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Talking Tone: Melanin Under the Microscope

By: Laura J. Goodman
Posted: March 27, 2009, from the April 2009 issue of Skin Inc. magazine.

page 4 of 7

One of the newest kids on the block is the ingredient undecylenoyl phenylalanine (UPA). When keratinocyte skin cells are exposed to ultraviolet light, a cycle of events is activated that eventually leads to the release of a hormone that stimulates nearby melanocytes to produce melanin. UPA has been shown to inhibit this melanin-stimulating hormone from communicating with the melanocyte.

Combining ingredients can sometimes result in an even greater benefit for treating hyperpigmentation. Clinical studies have shown a topical combination of the ingredients niacinamide and NAG had a greater effect on reducing the appearance of facial hyperpigmentation than topical application of NAG alone.15 Table 1 shows some current topical ingredients for treating hyperpigmentation and key features about each ingredient technology.

Sunscreen is also effective in reducing hyperpigmentation by helping to block UV rays, which stimulate melanocytes, from even being absorbed into skin. Clinical studies have shown that combining sunscreens with ingredient technologies such as niacinamide and NAG give greater protection against seasonal skin-darkening than just using sunscreen alone.16

Setting the right tone

Because science is moving quickly to discover and integrate more and better ingredients into products that can positively affect hyperpigmentation and improve overall skin tone, it is essential for estheticians to carefully study the ingredients listed on any products they may use or offer clients in the spa. Clients will hold an informed esthetician in high regard, and that often results in a more successful business for the spa itself.


1. K Grammer, B Fink and P Matts, “Visible skin color distribution plays a major role in perception of age, attractiveness and health in the female face,” Human Behavior and Evolution Society Annual Meeting, Philadelphia, Poster #53 (2006)