How far have skin-lightening treatments come?

How far have skin-lightening treatments come?
How far have skin-lightening treatments come?

By Ron Robinson

Do you ever wonder how women from around the world take care of their skin? I find it fascinating how skincare concerns differ according to what women in certain regions deem important. Here in the West, we’re all about anti-aging, anti-wrinkle anything. While in the East, lightening and brightening skincare items -- from eye creams to serums -- reign supreme.

Soon, we’ll be seeing the American skincare and cosmetic markets introduce more and more skin-brightening products, attaching the connotation that they will create a more youthful-looking appearance, getting rid of unwanted hyperpigmentation, sun spots, age spots etc. -- anything that will make us feel younger, no doubt.

But, the whole “skin-lightening” procedure sounds time-consuming and undeniably vague. How far have skin-lightening treatments come? Which is more effective: lasers or topical treatments? Are there certain skin types that should not receive skin-lightening treatments?

“The changes that we are seeing in skin-lightening treatments continue to give patients satisfying results whether we are dealing with lasers, topical regimens or chemical peels, as well as a combination of all three,” explains Abbey Helton, President of Society of Plastic Surgical Skin Care Specialists (SPSSCS) “We are providing patients with satisfying results and less down time, as well as providing them with the tools they need to maintain their results.”

A person undergoing skin-lightening treatments with a plastic surgeon can have a variety of pigmentation issues, one being PIH (post inflammatory pigmentation) from acne scars, long-term sun exposure and some hormonal influence due to birth control or pregnancy.

If acne is a concern, it is ideal to get the flare-ups under control before any skin-lightening treatments begins. Topical lighteners like hydroquinones in both 2% and 4% doses can be administered by a doctor, along with other skin-lightening aids like arbutin, kojic acid and reseveratrol.

Although a lot of cosmeceutical companies are teaming up skin-lightening and brightening ingredients in skincare, Helton reminds us the one key aspect to get skin-lightening topical treatments to work properly and effectively: “An important aspect in our practice is that we make sure all of our patients are also on a topical vitamin A (Retinol or Retin A) to keep the cells turning over. Increasing the metabolism of the cells will improve the outcome and help maintain decreased pigmentation.”

With no harmful side effects to worry about, Helton does admit that more aggressive peels and lasers can cause skin sensitivity, so the addition of a sun care regimen (like wearing sunscreen daily) is advised. “Some lightening ingredients can make a patient’s skin red and irritated. It is important that the patient have close follow-ups with their skincare specialist while using medical-grade products when doing any type of procedure,” said Helton.

“It is also advised that those who have very sensitive skin, such as rosacea, must be treated carefully as not to over stimulate it. It is also important to understand that any medications (like steroids and antibiotics) that a patient may be taking can make their skin more sensitive or photo-sensitive.”

As skin-lightening treatments are becoming more popular and common, it is important to always talk with a professional before going through with any procedure.