I have been dealing with hyperpigmentation since I was a kid. Obviously, as a child, I wasn’t getting marks from pimples, but any scrape, bite, or bump would leave me with a dark mark — I still have two scars on my forearms and forehead from my grade school days to show for it. Now, during my teenage years and into my early 20s, I had what I would have called “perfect” skin, which I took for granted, covering it up with what my sister called “too much” makeup. I have always been a product junkie, so I lived to try new cosmetics, but hadn’t mastered the less-is-more makeup philosophy just yet.
But that changed for me at 25. Breakouts popped up all over my face, jawline, and neck. I was so embarrassed that I didn’t leave the house unless it was necessary — you know, like when I had to go do that thing called adulting to be able to pay my rent. To combat my breakouts and scars, I tried every drugstore and “must-have” prestige product I could buy, but I ended up with more breakouts — and once, even a chemical burn. You might be wondering why I didn’t just go to a dermatologist. Well, at the time, I didn’t have health insurance, so I was using the internet and product reviews to guide me.
With those lessons in my mind, I now keep it simple even when I want to use every product I own to get rid of my hormonal breakouts. I know that I am not the only one dealing with hyperpigmentation, so I reached out to Rachel Roff, a medical aesthetician that specializes in treating multicultural skin tones, and the founder of Urban Skin Rx (a brand that specializes in treatments for melanin skin), to add some expert advice while sharing the products that have worked for me.
Rachel’s Pro Tips For Treating Skin Issues Without Causing Irritation
Apply products from thinnest to thickest: “A good rule of thumb is to typically use the thinnest to thickest products, in that order. If you use a toner or treatment pads, that would be first after cleansing, and then the thinnest serum, followed by any thicker serums. Follow with a moisturizer and an SPF during the daytime.”
Create a regimen: “An example of where you may need more products to possibly address your skin concerns is with a brand like The Ordinary, which tends to have only one active ingredient in each product. You could mix or layer serums to make sure your skin is receiving all the necessary ingredients it needs. Typically, at a minimum, you need a cleanser, some type of vitamin C serum, a retinol, eye serum, and of course, a moisturizer with SPF 25 or higher; so usually a minimum of four to five products daily.”
Only use one new product at a time: “Only use one new product at a time for three days before you introduce another one, so if you become irritated, it is easy to identify which product caused it — opposed to if you start five new products on the same day.”
With these basics in mind, here’s what I have found to work for my combination, sensitive skin type.
I once read somewhere that you shouldn’t invest too much money into cleansers, but the right face wash decides whether I’m going to have irritated skin with more breakouts or balanced skin. I keep three different types of cleansers on my counter:
In the mornings, I only cleanse with my oil face wash, because my skin gets irritated if I do anything else.
At night I double-cleanse, alternating between my salicylic and glycolic acid cleansers so I don’t overstimulate my skin. Both of these products help keep my breakouts at bay without stripping my skin.
DNA Foaming Cleanser
Next up are my serums, which change a little from morning to night. (Be sure to apply hyaluronic acid to damp skin so that it works best.)
H(ope)2 O Moisturizing Serum
After cleansing in the morning, I spray my skin with rose water and then follow up with a hyaluronic acid. This is the one I’m currently using.
Hyaluronic Acid 2% + B5
This is a great affordable hyaluronic acid option.
Next, I use these two products. Roff explained that “Niacinimide is a form of vitamin B that reduces inflammation in the skin, helping to heal irritated skin, acne-prone skin, and hyperpigmentation,” while “vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that reverses oxidative stress that leads to hyperpigmentation from things like sun exposure.” So I guess it makes sense that these two products would make a dynamic duo.
Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 1%
Next, I follow up with The Ordinary’s Niacinamide and Avya Skincare’s Vitamin C Serum. This combo has changed my skin completely, getting rid of dark marks I’ve head for months.
Anti-Aging Serum with Vitamin C
To ensure your products don’t peel, wait at least five minutes before layering other products. (I learned this the hard way.)
Lastly, I follow up with sunscreen, which we know everyone should be wearing daily.
100% Mineral Smooth & Poreless Sunscreen
On days that I wear makeup, I wear Supergoop’s Smooth and Poreless 100% Mineral Matte Screen since it keeps my combo skin looking both matte and glowy all day long. One thing to keep in mind if you do give this product a try is that it does peel if you haven’t allowed everything you’d applied before it to absorb completely
Complexion Protection SPF 30
On non-makeup days, I use Urban Skin Rx’s Complexion Protection Moisturizer with SPF 30. Both of these keep my skin protected without making my face look ashy.
One thing to keep in mind if you do give this product a try is that it does peel if you haven’t allowed everything you’d applied before it to absorb completely.
Chemical exfoliators are one of my favorite ways to keep my skin looking its best, but you have to always proceed with caution, especially depending on your skin’s sensitivity. “It’s important if you have never used a clinical skincare regimen with ingredients like AHAs, BHAs, or retinol that you can start either by only applying every other day or with lower-level percentages,” says Rachel. “After a few weeks or a month, you can upgrade to daily if your skin can tolerate it.”
AHA 30% + BHA 2%
Using this at night once a week has improved my dark spots and the texture of my skin.
Milk Daily Mask
Since The Ordinary’s AHA + BHA solution runs the risk of being irritating, I apply a Lapcos Milk Sheet Mask right after I rinse the treatment off.
On the other six nights of the week, I alternate between The Ordinary’s Retinol 0.5% in Squalane and Herbivore’s Prism Glow Serum.
Masks + Spot Treatments
Charcoal masks are a must for keeping my breakouts at bay. These are my two favorites:
Detoxifying Modeling Mask
If you’re into Instagram beauty trends, Aceology Detoxifying Modeling Mask is a fun mask to try. You’ll want to use this mask on a self-care day since it requires a few extra steps, but the nice part is you just peel it off once it’s dry.
Clear Improvement Charcoal Mask
If trends aren’t your thing and you want a tried, true, and highly-rated mask (that works), Origins Charcoal Honey Mask is a mask you’ll never let yourself run out of, because it somehow gets rid of the gunk without stripping your skin. I don’t know what’s in their magic potion, but I’m here for it.
Charcoal Drying Lotion
Aside from my once-a-week mask, I spot-treat any hormonal breakouts with SheaMoisture Drying Lotion.
Since my breakouts are hormonal, I get pimples and scarring on my neck, décolletage, chest, and shoulders. The best way I’ve found to treat those areas is with glycolic acid pads. My two favorites are these:
Clarifying Glycolic Pads
Micro Peel Peptide Pads
100% Organic Cold-Pressed Rosehip Oil
Last, I apply this rosehip oil, skipping any retinols or acids.
While my regimen seems like a lot, it’s what I’ve found works best for my skin. Knowing the products I have work makes spending more time and money on certain parts of my routine worth it for me. Treating hyperpigmentation isn’t an overnight process, so be patient with yourself. When over-the-counter options don’t work, seek out a professional. Your skin is your biggest, most visible organ, so you want to make sure you’re giving it the care and attention it needs.
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