Hyperpigmentation is a very common skin care problem and it is more common in Indians, due to darker skin color. What makes treatment for hyperpigmentation and dark spots for Indian skin, difficult is that the products and treatments that are very popular in western markets cannot be readily applied to Indian skin, and the shocking fact is that the popular professional treatments such as Glycolic acid peels, Trichloroacetic acid (TCA) peels and lasers which are designed in the western markets and heavily tested on caucasian skin can do more harm to Indian skin than good.
Before we try to understand what causes hyperpigmentation and how can we treat it on Indian skin and how you can modify your skin care routine to help alleviate the problem, let’s look at how Indian skin is different from the caucasian or white skin.
Why is Indian skin different from caucasian skin ?
Skin is made of three layers, Epidermis, Dermis and Hypodermis layers, where Epidermis is the outermost layer of the skin and you can see in the epidermis structure diagram below there are cells called Melanocytes. Melanocytes are basically melanin-producing, neural crest-derived cells situated at the bottom of the epidermis layer , the stratum basale.
All the skin types have about the same amount of melanocytes in the epidermis, but what differentiates the Indian skin from the caucasian skin is the size of the melanocytes and the far spread are the dendrites, the cellular extensions of melanocytes. In dark skinned people and thus Indians, the melanocytes are much bigger in size, compared to caucasian skin.
The melanocytes produce pigment known as melanosomes and these contain enzymes that produce melanin and melanosomes, which are always travelling towards the top of the skin, when keratinocytes, the cells around the melanocytes are exposed to the UV, they are under stress and signal the melanocytes to produce melanin, this melanin travels through melanosomes to the top of the keratinocytes, covering the nucleus of keratinocytes and hence protecting them from sun damage.
In Indian skin and dark skinned individuals, the melanocytes are easily triggered and hence melanin is produced with even with slightest damage to the skin, be it through acne, inflammation or through sun exposure.
What exactly is Hyperpigmentation ?
Hyperpigmentation is the umbrella term to indicate any skin condition, that leads to darkening of the skin in certain areas, when compared to rest of the skin. There are three types of hyperpigmentation and these are :
- Post Inflammatory Hyperpigmentation (PIH) : This is the type of hyperpigmentation caused by inflammation to the skin, when the skin triggers inflammation in an effort to try heal any trauma suffered by factors like acne, cuts & sun exposure.
- Post Inflammatory Erythema (PIE) : This is a type of hyperpigmentation which looks very similar to PIH, but unlike PIH, PIE happens when inflammation damages the surrounding capillaries and blood vessels and skin is trying to heal itself by dilating the blood vessels to increase the blood flow in to that area.
- Melasma : Melasma is the condition, when skin’s large areas are discoloured, due to excess production of melanosomes by melanocytes and unlike PIH and PIE, the melasma can also be caused by genetics and harmonal influences, thus making it more difficult to treat than other types of hyperpigmentation. Melasma is also called as pregnancy mask, as it can temporarily appear at any time during pregnancy.
What causes Hyperpigmentation?
Hyperpigmentation in our skin is caused by both internal and external factors, the internal factors that cause hyperpigmentation include acne, harmonal melanin and external factors include causes like UV damage due to sun exposure, Burns, irritation and more.
Among the external factors, UV damage due to sun exposure is the most common cause of the hyperpigmentation as its effects are three folded on increasing hyperpigmentation in your skin.
- Free radicals : The sun exposure leads to increase in free radicals in your skin which can trigger melanin production in melanocytes.
- Inflammation : UV damage due to sun exposure increases inflammation in your skin, which in turn release inflammatory mediators, these inflammatory mediators trigger melanocytes for increased melanin production.
- Dermal pigmentation : Sun exposure , increase the enzymes in your skin, which can result in dermal pigmentation, which can last for years and in some cases cane be permanent and almost impossible to treat.
How to get rid of Hyperpigmentation for Indian Skin:
Some of the best ingredients for hyperpigmentation for Indian skin that you can incorporate in your skin care routine are :
- Alpha arbutin
- Kojic acid
- Azelaic acid
- Vitamin C
- Mandelic acid, Phytic acid & Ferulic acid
- Licorice extract
Among the available treatments Hydroquinone is the gold standard for treatment of Hyperpigmentation as it is very effective in decreasing melanocytes and melanin production. Hydroquinone is widely prescribed by the dermatologists for the treatment of hyperpigmentation, but it comes with risks, hydroquinone is very potent and prolonged usage of hydroquinone causes skin sensitivity and irritation.
Hydroquinone should not be used more than 3 months and once you come off hydroquinone, there can be rebound pigmentation on your skin. Hydroquinone is not recommended to use during pregnancy and is also banned for usage in Europe, however it is available as an over the counter alternative in products, with upto 2% concentration.
Contrary to popular belief Hydroquinone does not cause cancer.
Arbutin is another promising ingredient that you can look for treating hyperpigmentation. Arbutin is a naturally occurring chemical and is an extract derived from bearberry plants, blueberry plants and cranberry plants. Arbutin is a tyrosinase inhibitor. Tyrosinase is a crucial enzyme in synthesizing melanin and by inhibiting this enzyme, arbutin reduces the production of melanin and there by brightening the skin.
Arbutin is also a safe alternative to Hydroquinone and can also be used by pregnant woman.
3. Alpha arbutin:
Alpha arbutin is a much stabler alternative to the naturally occurring arbutin and beta arbutin and is also equally safer and much stronger tyrosinase inhibitor than the natural alternatives.
Alpha arbutin pairs well with ingredients like Vitamin C, making the formulation highly effective in skin brightening and hence reducing hyperpigmentation.
Kojic acid is another naturally occurring derivative, which occurs during fermentation of rice and can also be extracted from mushrooms and also during the fermentation of soy beans. It is another less aggressive alternative to hydroquinone and also is an effective tyrosinase inhibitor. It is generally safe for all skin types and also for the pregnant women. It is also well tolerated on face and has great antioxidant. antibacterial and exfoliant properties.
Akin to the other tyrosinase inhibitors, it works by inhibiting Tyrosinase enzymes and hence reducing the production of melanin. Kojic acid is generally not a stable ingredient to use in the skin care formulations. so Kojic Acid Dipalmitate is used a stabler alternative. Kojic Acid Dipalmitate is a diesterified derivative and is superior in skin lightening ability.
A thing of caution is that Kojic acid can increase the chance of contact dermatitis and sunburn if not properly protected, so it is very important to use a sunscreen while using Kojic acid.
5. Azelaic acid:
Azelaic acid is a naturally occurring acid and is a tyrosinase inhibitor. It is great for acne prone skin and is used in the treatment of acne and rosacea, along with hyperpigmentation.
6. Vitamin C:
Vitamin C also known as ascorbic acid is another great tyrosinase inhibitor that you can use to treat your hyperpigmentation. Vitamin C interacts with the copper ions at the tyrosinase active site and inhibits action of the enzyme tyrosinase, thus reducing melanin production. As Ascorbic acid is very unstable, Vitamin c derivatives, such as 3-o-ethyl-l-ascorbic acid is generally used in the topical formulations.
This is another safe alternative and is particularly better option for acne prone skin.
7. Mandelic acid, Phytic acid & Ferulic acid :
Mandelic acid, Phytic acid & Ferulic acid are all Alpha Hydroxy Acids, i.e., AHA’s and are another great option to help you with your hyperpigmentation. If you want to use AHA’s, avoid Glycolic acid, which is not advisable to use for Indian skin, rather use Mandelic acid, Phytic acid & Ferulic acid’s which are better options for AHA, which are great for Indian skin.
8. Licorice extract :
Licorice extract is an ingredient that is commonly used in the natural skin care products, it is also one of the main ingredients of Glowpink Detan Face Pack. Licorice minimizes the production of melanin, reduces the extra melanin on the skin. Licorice contains Flavinoid and licochalcone A, where flavinoid makes Licorice, a potent antioxidant while licochalcone A, offers great anti-inflammatory benefits to the skin.
Vitamin C when combined with Licorice extract, becomes a very effective formulation for Hyperpigmentation for acne prone skin.
9. Niacinamide :
Niacinamide, a form of Vitamin B3 is very popular in skin care formulations. Niacinamide builds keratin, reduces skin pores, blemishes and acne marks and improves skin texture, making it one of the great choices for helping you deal with Hyperpigmentation.
Whatever actives you choose you to help you get rid of hyperpigmentation, it is very important, that you follow proper Cleaning, toning, moisturizing and sunscreen routine, to help with your journey dealing with hyperpigmentation. A proper skin care routine, will also help you avoid future episodes of hyperpigmentation on your face.