Even skin tone is considered to be the ideal from a beauty standpoint, but skin often becomes more mottled with an uneven skin tone over time. This happens when too much melanin, the pigment that gives skin its color, is produced. This is a source of great frustration, especially when it involves the face. Not surprisingly, some women try to cover it up with make-up, but this isn’t a very satisfying solution. Fortunately, there are better ways to deal with this common skin problem.
What Causes It?
Anything that triggers overproduction of melanin can cause uneven skin tone. This most commonly comes from overexposure to the sun and female hormonal fluctuations. Another less frequent cause is a condition called post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation that comes from injury to the skin or scarring due to acne. Less frequently, increased melanin production can be a sign of a medical problem, a nutritional deficiency or a side effect of medications.
Sunlight is the frequent cause since melanin production is the skin’s way of protecting itself against damage. People who have spent lots of time in the sun or frequented tanning booths are more likely to have problems with uneven skin tone. Women are also at higher risk during pregnancy and around the time of menopause when hormone levels fluctuate. Birth control pills can also cause pigmentation problems and irregular skin tone.
A high-powered sunscreen is a must for dealing with uneven skin tone. Sunlight stimulates melanin production, which can worsen the problem and make other treatments less effective. The best sunscreen is one that protects against both UVA and UVB light and has an SPF of at least 30. Sunscreen isn’t just for outdoors. UVA rays can even penetrate glass, so it’s important to wear sun protection daily - even indoors.
Hydroquinone is a chemical that’s been used for more than half a century to treat uneven skin tone due to hyperpigmentation. It works by blocking the main enzyme involved in melanin synthesis. It works best when combined with glycolyic acid since the weak acid makes it easier for the hydroquinone to penetrate the skin. Glycolic acid also helps to slough off the outer layer of skin, which helps to remove superficial cells containing melanin.
Another chemical called kojic acid also helps to lighten pigmented areas that cause skin tone to be uneven. It’s a natural acid that’s a by-product of the fermentation process used to make Japanese sake.
Retinoids like those in prescription strength Retina-A are often used to treat acne and aging skin. Retinoids help to fade pigmented areas, but they work best when used in combination with hydroquinone. Otherwise, it can take 6 to 12 months to see results. Dermatologist can also do a series of facial peels using acids of various strengths to decrease pigmentation over time. Unfortunately, people with darker skin tones can sometimes experience increased skin pigmentation as a result of this treatment.
The Bottom Line?
There are a variety of effective ways to treat uneven skin tone that comes from overproduction of melanin. In many cases, a combination of hydroquinone and glycolic acid will fade darkened areas over time and improve skin texture too.