Treating Hyperpigmentation: One Size Does Not Fit All
We receive a lot of questions from Earthwise Beauty customers about hyperpigmentation. In many cases, the supposedly anti-hyperpigmentation lab products that our customers have tried in the past have not worked—or in some cases, people have found limited success with treating the issue, only to have the hyperpigmentation return stubbornly time and time again. In addition to working with customers to figure out their ideal skincare regimens, I have also fought my own personal battles with hyperpigmentation over the years, so I’d like to share some of the wisdom I’ve gained both from my personal experience, and through my work as a skincare formulator and herbalist.
First, what is hyperpigmentation, anyway? As with most skincare concerns, this is not a simple question with a one-size-fits-all solution. I have come to classify hyperpigmentation in a few different categories: (A) Dark spots that are related to acne and/or skin congestion, which may appear brown or almost black on darker skin, and which may look as though they are located deeper within the skin tissue, as opposed to right on the surface; (B) Dark spots that result from sun-sensitizing skincare products; and (C) Brown spots that occur due to a genetic predisposition to sun spots and freckles, or that result from excessive sun exposure without protection over the years. The best way to address hyperpigmentation will depend in large part on which of these three types you are dealing with.
For Type A hyperpigmentation, I have found that many traditional skincare products can appear to lighten the dark spots briefly after application, or may help lessen the acne that is contributing to the hyperpigmentation, but because these external products do not treat the internal imbalance that is causing the issue, the hyperpigmentation keeps coming back. A better solution is to treat the root of the problem, which Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) would describe as an imbalance caused by the liver struggling to do its complex work, or as dampness in the liver meridian. Just like skincare, herbal medicine is not one-size-fits-all, so the ideal approach would be to find an experienced TCM-trained herbalist and acupuncturist to offer a consultation and suggest the right herbal formula to resolve the issue. Often the solution may include an herbal cholagogue, which is a blend intended to stimulate the flow of bile from the liver. The right cholagogue will strengthen and enliven the liver and encourage waste matter to flow out through the digestive tract, rather than floating through the bodily system or attempting to release through the skin.
For my own hyperpigmentation, I recently discovered a vegetable cholagogue made from Spanish black radish, which made me flash back to my Polish mother’s old beauty bibles: they encouraged women to eat black radishes, but by the time I was born, no one in Poland was growing or selling black radishes anymore. I was so drawn to the black radish supplement formula that I just had to try it, and after a few days on the supplement (using three tablets per day from the Standard Process brand), I immediately had much less hyperpigmentation on my chin and found that my skin was more evenly colored and softer overall. If you are looking to treat this type of hyperpigmentation, I would urge you to consider working from the inside out in this way, ideally in consultation with an experienced, Chinese-trained TCM practitioner.
The second (B) type of hyperpigmentation is very common because so many skincare products contain sensitizing ingredients, but are not always labeled accordingly. I have found that I personally am very sensitive to some acids, for example, which can carry a risk of increased sun sensitivity and therefore a risk of hyperpigmentation as well. While the FDA does require all acid products to include a disclaimer about the increased risk of sun sensitivity, there are many skincare consumers who nonetheless use acids daily and in all climates. If this describes your skincare regimen and you find that you struggle with dark spots, you may want to consider taking a break from any acid-containing products to see if they are causing or worsening your hyperpigmentation. Stay tuned for more on this type of hyperpigmentation, which I’ll be investigating further as I work on developing a milder acid-based product for our line!
And for those who have Type C hyperpigmentation, while there may be nothing you can do to change your genetics, there is plenty you can do to protect yourself from sun exposure and to begin to heal any existing sun-induced damage. Most important is to find a sunscreen you will enjoy for daily use, such as Farizad’s Veil Sun Reflector, which can be blended with your favorite facial oil or serum. (I like to blend it with Ruby Face Oil, which offers additional sun-damage-correcting properties.) I also recommend safe topical products to lighten and even the skin tone, such as Ruby Oil and Nap in the Meadow Face Serum. This combination of Nap in the Meadow, Ruby Oil, and Farizad’s Veil is a perfect starting point for addressing hyperpigmentation due to sun exposure and age, and is a combination that has worked well for members of my own family in the past.
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