A Beginner’s Guide To Hyperpigmentation

In proud partnership with Emma Lewisham

05.05.20

The basics of achieving good skin aren’t a secret at this point: Wear SPF, don’t pick at your skin, eat well, exercise often, and drink water. But sometimes you can do all of that, plus everything your dermatologist or Into The Gloss has told you, and still find yourself being unduly punished by way of pimples or pigmentation. True story: whenever I get a breakout on my chin after a *single week* of clean-eating I look in the mirror and whisper, “How dare you.”

For women who suffer from hyperpigmentation, it can feel like an undeserving and unwinnable battle. In terms of what causes hyperpigmentation, you’ll typically fall into one of two categories: the first is when the upper layer of the skin tries to protect itself from the sun’s ultraviolet rays by producing more melanin, leaving you with uneven skin darkening that turns into solar lentigines (also called age spots or liver spots). Any skin tone can suffer from this kind of hyperpigmentation, but skin of colour usually has a higher risk. Alternatively, you may experience post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, which involves red or brown spots lingering on the skin long after an acne breakout or period of inflammation has finished healing. Because – as if the breakout wasn’t bad enough – sometimes your skin likes to gift you a little souvenir to remember it by. In this case, the more inflamed the breakout (think cystic acne, pustules, or red bumps), the darker the spot will be. And the darker the spot, the longer it typically takes to heal.

For New Zealand skincare founder, Emma Lewisham, the battle against hyperpigmentation had been raging for almost a decade, “I’ve struggled with it since my early twenties, as a result of spending too much time in the harsh New Zealand sun without understanding the importance of wearing sunscreen.” Lewisham’s hyperpigmentation only grew more intense when she became pregnant with her first child – a pivotal time in her life in which she also lost her mother to cancer and was set upon a path of reassessing every aspect of her life. “Losing my mother and falling pregnant within a very short timeframe prompted me to examine not only the activities I was doing and the food I consumed, but also the personal care products sitting in my bathroom. This led to my doctor telling me that one of the skincare products I was using to address my uneven skin tone contained a known carcinogen.”

Lewisham quickly decided to replace all her personal care products with 100% natural and clean alternatives, but being accustomed to using luxury skincare formulated to deliver real results, she was shocked to discover that when she went looking for clean products that offered the same science, she couldn’t find any: “This is what inspired me to set a new standard in skincare; to create products that were truly clean but also delivered visible results. This is how our Skin Reset serum was born.”

It’s pretty hard to create a product that instantly becomes iconic, but for those who suffer from hyperpigmentation, that’s exactly what Lewisham has done with her concentrated brightening serum Skin Reset. Designed to target all forms of hyperpigmentation, including uneven skin tone, dark patches and age spots, the product has an extremely high number of active ingredients, anywhere between 19 and 24 per bottle, which is unusual for skincare (most brands focus on just a small number of “hero ingredients” that often don’t produce the same cumulative results). Lewisham explained to me, “For example, we use Edelweiss stem cells to stop the production of melanin, vitamin B3 to inhibit any melanin that does get produced from reaching the skin’s surface, and Vitamin C which is scientifically proven to brighten and restore skin.” I first started using vitamin C serums a couple of years ago, in an attempt to fade the leftover scars that lingered after pimples had cleared and it’s been one of the most profoundly effective tools I’ve found for evening out my complexion and reducing redness. Lewisham’s Skin Reset has seven natural sources of vitamin C (!!), including Kakadu plum which has the most concentrated plant-based source of vitamin C in the world – 100x more than an orange. But what’s even more wild is that results of independent lab-testing proved that Skin Reset ranked number one against other leading, luxe products in terms of efficacy for brightening and evening skin tone – beating out the likes of Drunk Elephant, Sunday Riley and even La Mer. Kiwi’s just really do some things better, don’t they?

Okay so what about other forms of treatment like lasers and peels? These can be effective, but you want to make sure you avoid irritation as much as humanly possible as this will only make the appearance of your hyperpigmentation worse. For example, in clinical trials, lasers appear effective but there is a high chance of recurrence over time, and some techniques are associated with an increased risk of post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. Lasers can also be extremely painful. Chemical peels are another well-known treatment for melasma and pigmentation, the basic mechanism being the removal of unwanted melanin by causing a controlled chemical burn to the skin. A traditional glycolic peel is regarded as the best both in terms of safety and efficacy, and lactic acid peels have also shown good results in a few studies but the long term results remain unclear. This is why you should approach all treatments with proper research, care, and thorough conversations with your dermatologist about what to expect.

The truth is, dealing with hyperpigmentation is a marathon – not a sprint. Alongside the aforementioned check list of a healthy diet, lots of water, and exercising self-control in not poking and prodding your face too much, a successful approach to hyperpigmentation will require a combination of lifestyle adjustments, supervised treatments, science-backed skincare like Emma Lewisham, and, yep, a whole lot of sunscreen.


Header image by Holly Burgess for The Twenties Club