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How to Get Rid of Hyperpigmentation Once and for All

Skin care for women of color is seriously lacking, but we found an exception.

How to Get Rid of Hyperpigmentation Once and for All
Alec Kugler

Tackling brown spots is tricky business, and particularly so for women of color. Or, maybe more accurately, there hasn’t been as much research and definitely not as many products that address discoloration in skin tones outside the lighter end of the spectrum. “Some popular formulations for brown spots like a plain glycolic acid can do wonders in lighter skin types, but that alone would not make that much of a difference in darker skin,” explains Dr. Heather Woolery-Lloyd, a Florida dermatologist and director of ethnic skin care at the University of Miami. “The melanocytes [melanin-producing cells] in darker skin have a predisposition to be more hyperreactive—the ‘factory’ is more efficient—so you’re fighting a little bit of an uphill battle.”

You might have heard of a prescription called hydroquinone, which inhibits the production of excess melanin and is extremely effective, but it is a somewhat controversial ingredient and can’t be used long-term. And even the big guns, like lasers, aren’t usually an option. “Darker skin patients would say, ‘Well, can’t you just laser this off?’ And the answer was no,” Dr. Woolery-Lloyd says. “Sometimes the laser cannot distinguish between the brown spot and the brown skin, so the skin itself can get burned. Also, because—again, the very efficient factory—it just may not be as effective. So, that’s another option that's been completely eliminated. ”

This is why Woolery-Lloyd launched Specific Beauty, a full start-to-finish skin-care line to help even out the skin tone. The signature product is a spot-fighting serum that uses a blend of ingredients proven safe for skin of color.

“In darker skin, the most effective products are a combination of ingredients that attack the pigment from different stages of production so that you really are having a comprehensive approach,” she explains. “That means inhibiting both the production and transfer of the extra melanin from the cell to the surfaceyou’ll sometimes hear them called tyrosinase inhibitorsand exfoliating away what’s there.” But you have to do it carefully, she adds: “The other big issue is post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, when you get a spot after inflammation. If the skin is not in a calm, tranquil, peaceful state, that factory is going to want to turn back on again. If you have any redness or irritation from a product, start using it every other night instead.”

The hero serum she created, Intensive Skin Brightening Serum, combines licorice, antioxidants, and niacinamide to help hinder the whole hyperpigmentation process, while retinol keeps skin cells turning over and ginger root extract calms. She also formulated gentle peel pads with botanically-derived exfoliating acids and a spot treatment with the tried-and-true hydroquinone, if it’s an option you’d like to use.

“I’ve been doing a lecture for years on treatment of hyperpigmentation and compiling research from all around the world because this really is the problem all around the world,” she says. “I was looking for the ingredients that were the most promising; the ones that have the stronger clinical results and blinded control trials.” That means it’s effective in every skin type—light to dark.

Woolery-Lloyd also has one other frontier she’d like to conquer when it comes to skin care for darker skin. “There was definitely a misconception in the past that, ‘Oh, my skin has natural protection from the sun. I’m not at high risk for skin cancer, so I don’t really need to wear sunscreen.’ And some of those statements are true—skin cancer occurs at a much lower rate in people with darker skin types—but it still occurs. Sunscreen is really important. It’s great at preventing wrinkles and skin cancers, but it’s just as important in preventing brown spots. So, that is the biggest take-home. Start wearing sunscreen every day.”

Fortunately, Specific Beauty also has a broad spectrum SPF 30 that also contains some of the same spot-fighting ingredients found in the serum, plus (bonus!) light-reflecting pigments to make skin look instantly glowy. In other words, it’s spot-on. 

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