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Ask the Doctor.
Dr. David Orentreich discusses the causes of uneven skin tone—and what you can do about it.
What’s the benefit of having an even skin tone?
We used to think of lines and wrinkles as being the cardinal sign of aging. Now we’ve learned an uneven tone is probably the first sign of aging. When skin is more even-toned, you look younger. So whatever we can do to even out skin tone will in turn make our skin, and us, look more youthful.
Can you define hyperpigmentation?
Medically speaking, hyperpigmentation is simply the development of an area which is darker in colour that the surrounding skin. Having an even skin tone is important for people of all skin colours, but especially of concern to women with darker skin colours.
What causes changes in skin colour?
The most common causes are sun exposure and melasma, which is a condition that affects primarily pregnant women and women taking birth control pills. Another common cause is what we call post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, a darkening that can occur after any injury to the skin, such as an acne lesion or a burn. A dark patch will mark the area where skin has healed.
What’s the best way to treat pigmentation issues?
Number one—don’t be aggressive. These areas must be treated gently to produce results. Second, use mild, regular exfoliation to help lift off the excess pigment. In addition, use anti-irritant ingredients to help soothe and calm the skin since irritation is a cardinal cause of hyperpigmentation. And finally, protect your skin from sun exposure since ultraviolet light darkens skin—especially areas already affected by hyperpigmentation.
Can skin care products really make a difference?
Yes. It’s possible to have an even more radiant skin tone no matter what your skin tone. But keep in mind it does take time—this is a condition which requires gentle, long-term treatment. Realistically you should expect to see improvements in your skin tone after 4 weeks of treatment, with dramatic improvements at 6 weeks.
Anything else I can do?
Sun protection is a must to avoid further worsening the area by exposing it to ultraviolet light. Women with darker skin tones, in particular, may believe they don’t need sunscreen. But even one minute of unprotected sun exposure will affect skin prone to hyperpigmentation. This means you must apply sunscreen every single day, whether it is sunny or cloudy.