The sun and the Pill - you wouldn't think they had anything in common, right? Oh so wrong - both can cause hyperpigmentation (street name, pigmentation) which causes patches of our skin to turn darker in a way that concealer struggles to disguise.
"Hyperpigmentation can be caused by excessive sun exposure, hormone imbalances, inflammation and injury to the skin," says celebrity facialist and skincare expert Melanie Grant. "It most commonly appears on the face, neck and décolletage." Unlike the odd pimple flare-up, pigmentation is notoriously difficult to treat, so we asked Grant for her expert lowdown on the very best ways to deal.
Who gets it
Before you can treat your pigmentation, you need to know what type you have. "Those with fair skin are more prone to sun-induced pigment; people with olive complexions can be more susceptible to post-inflammatory pigment," Grant explains. "Women who are pregnant, take the oral contraceptive pill, hormone replacement therapy or who are on IVF are more likely to suffer from hormonal pigmentation such as melasma."
Because nothing is fair in this world, pigmentation tends to flare up not long after the hormonal acne leftover from your teenage years starts to settle down. "Hyperpigmentation will usually worsen as we become older as our melanocytes (the cells that produce pigment) increase in size as we age," Grant says. "Younger skin is also at risk of pigment from sun damage - that cute spray of freckles across the nose and cheeks can become more dense, causing uneven tone and darkness to the face, and melasma caused by the pill is very common in younger women."
How to deal
We're going to get you through this. If you're serious about clearing up your pigmentation, Grant swears by the following: "For sun-induced pigment I favour lasers such as Fraxel Erbium and IPL," she says. "For hormonal pigment there's no cure as such [*SIGH*], however management with a good skincare regime and in-clinic peels such as Cosmelan or Dermamelan are effective. I also like to combine very gentle lactic acid peels with Omnilux light therapy to gradually break down pigment and lighten the skin tone." So no, it's not the most minimalist approach - but Grant isn't regarded as the best in the business for nothing.
Of course, there's no use booking in for Fraxel and continuing to skip the SPF - unless you want to end up right back where you started. "Diligent sun protection is vital in managing all types of hyperpigmentation," says Grant. What's more: "some women choose to stop taking the pill to ease the side effects of melasma."
Your new skincare essentials
"I recommend dedicated lightening products such as Cosmelan and Lytera to my clients and with consistent use, along with diligent sun protection, the results are great. Prescription hydroquinone at around 4% combined with ingredients such as ascorbic acid and Kojic acid are a popular choice for doctors and dermatologists, however this combination can irritate the skin causing redness and flakiness. Overuse can also make the pigment worse so be careful," Grant warns.
How to avoid it
If all this is new to you, a) you don't know how lucky you are and b) it's never too early to take preventative measures. "Prevention will always be the best and smartest approach when it comes to hyperpigmentation," says Grant. "Sun protection is obviously very important, especially in Australia [but you can also] incorporate an antioxidant serum into your morning regime and try following an anti-inflammatory diet." Read up on our favourite non-oily face sunscreens here.