I have always taken great care of my skin and, as a result, it is still clear, vibrant, and youthful-looking. But I hear from patients all the time that the older they get, the more discolorations and age spots they seem to discover. Age spots are common, but are they an unavoidable part of getting older? Once you get an age spot, is it permanent? And are you doomed to get more?
The answer to these questions is no!
Normally, your overall skin tone is determined by the amount of pigment, or melanin, that you are born with. Ultraviolet radiation (UVR) darkens your skin from there. UVA radiation causes oxidative damage of the melanin already in your skin, darkening it. (You can also use the powerful antioxidant squalane in your regiment: read here.)
UVB triggers production of more melanin by your melanocytes (pigment-manufacturing cells in the deepest layers of your skin), which then use pigment-carrying arms called melanosomes to transfer the melanin to your superficial skin cells (Keratinocytes).
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As suggested by the official name—skin hyperpigmentation—age spots are places where excess melanin has been delivered to the skin. But while their common name suggests that they're an unavoidable part of getting older, studies show that they're more about inflammation than age (Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences).
In fact, a woman can be well into her 80s and not have a single age spot, because the number one cause of age spots happens to be the most pervasive cause of skin inflammation, and also the easiest to avoid: UVR.
Conventional treatment usually involves applying a drug called hydroquinone (a somewhat irritating prescription skin lightener) and a prescription corticosteroid, which is used to counteract the inflammatory effects of the hydroquinone. For greater efficacy and speed, this approach is often paired with the use of harsh chemical skin peels or dermabrasion to stimulate new skin to grow and replace the old hyperpigmented skin faster.
This regimen can be effective, but it poses some problems.
First, corticosteroids cause thinning of the skin—the last thing you want as you age.
And, hydroquinone can make skin even more sensitive to damage by UVR. Even worse, hydroquinone can be absorbed into the general circulation and worsen a pre-existing kidney or liver problem.
Furthermore, this regimen significantly increases the skin's inflammatory burden and can trigger rebound hyperpigmentation that's worse than before treatment!
The Better Age Spot Alternative
The rule of thumb when treating hyperpigmented skin is that if you continue injuring your skin by allowing unprotected sun exposure, it will continue to respond with heightened melanin production. And your age spots will stay with you forever and increase in number.
Reversing this process is very doable with this 5-step regimen:
1. Protect against UVR and avoid the sun-induced skin inflammation that triggers hyperpigmentation in the first place. No skin lightener will work if sun-induced inflammation isn't avoided. Use a top-quality sunscreen that blocks both UVA and UVB and has a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or more.
Also make sure it does not contain any inflammatory ingredients such as PABA. A good sunscreen to try is EltaMD Broad Spectrum Sunscreen. It contains hyaluronic acid to give skin the hydration it thirsts for all year round.
2. Cleanse gently and always moisturize. It doesn't take harsh detergent to get your face clean. Try using a mild facial cleanser once a week unless your face is genuinely dirty. On the other days, cleanse twice a day with oil instead of soap. Using about 1/4 teaspoon of a high quality, perfume-free oil such as organic jojoba, olive, grapeseed, macadamia, and/or squalane oil, gently massage your face.
Then, wet a clean washcloth with warm (not hot) water, and remove the oil by scrubbing gently in a downward direction to clean and close your skin's pores. Follow by massaging in about 1/4 as much of the same oil, preferably while your face is still damp. If your skin feels too oily afterward, gently dab away the excess with a clean cloth. I recommend using a moisturizer that contains jojoba combined with olive-sourced squalane. You can find good quality, well-priced olive oil cleanser at Thrive Market. (Use my Thrive Market coupon below to get 20% off.)
3. Twice a week, exfoliate with 10 percent glycolic acid. For most women, 10 percent is gentle enough even for everyday use without causing inflammation. I recommend this Glycolic Acid Cleanser.
4. Choose a natural topical skin lightening regimen that avoids the chemical inflammation and toxic effects caused by hydroquinone, while maximizing the reversal of hyperpigmentation by attacking it from two different angles. Read the ingredients list on the label and choose a product that includes:
♦ Niacinamide (vitamin B3), which is proven to inhibit melanin transfer to the keratinocytes; and
♦ At least one of these gentle but highly effective tyrosinase inhibitors: arbutin, mulberry extract, or licorice extract.
Tyrosinase is an enzyme involved in the production of melanin. Tyrosinase inhibitors block that process. My favorites include Meladerm which contains niacinamide, mulberry extract, licorice extract, and alpha arbutin, as well as a variety of anti-inflammatory and moisturizing ingredient.
5. Nourish your skin from the inside out with a diet that avoids red meat, caffeine, refined carbohydrates and sugars, and hot spices. Make sure you get plenty of anti-inflammatory foods such as cold-water fish and whole fresh produce rich in antioxidants, omega-3 fatty acids, and phytonutrients. Adding organic ginger juice to your drinks will also help with the anti-inflammatory conditions in your body. Thrive Market has a great selection. (Check the Thrive Market button!)
Make sure your multinutrient contains mineral-buffered vitamin C, vitamin E, and beta-carotene to help counteract sun-induced skin inflammation that triggers hyperpigmentation and to encourage the healing of existing damage.
By following these recommendations, you'll see youthful, "spotless" skin in no time!
PS: Look out for my new eating program and cookbook The Divine High Alkaline Cookbook with recipes and pictures for a more low acid diet in major e-retailers.
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