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Lighten Up–The Natural Way!

By: Natalie Pergar
Posted: May 30, 2014, from the June 2014 issue of Skin Inc. magazine.

In the age of organic intervention, the true power of nature is starting to be realized. The increased popularity of natural skin care can be attributed to the additional benefits of natural formulations, packed with potent antioxidants that provide a powerful defense against the environmental factors that are faced in today’s world.

Hyperpigmentation is one of clients’ leading skin concerns. It is defined by the appearance of dark spots, freckles, scarring or an uneven skin tone, and can affect any skin type. UV rays, stress, hormones, diet and inflammation from any trauma can all cause hyperpigmentation. Regardless of how prevalent, it is still one of the most challenging skin conditions to treat.

The origin of hyperpigmentation

In order to address hyperpigmentation, it is important to understand pigment in the skin. Tyrosine, an amino acid found in the body, plays its role in the skin by helping to produce melanin. Melanin is predetermined by the genes and can range from dark to light, depending on the type and amount that is produced in the melanocytes. With trauma caused from external or internal stresses, such as UV rays and hormonal imbalances, the body naturally creates a protective defense by producing additional pigment that appears as uneven dark areas, known as hyperpigmentation or melasma. This hyperpigmentation is stimulated when an enzyme called tyrosinase signals the production of melanin, which happens in the skin’s melanocytes. Because there are typically between 1,000–2,000 melanocytes per square millimeter of skin, and comprising from 5–10% of the cells in the basal layer of the epidermis, you can understand how challenging it is to deal with this skin condition. When working with pigmentation—regardless of it being caused by external or internal trauma—the skin care professional’s goal is always the same: to inhibit tyrosinase.

A simple way to understand how pigmentation works is to think about how bananas change color from yellow to brown. If the tyrosine in a banana is responsible for the yellow color of the peel, tyrosinase is responsible for causing that peel to oxidize and turn brown. In turn, if tyrosine is responsible for skin pigmentation, tyrosinase is responsible for hyperpigmentation.

Key ingredients

To treat hyperpigmentation in the professional skin care industry, key ingredients can be used to stop the tyronsinase enzyme activity. For many years, a leading treatment to inhibit this chemical reaction and reduce the appearance of hyperpigmentation was hydroquinone. Hydroquinone is indeed an effective skin-lightener, but is it safe? Studies around hydroquinone`s possible carcinogenic activity and its link to cancer are still under investigation, raising doubt about its safety as a skin care ingredient.1 Now classified as a drug with potentially damaging side-effects, hydroquinone has been banned in the EU and Asia. In the United States, over-the-counter products are only permitted to contain 2% hydroquinone and even prescription products are limited to 4% hydroquinone. Many individuals are also allergic to hydroquinone and find the treatment irritating, causing additional skin concerns.