Thanks to natural pigmentation in brown skin, which slows signs of ageing and protects against the sun, “black don’t crack” is not just a throwaway phrase. On the flip side, skin discolouration or pigmentation on dark and lovely skin can be a distressing reality. Black skin is far more prone to pigmentation because of the high levels of melanin in the cells. If the cells that contain melanin are damaged or overstimulated, pigmentation, dark spots or white patches can appear. It is that simple.

On top of that, women have to deal with hormonal fluctuations, adult acne, bruises, inflammation, and unintentional sun damage. Many conditions can cause skin discolouration, but the most common are post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation and melisma.

Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH) occurs when the cells that normally produce brown pigment evenly across your skin go into overdrive and produce too much melanin. This causes spots or patches on the skin. PIH can be caused by injury to the skin such as scratches, bruises and cuts, or by inflammation caused by eczema, psoriasis, acne or even sunburn and cosmetic procedures. Treating a PIH skin disorder requires that you first diagnose the cause. For instance, acne or eczema would need to be treated first, and then the effects such as dark spots can be treated. PIH can fade over time, however, there are treatments that can speed up the process. The traditional way to treat PIH has been by bleaching the skin with hydroquinone-based products that are only available with a doctor’s prescription in South Africa.

Genetic and hormonal changes have an impact on our complexions. Oestrogen and progesterone can overstimulate melanin – especially when skin is exposed unprotected to the sun and during pregnancy. This causes pigmentation problems called melisma or chloasma.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution for treating skin conditions, and with darker skins, in particular, it is essential that treatments are prescribed and administered by experienced professionals.

In a perfect, Instagram-ready world, our flawless complexions give nothing away. But let's strip away the filters and good lighting and deal with the unmade-up face that stares at you in the mirror before bedtime. As an African woman, an even skin tone is the holy grail. Here's how to achieve it.

Treatment options

Lasers

It used to be difficult to find lasers that were effective on darker skin but "colourblind" options such as Laser Genesis and Fraxel Dual are now available. Both can be effective but are still dangerous in the wrong hands. Some laser machines are medically graded, meaning that they may only be used in medical clinics, such as Skin Renewal. These machines are more powerful and can reach much deeper levels of the skin, but must be operated by qualified users. Laser Genesis by Cutera (an Nd: YAG laser used at Skin Renewal) gently heats the dermis, causing cavitation bubbles that disrupt the pigment, breaking it into smaller particles that migrate towards the top of the skin where they’re removed with exfoliation.

Transdermal mesotherapy

This treatment involves using electrical pulses and vibrations to transfer beneficial ingredients into the skin via its microscopic water channels. It can be useful for treating pigmentation as prescription brightening products can be administered straight after the peels, when the skin is at its most receptive, improving the final result.


Pigmentation serums

Recent advances in cosmetic formulation means topical treatments are now much more effective and make use of proven pigmentation-inhibiting ingredients such as bioactive peptides.

Chemical peels 

These are a more intensive treatment used in cases of more persistent PIH or to hasten the lightening effects of the topical prescription products. Peels work by exfoliating the uppermost layer of your skin and the dark area with it. There are many different types of peels and they are usually solutions that the dermatologist applies to the skin. The peels that are used most often to treat PIH in brown skin are the alpha-hydroxy acid (glycolic acid) or beta-hydroxy acid (salicylic acid) peels.

Microdermabrasion 

Fine crystals are sprayed onto the skin’s surface in a dermatologist's office to gently sand away the uppermost layers of the ski, and, as with chemical peels, the dark area with it. This procedure is particularly well suited for individuals who have sensitive skin (many individuals with brown skin) or those who have had a previous reaction to a chemical peeling agent. A machine sprays tiny crystals onto the skin and uses gentle suction to remove the dead superficial skin.

Contact Skin Renewal on 0861 7546 72 for more information or to locate your closest branch, go to www.skinrenewal.co.za

Products for pigmentation

Look for the following ingredients when choosing products to help your pigmentation and create a clearer, brighter complexion: hydroquinone, Retin-A, Differin, Tazorac, azelaic acid and glycolic acid.

REN Bio Retinoid Anti-ageing Concentrate A complex of 100% nature-derived vitamin A, pro-vitamin A and retinoid analogue that combats the appearance of wrinkles, imperfections and age spots, without the irritating effects of synthetic retinol. Reduces pigmentation by 32% in 28 days. R905 for 30ml

REN Glycol Lactic Radiance Renewal Mask This boosts radiance in only 10 minutes and smoothes the skin’s surface, which then reflects more light, thanks to the natural fruit acid extracts. Equivalent to a “peel in a bottle", minus the harshness. R620 for 50ml 

Justine Tissue Oil Gold SPF 25 Formulated especially for the face and body, this four-in-one skincare product helps with 24-hour moisturisation, evening the skin tone and reducing unsightly pigmentation in 28 days. It also helps improve the appearance of wrinkles, combats ageing, scarring and stretch marks. R490 for 50ml

Anew Clinical Absolute Even Multi-Tone Skin Corrector Formulated with DSX-7, which contains two different forms of vitamin C, it targets discolouration, reducing common problems such as dark spots, uneven skin tone, post-acne marks, brown patches and sallowness. Clinically tested, hypoallergenic and non-comedogenic. R349 for 30ml

Anew Clinical Even Texture & Tone Multi-Tone Correcting Cream A lightly fragranced cream with DSX-7 formulated to help stimulate collagen production as it inhibits melanin creation. After four weeks, it helps discolourations appear lighter and skin more even. Dermatologist-tested and suitable for all skin tones. R289 for 50ml

Clinique Even Better Clinical Dark Spot Corrector & Optimizer Proven to smoothe out discolouration starting at four weeks, this serum helps reverse the appearance of dark spots and blemish marks while the opitimizer brightens skin. The two serums are dispensed from a dual-chamber bottle preserving the purity of the ingredients until application. R835 for 50ml