When it comes to our skin, we all want to be “flawless.” So, when we were told that by simply living our lives we could be causing hyperpigmentation (better known as dark spots or melasma), we kind of freaked out. Stress causes a bevvy of issues, but it can also cause uneven skin tone? Ugh. We consulted dermatologist Dr. Dennis Gross, of his namesake dermatology practice, to get real about how we’re secretly letting hyperpigmentation into our (skin’s) lives.
In case you needed a better explanation for hyperpigmenation, Dr. Gross added a new moniker for it: “Warning flags—created by your body to inform you that it is injured or under attack.” It all starts with Melanin (the protein that gives your skin color) and how its production goes into overdrive as your body’s way to protect itself via darkened spots on your skin. No one is born with hyperpigmentation—which include freckles—mind you, they appear because of a genetic pre-disposition of your skin behaving that way in response to environmental aggressors.
So please keep in mind that those environmental aggressors might actually include your own behavior…
… Like Not Wearing Sunscreen. Your tan is actually a broad form of hyperpigmentation, technically. “When the skin is assaulted by repeated exposure to UV rays, it can cause brown spots and hyperpigmentation from overproduction of melanin,” Dr. Gross explains. “Since brown spots are created by the sun – think of it as your skin talking to you, and telling you that it has had too much exposure.” Time to seek shade or reapply that SPF.
… Using Skincare Treatments That Are Too Aggressive. If a skincare product has ever made your skin turn red, that’s grounds for possible discoloration in its aftermath, no matter what your skin type or tone. The visible aftermath of that irritation is known as Post-inflammatory Hyperpigmentation (PIH). Think of the redness caused by a product as another warning flag for a possible hyperpigmentation cause. Also as unfair as it may seem—certain products made to treat hyperpigmentation can actually cause it if it’s too strong for you, or if you apply it more excessively than instructed.
… Picking At Scabs And Improper Wound Care. All those who suffer from acne scars, listen up—if you wouldn’t pick at a healing wound, don’t pick your acne. Believe it or not, one of the ways your body responds to injury involves overproducing melanin. “Your body responds to injury via inflammation which triggers melanin production and can result in a brown patch,” Dr. Gross explains. Acne scars are a prime example of post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. They result when there’s too much collagen in a targeted area like a healing wound, leading to a bump or raised area on top of the dark spot it leaves behind. Great.
… Smoking Cigarettes. In case you were looking for another reason to quit cigarettes (other than the fact that they could kill you with regular use after time), they’re ruining your skin. All of the toxic chemicals in cigarettes deplete the antioxidants in your body as well as produce more free radicals. Those free radicals damage your skin cells, which then replicate more damaged skin cells, so your likelihood of forming dark spots increases exponentially the more you smoke.
… Stress. Yup, yet another way stress messes with your body and skin. When you’re stressed out, your body can send your hormones out of whack, triggering responses that lead to breakouts and rashes, while leaving you vulnerable to other ailments as your free radical numbers increase. It’s definitely in your best interest—inwards and outwards—to take time to zen out once in a while.
Other than always wearing sunscreen, ditching cigarettes and offending skin care products, and refraining from picking at your skin, it’s possible that you may still be plagued with hyperpigmentation beyond your own devices. In this case, Dr. Gross recommends gentle chemical peels, like his Alpha Beta Professional Peel, as a non-invasive method, or laser treatments specifically made to destroy darker pigments effectively for much more stubborn cases of hyperpigmentation.
If either of those options don’t appeal to you, vitamin C serums/treatments and gentle chemical exfoliators are other tried and true methods.
Originally featured on StyleCaster.com
Anyone chasing smooth, even, and clear dewy skin has probably heard of AHAs and BHAs. Perhaps you’ve seen it as a footnote on the bottle of your cleanser, serum, or exfoliator. You know it’s a good thing, but you’re not really sure what it is or how it works. If you’ve been using a manual exfoliator with scrubby bits in it, we’re just about ready to slap it out of your hands from all the damage you’re likely doing to your skin. If all you needed to know was a little bit about how these chemical exfoliators worked to dive in to them, by all means, read on.
AKA “Alpha Hydroxy Acids”, AHAs are what you can consider the Goo-Gone of dead skin debris. The weak bonds that keep that layer of dead skin on your hide are essentially dissolved with AHAs so your skin can let go of the dead stuff and let the new skin cells surface. AHAs are great chemical exfoliants for people with dry and sensitive skin, since they can help remove dead skin in the gentlest way possible that doesn’t involve manually buffing them off (which harms the new skin underneath too).
AHAs also have humectant properties, meaning they hold moisture to your skin. Aside from daily skin-clearing, over time AHA use helps to thicken the epidermis and increase collagen production—all of which is excellent for repairing photo-damaged skin as well as protecting it from future UV damage. Extra collagen means firmer plumper skin. So as far as anti-aging concerns go, you’ve got two birds with one stone. The caveat is that AHAs do cause photosensitivity so they should be used at night only and you should always wear a broad spectrum sunscreen during the day (but you were already doing that, right?).
The most common AHAs are Glycolic Acid, Lactic Acid, and Mandelic Acid. Keep in mind that these are strong substances and should be used in very small percentages. Not sure which ones to use? Here’s a tiny tip sheet:
- Glycolic: Probably the most common AHA because it has the smallest molecular size, meaning it can penetrate your skin the deepest for repair (but also can be potentially the most irritating if you go overboard). Go for lower percentages (less than 10%) when trying them out and work your way up as needed.
- Lactic: This is a milk-derived acid which happens to be great for addressing redness issues like roseacea and sensitive skin in general. It is also a humectant so it won’t over-dry your skin as it helps slough off that top layer.
- Mandelic: This one is great for acne-prone skin because of its anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties. It has the largest molecular size of these AHAs which just means that it works over a longer time period, but is also the least irritating. This one is also a milk humectant.
They may be Beta Hydroxy Acids, but make no mistake–these acids are no wimps. They are however your secondary selection if AHAs just aren’t tough enough for your skin. BHAs are generally encouraged for oily and acne-prone skin since they are oil soluble (while AHAs are water soluble), making them perfect for treating blackheads, whiteheads, and acne. Rather than just loosen the bonds that hold debris to your skin, they actively penetrate your pores and remove whatever gunk is in there.
Cosmetically, BHAs almost always refer to salicylic acid—something you’ve no doubt seen on almost any acne treatment. Salicylic acid is a derivative of aspirin—a known anti-inflammatory—which makes it great for relieving your skin of any inflammation (but also not great if you have aspirin allergies—sorry). It’s also commonly found in dandruff treatments since it’s can calm irritation on your scalp as well as sloughing away the dead skin that’s flaking.
One of the better benefits of BHAs are that in clearing your pores of any gunk, whatever treatments you then put on top of your newly cleaned skin can absorb properly. So, anti-aging serums? Brightening agents? All good to go 100% once your canvas is cleared. BHAs themselves give you similar skin benefits to AHAs, like helping increase the thickness of skin, as well as collagen production, and improves wrinkles, roughness and hyperpigmentation. They don’t possess humectant qualities however and can dry out your skin, so this is why it’s not generally recommended for those with dry skin.
How to use them?
Unless you’re a skin care layering pro, it can be confusing as to where these magic skin potions go in your skin care sandwich. They should be applied on clean skin so there’s no extra stuff to have to fight through to get down to business— so after cleansing and toning but before serums and moisturizers. And please don’t forget sunscreen as your last step!
Orginially featured in Stylecaster.com
It’s hardly news that exercise is great for your heart, lungs, and mental outlook. Here’s another reason to get moving: Regular exercise is one of the keys to healthy skin.
“We tend to focus on the cardiovascular benefits of physical activity, and those are important. But anything that promotes healthy circulation also helps keep your skin healthy and vibrant,” says dermatologist Ellen Marmur, MD, author of Simple Skin Beauty: Every Woman’s Guide to a Lifetime of Healthy, Gorgeous Skin and associate professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine.
If you have dermatological conditions such as acne, rosacea, or psoriasis, you may need to take special care to keep your skin protected while exercising. But don’t let skin problems prevent you from being active. Here’s why.
By increasing blood flow, exercise helps nourish skin cells and keep them vital. ” Blood carries oxygen and nutrients to working cells throughout the body, including the skin,” says Marmur. In addition to providing oxygen, blood flow also helps carry away waste products, including free radicals, from working cells. Contrary to some claims, exercise doesn’t detoxify the skin. The job of neutralizing toxins belongs mostly to the liver. “But by increasing blood flow, a bout of exercise helps flush cellular debris out of the system,” Marmur tells WebMD. “You can think of it as cleansing your skin from the inside.”
Exercise has also been shown to ease stress. “And by decreasing stress, some conditions that can be exacerbated by stress can show some improvement,” says Brian B. Adams, MD, associate professor and director of the Sports Dermatology Clinic at the University of Cincinnati. Conditions that can improve when stress is reduced include acne and eczema. Although researchers are still investigating the link between stress and skin, studies show that the sebaceous glands, which produce oil in the skin, are influenced by stress hormones.
Regular exercise helps tone muscles, of course. That doesn’t have a direct affect on skin, dermatologists say. But firmer muscles definitely help you look better overall.
The Healthy Skin Workout
For all its many benefits, however, exercise can pose risks to your skin. Fortunately, protecting your skin is easy.
“The main danger if you exercise outdoors is sun exposure,” says April Armstrong, MD, assistant professor of dermatology at the University of California, Davis. Sunburns increase skin cancer risk and rapidly age the skin, erasing any benefits your skin might get from exercise. The best advice is to avoid exercising outside during peak sun time, between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
If you have to work out during peak sun time, however, wear sunscreen. “A lot of athletes are reluctant to put on sunscreen because it gets into their eyes when they sweat and stings,” says Marmur. “But new Ph-balanced sunscreens are now available that don’t sting.” If you have naturally oily skin or problems with acne, choose a gel or oil-free product or the latest innovation, powder laced with SPF protection.
Don’t count of sunscreen alone to protect you, however. ” Sweating can remove the sunscreen that athletes put on and there is evidence that sweating actually increases the chance of burning,” Adams tells WebMD. “After athletes sweat, it takes 40% less ultraviolet rays to burn than when they are not sweating.” For added protection, wear clothes that cover as much skin as possible and a hat to shade your face, if possible.
Another skin problem that can arise during activity is chafing, which can cause rashes. For people prone to acne, the irritation and increased perspiration caused by tight-fitting workout clothes may lead to a form of acne aptly called acne mechanica. “The two keys to prevention are to wear moisture-wicking clothing, such as bras and hats, to keep skin drier and cooler and to shower immediately after exercising,” says Adams. Wearing loose-fitting workout clothes can also help. Make sure your skin is clean before you work out to prevent clogged pores that lead to acne. Avoid wearing makeup when you exercise. After showering, apply a soothing skin moisturizer or powder to help prevent skin irritation.Rx for Exercise-Related Skin Problems
Several other skin conditions can be exacerbated by physical activity, including rosacea, eczema, and psoriasis. That’s no reason not to exercise, dermatologists say. The benefits of exercise outweigh any temporary problems it can cause. And there are simple strategies to prevent flare-ups when you work out.
For rosacea sufferers, increased body temperature and the skin flushing that accompany exercise can cause flare-ups. The best strategy, dermatologists say, is to exercise in a cool environment. “One of the best choices is swimming, since the water keeps skin cool even when you build up body temperature,” Marmur told WebMD. (Be sure to moisturize your skin afterward, however, since chlorine has a drying effect.) Brisk walking in an air-conditioned mall or waiting until the cool of the evening to jog outside are other good options. “If you do get flushed and overheated while exercising, apply cool compresses to problem areas of the skin immediately after your workout,” says Andrea Cambio, MD, a private practice dermatologist in Cape Coral, Fla.
Eczema or psoriasis sufferers can also experience flare-ups after strenuous activity, usually caused by salt from perspiration. Marmur recommends spreading on a moisturizer before a workout to provide protection from sweat. Be especially careful to moisturize your arms and legs and areas with skin creases, such as underarms and groin. If possible, exercise in a cool environment to reduce perspiration and the need for showering after exercise. Washing too often can cause dryness and exacerbate eczema and psoriasis.
“Physical activity can definitely pose a challenge, but we encourage all our patients with psoriasis and eczema to exercise to improve their overall health,” says Armstrong. Despite the occasionally temporary flare-ups, she adds, many patients see their conditions improve in the long term.
Orinigally published on WebMD.com