beauty

"I've rebounded from my melasma moustache": 11 of the best pigmentation products for WOC.

As a WOC growing up in Australia, all I ever wanted was peaches and cream complexion. You know what I’m talking about, unblemished skin that looks like porcelain. The media I was consuming didn’t help. It leaned into an unrealistic standard of beauty

I remember so clearly, flipping through my Dolly magazines as a teen, questioning why my skin couldn’t be lighter, clearer, with that effervescent glow each woman seemed to naturally have.

However, the dream of even-toned skin slipped through my fingers as I grew up with predominantly Caucasian friends who introduced me to the world of tanning. 

Watch: Here's how to protect your skin from the sun. Properly. Post continues below.


Video via Mamamia.

Peer pressure shaped my adolescent life. 

In an attempt to 'fit in,' I’d slather coconut oil on my body and lay out in the sun. My friends didn’t wear SPF, so surely, I didn’t have to, right? Wrong. 

In my quest to stay sun-kissed, I found my pigmentation began to spread. What began as sun spots, turned into a full- blown melasma moustache in just a few months. 

And with no knowledge of skincare or friends who were experiencing this, I felt ugly. I wasn’t confident in my own skin and worse – the only person to blame was myself. 

Fast forward two decades later, the beauty industry has changed for the better. 

With more representation of women and men of colour in the media, sun safety has become a predominant focus across marketing campaigns and influencer's lips. 

And whilst SPF will always be in first place to prevent pigmentation from forming, what about existing damage? 

That’s why I decided to write this article. 

We’re going to deep dive into pigmentation (specifically hyperpigmentation) and spotlight some ingredients to help reverse those years of reckless suntanning.

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But first, let’s define pigmentation. What is it?

Pigmentation (aka melanin) means colouring. Everyone has it. It’s determined by genetic factors and is what gives our skin, hair, eyes their unique colour. 

Typically, melanin presents itself in one of the forms of hyperpigmentation below:

  • Birthmarks.

  • Age spots.

  • Acne scars (often called post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation or PIH for short).

While people with darker complexions often produce excess melanin, a number of different factors can also trigger pigmentation, including:

  • Pregnancy (due to a fluctuation in hormones - during which melasma, or tan, brown, or grey patches can appear on the face).

  • Genetic disorders.

  • Certain drugs (such as antibiotics or birth control pills).

  • Sun exposure.

  • Cryotherapy, laser therapy or light therapy.

Considering the scale and varying degrees that hyperpigmentation can occur, it shouldn’t be a surprise to say that there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. 

However, being the skin detective that I am, I decided to seek a professional’s opinion on how to get started. 

Speaking with Sydney dermatologist Cara McDonald, she advised that "sun protection and a good skincare regime using vitamin C and ingredients to promote cell turnover is the minimum requirement for all pigmentation sufferers."

Is there seriously no other way to get rid of my hyperpigmentation?

Whilst there is no quick fix for hyperpigmentation, there are a plethora of ingredients available to help manage discolouration. 

Let’s look at some popular ones, as well as the best products to try:

1. Vitamin C.

What does it do? Vitamin C, sometimes called ascorbic acid, is a powerful antioxidant which neutralises the effects of free radicals (harmful molecules such as UV rays that can damage skin and cause hyperpigmentation). 

As the most researched antioxidant in the market, vitamin C also helps to brighten our skin by inhibiting the production of tyrosinase (the enzyme that creates melanin). In doing so, it can lighten existing pigmentation while helping to prevent further hyperpigmentation.

Who’s it for? All skin types, however, as it is a potent ingredient it can cause irritation. Finding one to suit your skin type is crucial.

Recommended product: If you’ve never used vitamin C before, Go To’s Much Brighter Skin Serum, $59, has nourishing ingredients to ease you in. 

For seasoned vitamin C lovers, Medik8 Pure C15 range ($118 for two serums) has pure ascorbic acid to brighten dark spots in just two weeks.

Image: Mamamia 

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2. Retinoids.

What does it do? Retinoids – the gold standard of skincare – is known for its ability to reverse ageing and skin damage. 

It’s also a useful treatment for hyperpigmentation due to its ability to inhibit melanin synthesis. It also helps to regulate cellular turnover and helps to fade dark spots. 

Who’s it for? All skin types. It’s recommended to start a form of retinoid treatment in your mid to late 20s.

Recommended product: If you’re new to retinoids, starting off with a 0.5 per cent retinol is a great way to ease your skin into it. 

The PCA Skin Intensive Brightening Treatment, $168, has a combination of skin-loving ingredients to strengthen the barrier and antioxidants that work together to protect and reverse UV damage. 

Image: Mamamia  

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3. Hydroquinone.

What does it do? Hydroquinone is a controversial product when it comes to pigmentation. Whilst it’s highly effective at treating melasma (specifically chloasma: hormonal-induced melasma), long-term use can induce excess melanocyte production, causing skin darkening.   

Who’s it for? Women who suffer from excess melasma and have tried other alternatives as mentioned in this article.

Recommended product: In Australia, hydroquinone is available over the counter in pharmacies at concentrations of two per cent or less. 

It is highly recommended to have a consult with a skin specialist to determine whether you are an appropriate candidate for this treatment option. 

4. Alpha-arbutin.

What does it do? Best thought of as the cousin to hydroquinone, it’s derived from plants, making it the safer alternative. Functioning as a tyrosinase inhibitor, this is a gentle way to brighten the skin.

Who’s it for? All skin types, particularly sensitive skin as the active component is released slowly meaning no irritation//ensuring minimised irritation.

Recommended product: Paula’s Choice Radiance Renewal Mask, $36, is a great product for a quick pick-me-up. With niacinamide, vitamin C and alpha-arbutin, it will give you an instant glow. 

To target more stubborn pigmentation, opt for IS Clinical Super Serum Advance+, $259, which comes with the addition of antioxidants and copper tripeptides to brighten and improve skin texture. 

Image: Mamamia  

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5. Kojic acid.

What does it do? Kojic acid is a chemical derived from mushrooms. It is a by-product of rice fermentation that blocks the production of tyrosinase, thus reducing hyperpigmentation. 

Touted as a less aggressive alternative to hydroquinone, kojic acid is known to help other skincare ingredients penetrate deeper into our dermis to break down extremely stubborn pigmentation. 

Who’s it for? All skin types.

Recommended product: If you want one serum that does it all, SkinCeuticals Discoloration Defense, $98, contains a mixture of kojic acid, tranexamic acid and niacinamide. Bonus points because it’s pregnancy safe and plays well with other skincare products. 

Image: Mamamia  

6. Azaleic acid.

What does it do? Derived from grains like barley, wheat, and rye, azelaic acid is another tyrosinase inhibitor, interfering with excess melanin production 

Who’s it for? All skin types. Those who have rosacea or are acne prone will see great benefits due to its anti-inflammatory and microbial properties. 

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Recommended product: Paula’s Choice Azelaic Acid Booster, $36 - at 10 per cent it is a potent formula that harnesses azelaic acid and salicylic acid to clarify uneven skin tone and decongest skin.

Image: Mamamia  

7. Tranexamic acid.

What does it do? New to the skincare world, tranexamic acid (TXA) interferes with the interaction of pigment-producing cells. 

As it’s a new player, there’s less evidence on it effectively lightening dark spots and some debate around whether it should be taken orally or applied topically.  

Who’s it for? All skin types.

Recommended product: The Inkey List Tranexamic Acid,$29.68, is an overnight treatment that is formulated with 2 per cent tranexamic acid, 2 per cent acai berry extract to promote even skin tone, as well as an old favourite: vitamin C.  

The Murad Replenishing Multi-Acid Peel, $95, is a bi-phase exfoliating treatment with a blend of AHA/BHA’s and TXAs. I'm a big fan of this one because it’s a resurfacing treatment, which will promote cellular turnover whilst keeping pigmentation at bay. 

Image: Mamamia 

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8. Licorice extract

What does it do? Licorice root extract contains an active ingredient called glabridin, which helps to reduce the production of melanin in the body. It also blocks the signaling pathway for skin inflammation and can help to control redness, flushing and other skin irritations. 

Who’s it for? All skin types, particularly sensitive skin due to its anti-inflammatory properties.

Recommended product: La Clinica has two pigmentation corrective serums with licorice root. Correction Serum 1, $70, is ideal for those expecting as its formulation is pregnancy and breastfeeding friendly. 

If you’re looking for something stronger, Correction Serum 2, $75, has the same base formula as the OG with the addition of alpha-arbutin to kick your discolouration to the kerb. 

Image: Mamamia 

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While none of these options are going to cure hyperpigmentation completely, as Dr McDonald said, it’s about "control, prevention and providing relief."

Take it from me – as someone who’s rebounded from my melasma moustache, I’ve been able to keep my hyperpigmentation under wraps through a consistent skincare regime and a mindset shift.

Because even though I grew up so desperately wanting an even complexion, I’ve realised that I wouldn’t trade my skin, pigmentation and all. 

I think Queen B said it best: Brown skin girl (or boy), your skin is just like pearls. It’s the best thing in the world. 

Don’t you forget it. 

Do you have pigmentation? What are your go-to ingredients? Share with us in the comment section below.

Feature Image: Supplied/Mamamia.

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