As a Santa Barbara cosmetic surgeon who also specializes in skin care, I get a lot of patients who inquire about reversing hyperpigmentation. They may call them sun spots, “liver spots”, or “age spots”, and essentially what they are referring to is the darkening of their skin that appears over time and can look like freckles, patches, abnormal pigment clumps, or “stains” on the skin. Most hyperpigmentation is the result of sun damage (or photodamage) which is repeated and prolonged exposure to the sun’s UV rays.
There are different ways to address sun damage and pigmentation issues, but I will devote this blog post to the products that I have seen to be the most effective at reducing unwanted pigmentation. While many mass market skin care products that are available from drug stores to high end department stores make claims to reverse or fade spots, their effectiveness is not as great (if they are effective at all) as medical-grade skin care products. Mass market products contain lower active ingredients so they can be used by a large audience without many unwanted problems. Pharmaceutical grade skin care products, on the other hand, have higher active ingredients which renders them more powerful – and more apt to get the job done!
My recommendation for the skin care products listed below stems from their excellent reputation, their high therapeutic value, and our clients’ satisfaction. Also, at some point, these products have all been used by me and my staff at Evolutions Medical & Day Spa in Santa Barbara and we have personally witnessed positive changes in the skin from them.
The entire line of NIA24 products are designed specifically to address photodamaged skin and to help prevent future damage. They contain a patented molecule called Pro-Niacin™, derived from Niacin (Vitamin B3), that utilizes a MicroNutrient Delivery system which allows it to cross the epidermal barrier and penetrate the epidermis in a continuous release fashion for up to 24 hours. This is what makes these products different from any other Niacin containing products. NIA24 truly creates healing from within and will lessen pigmentation, brighten and firm the skin.
Obagi is one of the most recognized skin care names globally. They are known for their prescription-strength product lines that truly transform the skin. Obagi is offered in many physicians’ offices worldwide. Obagi has an array of products for different skin concerns. Hyperpigmentation would be best addressed by Obagi’s Nu-Derm System. This system contains several products that help normalize the skin as it increases cell turnover, lightens or erases dark pigment spots and other photodamage, improves skin elasticity, lessens the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, and brightens the overall complexion.
This scientifically advanced skin care line provides the most technically researched, results-driven formulations available today. PCA products are only available through licensed skin health professionals that have been trained and certified by PCA Skin. PCA has a Pigment Gel with Hydroquinone (HQ) or a Pigment Gel HQ Free (no hyrdoquinone but other ingredients such as kojic acid, azelaic and lactic acids to encourage an even skin tone) that are less aggressive than Obagi’s Nu-Derm system but give an alternative way to decrease the formulation of melanin (the brown pigment) over time.
Tretinoin is the chemical name for retin-A (retinoic acid) and is a vitamin A derivative that has been shown to have many beneficial effects on the skin such as 1) increasing cell turnover, 2) decreasing pore plugging (which means fewer pimples, white and blackheads), 3) decreasing abnormal cell differentiation (which means less likelihood of skin cancer) and 4) anti-aging effects. Retinol is a “cousin” of retin-A that is converted to retinoic acid in the skin but at a much lower concentration. Retin-A is best used on a regular basis at night for the long term and is known for gradually fading hyperpigmentation spots over time.
There are faster ways to fade pigmentation (such as non-invasive aesthetic treatments) but if you choose to use any of the above products and give them some time and patience, I think you will be pleased with the result.