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Preventing & treating skin pigmentation is at the forefront of concern as the summer months approach. While it may be tempting to believe that a few laser treatments can solve all unwanted skin issues, this is actually not true! Maintaining great skin all year round requires daily upkeep in the form of skincare. Think of skincare like brushing your teeth daily, while lasers and other adjunctive treatments are like going to the dentist for an exam and cleaning. Both are important; one does not negate the need for the other. The great thing about skincare is that you can use it at home yourself, which gives great control and choice over what you use and do!

If skin pigmentation is a concern, daily skincare is actually vital to prevention and treatment of pigmentation. Discounting birthmarks, certain medications, hormonal changes, pregnancy, and skin inflammation (i.e. post acne), sun exposure is the cause of most preventable skin pigmentation. Therefore, skincare products that mitigate sun damage and protect skin are vitally important to maintaining skin health. Additional skincare products can be used to reduce pigmentation as well. So, what products would those be?


Read more: Essential Skincare Products, Explained



DSC Sunscreens Blog Graphic with word sunscreen over image of woman's face with smear of sunscreen on her cheek




Sunscreen is the single most important skincare item you can use when it comes to preventing skin damage, skin aging, and unwanted skin pigmentation. As mentioned, sun exposure, especially the UV component from sun exposure, is the leading cause of preventing skin aging and damage. If you are at all interested in preventing or treating existing photoaging or skin pigmentation, no treatment is complete without daily application of SPF. Although sunscreen is commonly thought of as a skincare product, it is actually regulated by the FDA like a pharmaceutical. This is due to its medical application of skin cancer prevention. Think of sunscreen as a medically necessary product for skin protection versus a cosmetic product.

Using a broad spectrum SPF is very important when choosing a sunscreen. This is because broad-spectrum SPFs are formulated to block both UV-B (“burning” rays) and UV-A (“aging” rays). While a higher SPF is better, a sunscreen is only as good as how much is used. The biggest mistakes people make when using SPF is not using enough and not reapplying often enough. SPF must be applied in a specific quantity to get the listed numerical protection. It is generally recommended to use about 2 fingers worth of sunscreen on the face and neck daily PER application, and this amount should be reapplied as directed (reapplication time is individual to each brand). Because so much needs to be used in order to get a proper protection, use of a dedicated liquid sunscreen is highly recommended. Care must be taken when using spray sunscreens to rub product in all over skin for even application. It can be incredibly difficult to use an adequate amount of stick sunscreen, powder sunscreen, or products with added SPF in order to get the listed numerical protection. These products are helpful to layer or for reapplication to small areas, but should not be relied on for sole sun protection.

Using an SPF with mineral tinting provides even more protection against visible light. Mineral foundations and tinted SPF formulated with ingredients such as iron oxide fall into this category. The added mineral tint acts as an additional barrier to sunlight, providing extra protection.

In addition to sunscreen, UPF protective coverings, hats, and umbrellas are also useful for sun protection.


Read more: Sunscreen 101



DSC Antioxidants Blog Graphic with text "antioxidants" over yellow background of vitamin c bottles and citrus slices



Sun exposure and pollution lead to oxidative stress in the skin, which is what causes photoaging and unwanted pigmentation. Melanin functions as a form of protection from UV damage, which is why pigmentation and skin aging develop after prolonged sun exposure. Using topical antioxidants can help protect against this damage because they protect skin against oxidative stress. They also synergistically work with SPF to protect skin.

Vitamin C is the most well-known antioxidant included in common skincare products, but it is by no means the only available topical antioxidant. Vitamin C is notoriously unstable and itself prone to oxidation, which is why Vitamin C products are often sold in dark glass containers or opaque containers to prevent breakdown. Some are even sold in powder form and require reconstitution before use to ensure freshness. Certain forms of Vitamin C are more stable than others, which is why Vitamin C products are not all formulated equally. Some Vitamin C products can cause a bit of a stinging, or tingly sensation, which is normal, but may not be suitable for extremely sensitive skin.

Other common topical antioxidants are Vitamin E, resveratrol, silymarin, and ferulic acid. It is best to use antioxidant-containing skincare in the AM hours due to their skin protective abilities.



DSC Pigment-Inhibiting Topicals Blog Graphic with tan background and liquid dripping over with text "pigment-inhibiting topicals"


Pigment-Inhibiting Topicals


While sunscreen and antioxidant products are considered the first line of treatment for skin pigmentation, there are many topicals that can help inhibit and prevent pigmentation. These should be considered a second line of treatment because they should be used in conjunction with SPF and antioxidants in order to be effective long-term. It is recommended to use most pigment-inhibiting topicals in the evening. Key ingredients to look for are: hydroquinone, arbutin, kojic acid, licorice root extract, and bearberry extract, to name a few. Most of these products are also not suitable to use during pregnancy. Pigment-inhibitors can also cause some skin sensitivity, redness, peeling or minor discomfort during use, so care should be taken to titrate use to modulate skin reactions.

Hydroquinone, while effective for treating melasma pigmentation, must be used in cycles to prevent ochronosis, which is the development of a blue-ish black pigmentation to the skin. It is recommended to use hydroquinone-containing products for no more than 3 or so months at a time, after which other pigment-inhibiting products should be cycled in for several months before resuming use. Hydroquinone works by inhibiting tyrosinase, a key enzyme in melanogenesis. Hydroquinone products are generally available only by prescription or as a cosmeceutical purchased from a medical professional or medical establishment. Because of its side effects, it is best to use hydroquinone under the supervision of a medical professional.

Kojic acid is another highly effective tyrosinase-inhibitor originally derived from certain fungi. Kojic acid works by inhibiting tyrosinase production and also functions as an antioxidant. Kojic acid can increase photosensitivity, so recommended usage is in the PM.

Arbutin is a glycosylated derivative of hydroquinone that can be synthetically created or derived from sources like the bearberry plant. Arbutin is composed of a D-glucose bound to a hydroquinone molecule. Arbutin inhibits tyrosinase, which helps reduce melanin synthesis. Arbutin is less potent than hydroquinone, which means it is available in over the counter skincare products.

Licorice root extract is mainly derived for Glabridin, a flavonoid that anti-inflammatory benefits and can help prevent UV-B induced pigmentation.

Bearberry extract is a source of naturally occurring arbutin.



DSC Retinoids Blog Graphic with image of smiling woman touching face with text "retinoids" centered




Retinoids are topical analogs of vitamin A. There are many types of retinoids, from over the counter formulations to prescription topicals. While the mechanism of action is the same for all retinoids; over the counter variants are less potent than prescription versions because they require molecular conversion before reaching a usable state. Different variants also have different selectivity in retinoid receptor targeting; higher selectivity usually means less irritation upon use.  Retinoids work by increasing cell proliferation, inhibiting keratosis, and accelerating sebum elimination, among many other uses. Retinoids have great anti-aging benefits because they reduce extracellular skin matrix breakdown, strengthen the epidermis, and remodel skin. Use is generally limited by skin irritation upon initial usage, which can persist for many weeks if using prescription strength retinoids.

Due to retinoids’ desquamation effect (skin sloughing), they can actually improve absorption of pigment inhibiting topicals like hydroquinone and the other aforementioned key ingredients. Retinoids should ideally be used in the evenings. Care must be taken to titrate topical skincare when introducing them into a skincare regimen in order to be able to use products long-term.


If you would like assistance building a skincare routine to prevent pigmentation or how to incorporate any key ingredients into your routine, give DSC a call at (626) 285-0800. We are happy to recommend skincare products or take a look at your current routine.


DSC Laser & Skin Care Center

889 S. San Gabriel Blvd. San Gabriel, CA 91776