At first, hyperpigmentation can seem hard to treat from a natural or holistic perspective. Hyperpigmentation occurs when an excess of melanin forms deposits and creates dark patches and spots on the skin. Melanin is what pigments our skin and it is present to protect our skin from UV rays (hence darker skin tones exist closer to the equator), but it can be overproduced by the body and cause patchiness. This is just our skin's way of trying to protect us!
Hyperpigmentation has many causes, most common ones being excess sun exposure, injury to the skin (including acne and picking), hormonal shifts (including stress and pregnancy), medications, hereditary factors, and any type of inflammation. Although hyperpigmentation can be present for anyone, it is more common in people with darker skin tones, especially as an after-effect of breakouts, picking, and skin inflammation. Generally, hyperpigmentation is harmless aside from the emotional stress it can cause for aesthetic reasons.
When people have uneven skin tone or blotches, all they want to know is how they can get rid of it ASAP. The most common and quickly effective treatments have to do with toxic skin bleach such as hydroquinone, professional grade peels, and laser treatments. While I support clients in whatever methods they choose to use on their skin, these treatments are not part of my wheelhouse as a holistic esthetician, so I don’t offer them and I can’t fully vouch for them.
For me, skin care is about process and progress over perfection. I don’t expect skin that has a perfectly even tone, and I don’t think it’s what everyone needs to strive for. What I care about is supporting people’s skin in health and function, and often a by-product of that is more glow. But when it comes to hyperpigmentation, I feel challenged, because I know that my recommendations might not meet a client’s expectations for “results”. There’s not always a quick fix for hyperpigmentation. I feel confident about how to help clients prevent further discoloration, and although I have products that will help treat and prevent discoloration, I can’t easily promise that a certain product will completely and permanently fade their spots in a few weeks (which is sometimes what is expected). I need to manage my clients expectations, and this got me thinking about the idea of seeking homeostasis as a form of skin care.
Homeostasis is defined as “the tendency toward a relatively stable equilibrium between interdependent elements, especially as maintained by physiological processes”*. And there’s a way that seeking homeostasis with our skin could be an excellent way to treat and reduce hyperpigmentation (and many other skin ailments!).
Our skin, and the rest of our body, has inherent functions that it maintains to keep us protected. Each function is dependent on another, and when they work in tandem, that is homeostasis. Now there’s many things that can get out of whack, but one of the biggest and most overlooked issues that affects our homeostasis is lymph stagnation under our skin.
Lymph is a fluid in our body that delivers nutrients and carries away waste. It’s like the plumbing system inside of our body. What we don’t realize is that this system needs to be attended to through movement, touch and drinking water. Lymph doesn’t have an automatic pumping system like the heart, so it’s flow is dependent on these activities. Facial massage is the best way to create lymphatic flow and drainage in the face, and clearing stagnation can help with hyperpigmentation!
We think of hyperpigmentation as something very surface level that can only be treated with a topical cream. But our skin is alive, and the pigmentation and tone can be affected by what we do holistically as well. Having a healthy lymph flow largely affects how melanin is processed, and therefore affects hyperpigmentation. Other things that can chronically hinder lymph flow and homeostasis are poor diet, pollution, lack of sleep, stress, and trauma.
Essentially, I’m making the point here that lifestyle habits truly affect the skin, including hyperpigmentation. It’s been shown that a healthy diet can actually make our skin more resilient to UV rays (a big cause of hyperpigmentation).
Our skin has a great ability to heal itself. With patience, care, and nourishment, hyperpigmentation can be improved and prevented through seeking homeostasis. Again, I’m way more about progress and process than perfection. I don’t expect or want anyone (including myself) to do everything perfectly all the time in order to reach this perfect state, but the idea of homeostasis can be a guidepost and reminder that our choices and habits make a difference in our skin.
Skin is our great organ of protection. Know that when your skin has an “issue” it’s usually trying to protect you in some way. It’s doing everything it was intelligently designed to do to keep you safe, get you back into balance, or fix a problem. So always tune into your body and let “issues” serve as messages. Oftentimes less is more when it comes to treatment.
Essentially, don’t discount using facial massage, healthy foods, water, exercise, and meditation to help hyperpigmentation. While they aren't a quick fix (and therefore may not be for everyone), with consistency and time, they really work! And don’t get me wrong, a great Vitamin C Serumand gentle exfoliation can do wonders too ;)