, optiphi.com

A highly effective triple advanced mini peel chemical exfoliant, Optiphi Classic Refine-Foliant α, ß, C works to sort out pigmentation and uneven discolouration. With a potent punch of vitamin C, this exfoliant works towards brightening the skin and diminishing the appearance of dark spots. Designed to initiate cell-turnover, while leaving the skin soft supple, this chemical peel also contains both salicylic acid and moisturising lactic acid— just what you need to maintain and restore your skin’s youthful radiance. I gave these chemical peels a go. Using just a dollop, I massaged the golden liquid gel onto my face and left it for about 10 minutes (when my skin felt sufficiently tightened), rinsing off the thin peel thoroughly with warm water. Although the experience was quite intense, my skin felt unbelievably smooth and soft the next morning and soon developed a lovely clear illuminating glow.

9Lives Optiphi Classic Refine-Foliant α, ß, C

Elizabeth Arden Skin Illuminating Brightening Hydrogel Cream

R730 for 50ml, Foschini

A potion of power ingredients such as Hyaluronic Acid and Polynesian Lagoon Water, Elizabeth Arden Skin Illuminating Brightening Hydrogel Cream is designed to hydrate and moisturize skin with a Vitamin C booster to brighten the skin and reduce the appearance of dark spots and pigmentation. Light to the touch, this cream absorbed effortlessly into my skin and left it feeling smooth, plump and positively glowing.

9Lives Elizabeth Arden Skin Illuminating Brightening Hydrogel Cream

Sisley Intensive Lightening Serum

R4 398, selected online stores

Lemon, Scutellaria and White Mulberry Extracts (all packed with vitamin C goodness), as well as essential oils, Sisley Phyto-blanc Intensive Lightening Serum is specially formulated to target dark spots (this one’s for you mom) and enhance the skin’s radiance. I fell in love immediately. Massaging the luxuriously soft and creamy serum into my skin was a dream. It absorbed seamlessly with no oily residue, giving my face a luminous glow.

9Lives Sisley Phyto-blanc Intensive Lightening Serum

L’Oreal Revitalift Bright Reveal Brightening Dual Overnight Moisturiser

R413,56 for 30ml, Foschini

L’Oreal Revitalift Bright Reveal Brightening Dual Overnight Moisturiser is a dual action concoction, with both an exfoliating gel as well as a Vitamin C and Retinol combo, working together for clear, even, brighter and more youthful skin. I was instantly swayed by this novel two-pump-in-one moisturiser – which simultaneously pumps both the cool liquid gel and the silky soft cream. Easy to blend in the palm of my hand, I simply massaged the light moisturiser into my skin. I was truly amazed at how wonderful my skin felt and looked afterwards – gorgeous, soft and supple with a clear, glowing complexion.

9Lives L’Oreal Revitalift Bright Reveal Brightening Dual Overnight Moisturiser

Heliocare Advanced Gel SPF 50 Sunscreen

R295 for 50ml, dermastore.co.za

Yes, our skin needs sunlight, for the love of that healthy summer glow and Vitamin D goodness of course. However, with our UV rays only getting stronger, wearing UVA and UVB sun protection every day is super important. For this reason, Heliocare Advanced Gel SPF 50 Sunscreen was my go-to option. Using Fernblock Photo Immunoprotection Technology (derived from Central American fern Polypodium leucotomos — which develops its own natural protection against UV rays), this sunscreen works to protect the skin from sun-related ageing and damage. I was definitely happy with the knowledge that this sunscreen would get the job done and protect my sun-sensitive pale skin this summer. The perfect base to prep your skin for the day, I adored its delicious summer-fruit scent and creamy quick absorbing consistency, giving my face a lovely soft texture.

9Lives Heliocare Advanced Gel SPF 50 Sunscreen

What works for your pigmentation? I’d like to know. Feel free to share in the comment section below.

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