Help for Hyperpigmentation
Photo: Skin-brightening ‘Luminate’ pads $250 at DLK on Avenue.
By Louise Hidinger, PhD
Having Asian skin means being extremely prone to hyperpigmentation, and once a hyperpigmented patches shows up, it is near impossible to get rid of. When I heard about Kellett Skincare Luminate pads, I thought they were definitely worth trying out.
Hyperpigmentation of skin can occur as a result of hormonal fluctuations and as a post-inflammatory response to acne, sun exposure, and other inflammatory skin conditions. These hyperpigmented patches may be seen as freckles, scars, solar lentigines (sun spots) and age spots.
The gold standard for skin lightening agents remains hydroquinone, a chemical which is a powerful inhibitor of the production of melanin, the compound responsible for pigmenting skin. However, hydroquinone is controversial: long-term use of high concentrations of hydroquinone may cause permanent disfiguration of the skin, known as ochronosis, and there is suspicion that hydroquinone is a potential carcinogen. Hydroquinone is banned for use in cosmetics in Europe and Japan, and in the U.S., the FDA proposed a similar ban in 2006 (although it continues to be available over-the-counter at concentrations of up to 2%). As a result, the hunt has been on for alternatives to hydroquinone that have less potential for harmful side effects.
Of the known alternatives, arbutin is the most promising, as it is actually a form of hydroquinone with a sugar molecule attached to it. In order for arbutin to become active in inhibiting pigment formation, the sugar portion must first be cleaved off by enzymes within the body to expose the hydroquinone portion of the molecule. This activation step acts as a safety valve that controls the amount of active hydroquinone that is present at any given point in time. Arbutin is naturally occurring in a number of plants, including mulberry, bearberry and cranberry.
Besides arbutin, kojic acid is another popular alternative to hydroquinone. Kojic acid is a naturally occurring compound, produced by certain species of fungi, particularly Aspergillus oryzae. It is the by-product of the fermentation of rice by these fungi in the production of sake (Japanese rice wine).
Both arbutin and kojic acid are much weaker than hydroquinone in terms of, their ability to inhibit pigment production, so changes in skin tone are much more gradual. To increase the rate of skin lightening, these ingredients are usually combined with an exfoliating ingredient such as salicylic acid or fruit-derived alpha-hydroxy acids (e.g. glycolic acid). The idea is to slough away the outermost layers of the epidermis which are more pigmented, exposing the less pigmented, more even-toned skin beneath.
The Luminate pads contain a powerful combination of active ingredients which act together to help even skin tone and lighten hyperpigmented patches. Luminate pads contain both arbutin and kojic acid, both of which act to inhibit pigment formation. Salicylic acid, a beta hydroxy acid, exfoliates and helps to accelerate exfoliation of pigmented skin cells, revealing more even-toned skin below.
In addition, the Luminate pads contain the antioxidants L-ergothioneine and Camellia oleifera (green tea) extract, and Evodia rutaecarpa extract, a traditional Chinese medicinal herb that has an anti-inflammatory effect. These ingredients act together to help to inhibit oxidative stress and calm inflammation, thus helping to limit pigment production and scarring that may occur in response to injury, hormonal fluctuations or sun exposure.
The Luminate pads are compounded on site at Dr. Kellett’s clinic, just before being dispensed to the patient: the active ingredients are dissolved in a water and alcohol base, and a set of 60 disposable pads is soaked in the resultant mixture. I was told that the pads can be stored at room temperature and they will gradually turn brown with time, but the colour change does not significantly affect their efficacy. However, the pads do need to be used up within 60 days of compounding.
When I first received the Luminate pads, I used them daily as recommended. Unfortunately, they proved to be a little too powerful for regular use: after about 5 days of daily use, I started to break out on my cheeks and around my mouth, areas of my face which are the most sensitive to drying out and showing irritation (I suspect the alcohol content was a bit too irritating for my skin type). I switched to using them as a spot treatment. When I use the pads that way, I notice they have a noticeable effect in reducing post-inflammatory hyper pigmentation, especially when compared to Kellett Skincare Clear pads (discussed HERE) and other anti-acne treatments. What’s more, I noticed that the Luminate pads had a similar “zit busting” effect as the Kellett Clear pads. When used regularly for 4-6 weeks, the pads are expected to provide a noticeable improvement in skin tone.
About the Author Louise Hidinger, Ph.D., is a cosmetic chemist and founder of the blog INGREDIENTS. She splits her time between Toronto and New York City.