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With a few simple steps, you don’t have to suffer through the summer.
Hyperpigmentation can be a stubborn skin concern, especially for those with acne-prone skin.
It’s even more frustrating during the summer months, when the sun and hyperpigmentation seem to be sworn enemies.
This is a problem for those who have hyperpigmented skin and want to enjoy the warm weather. Plus, makeup may be out of the question when summer is especially brutal.
I get it. It’s plenty hot where I live in San Antonio, Texas.
I’ve also struggled with hyperpigmentation and scarring on and off since I was 18.
The good news is you don’t have to suffer through the summer. There are a few simple things you can do to enjoy the summer and your skin.
“Hyperpigmentation is a general term used to characterize patches on the skin that are darker than normal,” Detroit-based physician Dr. Zoë Indigo Smith explains.
They may be different colors, including brown, black, or gray, and are “typically caused by an increased production of melanin in the skin,” Smith says.
In an attempt to combat my hyperpigmentation, I’ve spent hundreds of dollars and been through countless skin care products throughout the years. For a long time, it felt like I had little progress to show for my efforts.
The truth is, healing hyperpigmentation takes time. In fact, it can take 1 to 2 years to fade, and may take longer for people with darker skin tones.
The skin on our face is a sensitive organ that changes as our bodies do. Hormones, aging, and diet are all contributing factors that affect our skin.
I know from personal experience the toll hyperpigmentation can take on your confidence, so be kind to yourself throughout your skin care journey.
After years of frustration, I’ve learned some not-so-secret secrets to avoiding and managing hyperpigmentation, especially during the summer. Sometimes it’s not just about sun exposure.
In some cases, hyperpigmentation can be a symptom of a skin condition like melasma, which causes gray or brown patches on the face, neck, chest, and sometimes elsewhere.
Hormone increases that spike melanin synthesis can also cause hyperpigmentation, according to Smith.
“Estrogen and progesterone can increase the production of melanin, and of course our genetics play a role,” she says. “There are hundreds of genes at work behind the scenes that regulate our melanin production and distribution.”
Exposing the skin to the sun for prolonged periods can lead to hyperpigmentation. One of the simplest ways to protect your skin from discoloration is to wear sunscreen daily, no matter what the weather is like.
Since many people may experience hyperpigmentation for the first time in the summer due to sun damage, learning to manage it effectively now may save your skin in the long run.
Tiara Willis, a New York-based aesthetician, recommends four key steps when battling hyperpigmentation:
- exfoliate to increase cell turnover
- protect skin from inflammation
- protect skin from the sun
- inhibit melanin production with skin-brightening products
Willis emphasizes exfoliating once or twice a week to remove dead skin cells. This will help shed the hyperpigmented cells and speed up healing.
The most effective exfoliators for managing hyperpigmentation are chemical exfoliants, as they penetrate more deeply into the skin than physical exfoliants do.
Physical exfoliants can also be harsh on the skin, creating inflammation that can lead to additional pigmentation.
Chemical exfoliants with acidic ingredients like glycolic, salicylic, and lactic acid are ideal for managing hyperpigmentation.
They help with resurfacing, declogging, and brightening skin, and can aid in evening out dark areas of the face, neck, or chest. Look for alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) and beta hydroxy acids (BHAs) in the ingredients list as well.
Protect from inflammation
When it comes to inflammation, Willis recommends looking at product labels.
Anti-inflammatory products are effective because they have the ability to reduce certain proteins and increase the production of anti-inflammatory molecules in the skin.
They also provide a barrier of moisture, mitigating the effects of sun damage, and reduce UV-induced skin swelling and other kinds of skin inflammation.
Shield from the sun
Wearing sunscreen shouldn’t be reserved for those sunny beach days. To really protect yourself, make it an everyday thing.
In terms of prevention, sun protection is the most critical step.
“When it comes to protection [from the sun], you want to protect from inflammation and UV rays,” Willis says. “This means you want to wear your SPF daily and reapply at least every 2 hours. If you’re in front of a window all day, you should still apply, as UVA rays penetrate through windows.”
Sunscreen is essential for long-term healing of hyperpigmented skin. In the summer, the sun’s UV rays can be intense. Wearing sunscreen daily adds an extra layer of protection and helps reduce the chances that hyperpigmentation will spread.
Chemical sunscreens are more likely to contain potentially irritating or allergenic ingredients. Zinc and titanium dioxide (physical blockers) are considered to be hypoallergenic.
Try skin-brightening products
Hyperpigmentation disrupts the balance of melanin production in the skin by producing more in some areas over others, so Willis suggests reaching for products with the following ingredients:
These will work to temporarily equalize the production of melanin, restore balance to your skin tone, and brighten existing dark spots.
Every person’s skin and skin care journey is unique. What works for someone else’s skin or budget may not work for yours.
While finding a routine suited to your needs, wear sunscreen to protect your skin from harmful UV sun rays every day in every season. This will help avoid regression in your skin care journey.
In the meantime, there are some amazing, reputable aestheticians on Twitter, like @MakeupForWOC and @LaBeautyologist, who regularly give great skin care advice on how to cater to skin with hyperpigmentation.
When searching for a dermatologist, know that any derm who specializes in skin of color has expertise in managing hyperpigmentation.
The most important things to remember?
Use sunscreen every day, exfoliate, and be patient with yourself.
Ebony Purks is a recent college graduate with a bachelor’s degree in English with a concentration in professional writing. She is a freelance writer and blogger and runs a personal blog called Black Girl’s Digest. She writes analyses covering anything from pop culture to current events. In her spare time, Ebony enjoys bingeing her favorite shows on Netflix, watching YouTube, practicing yoga, and reading on occasion.