If I had to pick public enemy #1 in my never-ending quest towards “good” skin, I would say that my most vicious battles thus far have been with evening out my skin tone. Hyperpigmentation, which is an excess of melanin gathered in an area, resulting in dark spots on the skin, is unfortunately a constant thing I deal with. My skin tone falls generally into the light/medium category, but it also takes on color really quickly from the sun. I’m not really going out much these days as my household is continuing to quarantine, but when I do get some sun, the color comes quick and can stay for months into the colder seasons. Unfortunately, this means that any hyperpigmentation hangs around for just as long.
My hyperpigmentation is more of the dark brown-ish variety and is considered PIH or post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (every breakout I get leaves dark marks on my skin that last for several months). But hyperpigmentation can range from a deeper, almost purple-toned dark brown to bright red. There are a lot of ways to be a part of this club, and I’d really like to cancel my membership.
I’d also like a refund on whatever subscription I apparently signed up for to Perpetual Redness Digest, because I quite regularly have some redness hanging out on my face. And while it’s not a full-blown medical skin condition, i.e. rosacea, it certainly isn’t helping my skin look any more even or healthy.
Thankfully, with all the ways you can join Club Hyperpigmentation in the town of Never-ending Redness, there are also several ways to even out your skin tone.
Thankfully, with all the ways you can join Club Hyperpigmentation in the town of Never-ending Redness, there are also several ways to even out your skin tone. But first, let me make it abundantly clear that when I use any terms like “brighten,” I do not mean whitening your skin. I have no interest in changing mine or anyone’s skin tone. What I am interested in is helping my skin be as even as possible and be the tone that it naturally is.
Now that we have that out of the way, here are some of my favorite skincare ingredients for brightening and to tackle blotchy, uneven skin.
You may have heard of hydroquinone, which is often considered the “gold standard” when it comes to tyrosinase inhibitors, but it can also result in a lot of irritation in the skin. Arbutin is derived from hydroquinone and delivers serious brightening power with much less chance for irritation. I personally cannot use hydroquinone on my face without getting super itchy, irritated skin that also breaks out in tiny little bumps (and I do not have sensitive skin, y’all), so having something like arbutin available is a gift from the skincare gods.
Arbutin has been around for quite some time in Korean beauty as a brightening agent, and I’ve been a fan for quite some time. The way it works to brighten your complexion is to inhibit an enzyme called tyrosinase. This enzyme plays a key part in your skin making melanin, but they can go into overdrive when exposed to the sun or when the skin becomes inflamed, like when you’re breaking out. By turning down the production level of this enzyme in your skin, it can help break up excess hyperpigmentation. It’s like you’re deactivating the process in your skin that creates these dark clusters of pigment, and I’m a big fan of that idea.
Azelaic acid really deserves a dedicated love letter because it’s another one of those ingredients that really can do so many different things for the skin and help combat a large variety of skin concerns. But the reason I wanted to mention it here is for its ability to reduce redness and inflammation in the skin.
When we’re talking uneven skin tone, a lot of focus gets placed on dark marks on the skin, whether they’re from the sun or breakouts or other types of exposure and/or damage. But I don’t think people realize how much of an impact generalized redness, and the reduction of that redness, can have on the overall appearance of the skin. Your eyes may not zoom straight in on patches of redness across your cheeks or forehead like it does on a pimple or a sun spot, but tamping down that low level of redness can really help make things look much more evened out than you think.
Another member of the tyrosinase inhibitor family, licorice extract is a skin brightener that has been around in the Korean beauty industry for quite some time (there’s a serious focus on skin brightening in Korea, if you can’t tell). It’s not as well researched as some of its cousins, but evidence has shown that the ingredient helps even out skin by not only inhibiting tyrosinase but also bringing a compound called glabridin to the table, which acts to reduce pigmentation brought on by the sun and reduces inflammation, thereby helping with any redness.
Licorice extract also brings antioxidant benefits to the table, making it a great ingredient to use particularly during the day under your sunscreen (which I’m sure you’re applying whenever you leave the house). So for someone like me who is almost always dealing with some PIH and lives in one of the sunniest places in the U.S. with frequent poor air quality, it’s something I really don’t like to be without in my skincare.
Centella Asiatica Extract
Centella asiatica, tiger grass, gotu kola: It’s got a million names and does what feels like a million things for your skin. Centella had a bit of a global moment across the world in skincare in the last year or two, but as always, it’s actually something very old that’s become the new thing again. Much like azelaic acid, this an ingredient I feel really deserves to have its praises sung all on its own, but among its many virtues, evening out skin tone is one of the reasons it’s always in my skincare routine.
Centella also helps bring down inflammation in the skin, which helps combat that generalized redness I mentioned previously, but it also helps with promoting wound healing. I always picture someone being attacked by a vampire or something when I hear the word “wound,” but in regards to skin, anything from sunburns and breakouts to overexfoliation can all fall into the “damage” or “wound” category. And the more you’re able to speed up the recovery process, the less time your skin spends inflamed, which can help minimize the severity of any PIH. It’s like a little loop of skin healing and recovery, and I very much try to live in this loop as best as I can.
I’ve already gone on extensively about all of the ways niacinamide can bless your skin, so I won’t go on forever about why it was my first true love in skincare, but niacinamide is one of the most well-documented and widely adored ingredients in the beauty industry and with good reason. While I’ve enjoyed benefits well beyond just a brightened, more even complexion thanks to niacinamide, its skin brightening benefits are actually what drew me to it in the first place, and I have never looked back. Seriously, I refuse to take it out of my skincare routine no matter how appealing other products or lines may be, and this is not going to change any time soon.
I know for a fact that I’m going to continue talking about hyperpigmentation and uneven skin tone because it truly is my Mt. Everest in my skincare journey. But I hope I’ve given y’all another tool or two to add to your arsenal or mentioned something new to try if you feel that what you’re currently using isn’t giving you the result that you’re looking for. Stay safe out there and have a great week!