Everything You Need To Know About Pigmentation

Wheat field

At last, we’re having a summer. Getting the limbs out. Firing up the barbecue. Turning our pale faces to the sun. Only – let’s stop right there. Because while getting some sunshine on your face and chest feels just sooooooo good, there’s a heavy price to pay not too far down the line. Not in terms of wrinkles – we know all about those – but pigmentation problems.

You can call them ‘age spots’ (although they tend to turn up way ahead of cashing in your pension). Your Great Aunt Dorothea probably referred to them as ‘liver spots’. But in fact, they should better be referred to as ‘sun spots’ – because they’re a direct result of accumulated sun damage, which triggers melanin-producing cells in the skin to lose control and produce too much pigment as a defence mechanism – on the face and chest, in particular, but also the arms and backs of the hands, where they’re harder to conceal.

Fairer skins are more susceptible – and against a paler background, age spots show up more, too. (Jo had one of those ‘oh s**t’ moments when a dermatologist told her that the dark patches on the side of her face were sun spots, not – as she’d thought, beauty marks. Which goes to show how easy it is to miss the edges of the face and the outer jaw-line when applying sunscreen. So be sure to smooth your a.m. SPF into the whole face.)

Many botanicals have proven pigment-lightening actions, including azelaic acid (from barley and wheat), kojic acid (from fermented mushrooms), retinoic acid and retinols (vitamin A derivatives which are also famously effective against lines), Magnesium Ascorbyl Phosphate (a stabilised form of vitamin C) and licorice. (They all work by inhibiting the melanin-producing enzyme tyrosinase, if you really want the science bit.) But sun spots – as with almost everything to do with the body – are far easier to prevent than to cure. So here’s our suggested plan…

Never venture out without an SPF30 or over

Starting. Right. Now. This is non-negotiable  it should prevent the spots you have from getting any worse, and may actually go some way towards slightly fading them. If so far you aren’t affected by age spots? This daily SPF30 (or higher) will go a long way to preventing their future appearance. (We’re huge fans of This Works In Transit Skin Defence SPF30, which goes on really smoothly and is a great basis for make-up.)  Hand creams with a built-in SPF can be super-useful on the backs of hand/forearms, or if you tend to spend a lot of time outdoors, apply regular sunscreen to these vulnerable zones, and remember to repeat after hand-washing; Aurelia Aromatic Repair & Brighten Hand Cream is formulated specifically to diminish the signs of pigmentation – and just feels and smells so heavenly, it’s a positive treat to apply and reapply.

Wear a hat

If you have sun spots, or seek to avoid their appearance, we also advise: get yourself a fabulous, stylish collection of fairly tightly-woven straw hats, and keep on a peg near your door/s, for easy grabbing when you go out on a summer day (not a baseball cap because the brims aren’t big enough). Sometimes anti-ageing solutions can be wonderfully low-tech.  (Wide-armed, large-lensed sunspecs also help.)

Try a specific ‘age spot’ treatment

A vast amount of cosmetic research dollars are currently being channeled into this area of skincare, blending tried and tested botanicals like kojic acid, mulberry and alpha arbutin, for instance, with whiz-bang skin delivery systems. (Alpha arbutin is the natural alternative to skin-bleaching hydroquinone.) Some super-high-tech options to try that you’ll find right here in VH’s edit included Sarah Chapman Skinesis Skin Tone Perfecting Booster, White Lightening Complex by iS Clinical and Garden of Wisdom Alpha Arbutin 2% and Kojic Acid 1% Serum.

Apply very carefully – don’t slap the treatment on

And be aware: most of these treatments take some time to kick in, and there are no overnight miracles here. (You may be looking at three months minimum, which is longer than most ‘miracle’ wrinkle treatments take.) Be aware, too, that some are for all-over skin application, and others are literally ‘spot-targeted’, requiring the use of a cotton bud to apply precisely. Get out your magnifying glasses and read the instructions before throwing out (or preferably recycling) the box. Actually, we suggest applying a thin amount to dark areas at least one hour before bedtime; this will let it fully absorb into the skin so it won’t slide into your eyes when you press your face into the pillow.’ (Albeit mild, these skin-lightening ingredients can still sting eyes.) And the usual advice applies: nothing works if it’s left sitting on the bathroom shelf in a jar or bottle. You’ve got to be religious about using treatment products to see effects. Once or twice a week when you can be bothered makes any investment you make in anti-age spot skincare completely worthless.

Use make-up to conceal the spot

Once you’ve got an age spot, what’s to do? After your primer or moisturiser in the morning, dot on a matte yellow- or peach-based corrector or concealer (deeper peach for women of colour), using a little brush. Then press it into skin with your finger – don’t sweep it on or it’ll sweep right off again. If needed, top up with foundation or concealer (again, dab and press rather than blend), or brush on a mineral powder base.

And be careful with fragrance

Certain perfume ingredients – particularly those derived from citrus (such as bergamot) – can interact with sunlight to cause permanent pigmentation problems, in the form of ‘staining’ of the skin, with dark streaks or patches – typically on the neck and chest, where perfume is spritzed or splashed. We counsel: in summer, it’s safest to apply skin to perfume for evening rather than daytime, or put it where the sun won’t strike directly. (So long as there’s no risk of staining your clothes, fabric is a wonderful ‘carrier’ for scent, too.)

 

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