I have been meaning to write this article for a very long time. I probably shied away from writing and publishing it because I didn’t think that my skin was perfect enough to start publicising skin care tips. That changed when I tweeted a thread related to hyperpigmentation and I got direct messages from women who have suffered from acne and acne related problems for a very long time and were looking for solutions in the form of product recommendations. Follow me on twitter and instagram for more hyperpigmentation related issues x
Before I go on, it’s important to state that I am not a dermatologist (although if I could turn back time, I would certainly become one) neither am I an aesthetician. I’m simply a woman that experienced horrendous acne in my mid teens and has spent her twenties cleaning up the mess that was PIH (post inflammatory hyperpigmentation). It’s important for you to also note that I have oily/ combination/blemish prone skin and that Identifying your skin type will help to create a more targeted approach to skin care.
I’m not sure if this picture was the worst of it (because after a while, I just stopped taking pictures for fear of what would stare back at me) but this was definitely terrible. I had acne all over my face although the spots were more prominent on the right side.
This picture was taken 8 years ago (apologies for the bad quality and general gruesomeness) but if you zoom in you can see how badly acne ravaged my face. This is another photo where you can see all the dark marks. ( I will be posting REAL progress pictures on my skin-care instagram so do follow (Justakingirl) as I believe the steps below have been incredibly helpful in achieving the glow in the picture below).
Fast forward a few years and now my skin pretty much looks like this, on a better day.
This is my skin without foundation, just mascara and pink gloss and further pictures of my skin up close without foundation are below. You can see the clarity in my skin (bar the freckles) but the clarity is definitely there. So how did I do it? I can only credit my strides to developing a lot of patience and a lot of research. I’m going to walk you through the need to change my skin care and the products specific to eliminating my pigmentation issues that I introduced to my routine.
When my skin was really severe, I was put on tablets called tetracycline and I may have been on them for a two or maybe three years. I think this worked to calm the spots down but the scaring was still quite bad. I then noticed that my skin would break out during my period so I asked my GP for duac which worked to calm down hormonal acne around my chin and mouth area but then my pressing concern become post inflammatory hyperpigmentation. So about two/three years ago I started doing a ton of research and taking my skin into my own hands. I switched up my routine quite drastically and worked on targeting hyperpigmentation exclusively.
I ditched my creamy clean and clear cleanser (sometimes I used Neutrogena cleansers but found them a bit too stripping) for the Body Shop’s Tea Tree Oil. I think The Body Shop’s Tea Tree cleanser is a fantastic cleanser. I don’t remember getting one hormonal spot whilst using it but again I found it quite stripping, so I went on a hunt for a more gentle formulation. I was recommended Jan Marini Biogylocolic face cleanser by a skin specialist, which was NOT gentle. It stung a lot but that was probably down to the glycolic acid in it and my skin being quite sensitive at the time. Then I stumbled across La Roche Posay’s effaclar purifying foaming gel and cerave’s foaming facial cleanser for oily skin. Both are incredible cleansers, however, I lean more on the former because it contains zinc PCA which is good for acne. Yet, cerave is more moisterising on my skin as it contains ceramides which help to retain moisture.
I used to think cleansers didn’t matter but they do, they really do.
Clean and clear’s toner was once my go to product and I often dabbled in clinique’s clarifying lotion for oily skin and la roche posay’s clarifying toner but when you research toners properly you’ll find that their efficacy is debated quite heavily. A lot of derms think they’re redundant which led me to stop using toners all together. However, now I use pixie vitamin c tonic which contains the active ingredient Ascorbic acid, a vitamin c derivative. Vitamin C is a potent antioxidant that helps counter the exposure of UVB and UVA on the skin, inhibits tyrosinase which is the enzyme responsible for the formation of melanin and potentially decreases inflammation which can all cause hyperpigmentation. I also really like this tonic because it doesn’t contain alcohol, which became a key selling point when I introduced retinoic acid to my routine.
As with every other step in my skin care routine, I had to change my moisturiser. I went from clean and clear’s oil free moisturiser, to Neutrogena’s version to efaclar duo plus by la roche posay. I’m actually currently using clinique’s moisture boost and sometimes the body shop vitamin c glow moisturiser. I’ve decreased my usuage of effaclar duo plus because it contains salicylic acid (which is a great BHA for exfoliation) but one I’m trying to avoid since introducing retinoic acid to my routine.
Sunscreen is a key competent in the fight against hyperpigmentation. Post inflammatory hyperpigmentation is exacerbated by exposure to UV rays and visible light. I can’t remember when I started using SPF but I know that I use it religiously now, even when I’m indoors. You want to stabilise and improve the pigment and that is what sunscreen does. I started out using The body shop’s SPF 50 tropical range, which at the time was really difficult to get my hands on due to the cult following but it was an excellent product. I then moved on to using the body shop’s Vitamin C SPF 30, which I currently use now but whilst I was on my obagi treatment (which I’ll talk about in another post) I used their sunscreen. It’s worth noting that I will be changing my sunscreen soon to a higher SPF, I just haven’t settled on what product to buy. Again I will do a separate post on that.
I went into a little bit of detail about tyrosinase inhibitors when discussing the use of vitamin c in the pixie tonic but this is such an integral step in treating hyperpigmentation and I’m actually obsessed with it. As mentioned above tyrosinase is the enzyme responsible for melanin and inhibitors inbit that. Typical active ingredients range from hydroquinone, kojic acid, arbutin (which is a derivative of hydroquinone), azelaic acid, ascorbic acid, ellagic acid, tranexamic acid and thiamidol (a derivative of resorcinyl-thiazole).
I started properly treating my hyperpigmentation with hydroquinone through my obagi treatment, as prescribed by my dermatologist so please please please visit a dermatologist. There’s a lot of ongoing conversation about the constant use of hydroquinone on the skin and so after three months I stopped using it. I may start again in the winter but I will discuss with a derm, when the time is right.
Since then I’ve been using cosmetic products that contain kojic acid (currently using medik 8 click balance), arbutin (the ordinary have an alpha arbutin serum which I loved at the time of use) and dabbled in thiamodal ( I had this very annoying dark spot and used eucerin anti dark spot corrector) which was actually really good.
I’m always trying to top up my knowledge of tyrosinase inhibitors by reading clinical trials and I’m really excited to try out medical azelaic acid in the form of skinoren which contains 20% azaelic acid. So will be blogging about that soon.
I’m going to keep this paragraph to a minimum, purely because I mainly use retinoic acid (below) to increase cell turnover. however it’s still an important step. I used to over exfoliate my skin with scrubs and my skin would always come up with rashes, so I traded manual exfoliation for chemical exfoliation. Chemical exfoliants can be split into AHAs (like glycolic acid) and BHAs ( like salicylic acid) and they work to loosen the bonds between dead skin. One of the main takeaways from my years of exfoliation is that too much exfoliation can increase hyperpigmentation and that glycolic acid is not for everyone lol. It stings, a lot when applied to the skin, so for more sensitive skin and darker skins I would say consider using lactic acid or mandelic acid. These take longer to penetrate into the skin because their molecules are bigger but are least irritating. Having said that, I really love the Ordinary AHA+ BHA peel (which does contain glycolic acid) as a mask to use 2-3 times a week. I think it’s a great product.
I also really enjoyed using Dr Dennis Gross Alpha Beta Universal Daily Peel but its quite expensive.
The fight against hyperpigmentation would not be a proper fight without a retinoid. A retinoid is a structural vitamin A responsible for skin renewal and exfoliation. I was first introduced to retinoids (although I didn’t realise at the time) through avene’s triacneal moisturiser which contains retinaldehyde which is a vitamin A derivative. I actually love this product and used it for some time and there was a noticeable difference in my skin. I moved on from retinaldehyde to an actual retinoic acid, tretonion when I was prescribed obagi. Retinoic acid is like the superior level of retinoid, in that it doesn’t require conversion. Retinaldehyde is converted by the skin to retinoic acid and people opt for it because it’s said to be gentler than retinoic acid. I did use differin (another form of vitamin A) on my skin in the past but I’m now using treclin (which is a tretinoin combination) and will continue to use it as a staple vitamin A product in my routine. It’s an active ingredient that is strongly backed by science and extensive research so I don’t plan on removing it from my routine anytime soon.
So as you can see from the extensive paragraphs above, I have gone through years of reading, researching and trying out different products to really quell my acne but more importantly my hyperpigmentation. I rarely get spots now, although I get the annoying spot near my mouth on my period sometimes (and if I touch my face, so do not touch your face) but I’m still blemish prone so I don’t neglect having a thorough skin care routine. So my routine currently looks like this:
Wash with effaclar
Tone with pixie vitamin c tonic
Inhibit tyrosinanse with medik 8 click balance
Spf with the body shop
(I wait two minutes in between in step)
Wash with effaclar
Use Treclin (when azelaic acid arrives I will be using them alternately)
To emphasise again, I am not a skin professional, I am simply a skin enthusiast, who has lived experience of acne and hyperpigmentation and uses knowledge of clinical trials to further my skin.
Thank you for reading all the way to the end and I really hope you take some things away.
I look forward to taking you on my journey.
Hi guys & dolls!
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