The Ultimate Skin Regimen To Treat Pigmentation

While pigmentation should ideally be treated by your dermatologist, you can still improve an uneven tone with the right ingredients and a targeted skincare routine. MALENA HARBERS shares pro advice for ensuring summer’s visible reminders (hello, sunspots and dark patches) don’t linger into next season


In the morning…

Power up with ingredient pairing

Vitamin C is the ultimate brightening agent. “If you’re using it on its own, percentage really matters,” says Dr Anita Sturnham, founder of Decree skincare. “I find ten percent is best because you get all the pigment-stabilizing benefits without the risk of aggravating skin.” Niacinamide is equally great for addressing pigmentation. “Paired together, they make the dream team.” Dr Sturnham suggests using one hard-working serum that offers both – ideally with added punchy antioxidants like ferulic acid –instead of layering each one as a single ingredient. “They boost the efficacy of one another. Plus, absorption reduces the further down the pecking order your application is.” If you have sensitive skin, look for a formula with ascorbyl glucoside. “[A more stable form of vitamin C], it gets converted back to L-ascorbic acid in your skin, so it switches on all the vitamin C receptors in the same way, but without the side effects,” says Dr Sturnham. “Plus, it won’t give you that skin flush when it's mixed with niacinamide.”

Alternate with azelaic acid

Found naturally in grains, azelaic acid is great for inflammatory conditions. “If you have pigmentation, sensitive skin and are prone to breakouts, it ticks all those boxes,” says Dr Sturnham. However, she advises not to use it at the same time as applying vitamin C. “It’s too much, especially for sensitive skin. Use it on alternate mornings or in the evening instead.” You can find it at ten percent in over-the-counter products or “a prescriptive dose at 15 percent tends to give the best results for most people.” Top it off with either a hyaluronic acid or squalene serum and a layer of SPF. “That way, your dermis is being treated, plus you’ve got barrier support, hydration and protection on that top layer.”

In the evening…

Double down on brown spots with retinol

Adding a retinoid (the overarching term for vitamin A ingredients) into your nighttime routine will boost the production of new skin cells, creating a more even tone. “Find the form of retinoid that works well for you – it should give you results without feeling too harsh,” says Dr Sturnham, who uses Granactive retinoid (a third-generation variation) in her Decree Treat Tincture. “[Unlike retinol] it doesn’t need to be converted to retinoic acid, so you don’t get the same side effects that often come with using a retinol.” You can also pair your retinoid with alpha-arbutin – another ingredient included in Treat Tincture. “It’s converted to the dark spot-lightener hydroquinone when it’s absorbed by the skin, so you’ll see even more of an impact when paired with a retinoid.”

Treat what you can see – as well as what you can’t

Visible dark patches are old areas of pigmentation that have moved to the skin’s surface from lower layers. “When you’ve got lots of deeper, dermal pigmentation then skincare alone is not going to touch it,” says Dr Sturnham. “I see a lot of people who have had superficial lasers, like IPL or BBL and peels, which generally work on the top layer only. Initially, they think these treatments have worked, but they often find the pigment is much worse a few months later. [That’s] because these treatments can set also off an inflammatory signal, so melanocytes start making more melanin in the deep dermal layers, which then comes to the surface later – leaving patients stuck in a vicious cycle.” To stop this, Dr Sturnham says Nd:YAG lasering is the best option. “It can treat the deeper layers of the skin to target where the pigment is coming from and start to breakdown the superficial pigment that’s bothering you, so it’s the best of both worlds.”

Reapply SPF frequently

When you’re treating pigmentation, topping up your sunscreen throughout the day and early evening is especially key. “UV rays are such a strong trigger for pigmentation, and more and more studies show that at the upper end of the blue-light spectrum we’re getting the same level of DNA damage to the skin as we get from being exposed to the sun.” Ideally, she says we need two sunscreens in our life: “Your staple that you use at the start of your day and a separate product, which usually comes in a spray or a powder, to boost protection. We made the Decree Day Shield to be applied over makeup, so you can easily top up your SPF every two to three hours.”


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