Skin experts help clear the air on the white debate.
IT has been given fancy monikers such as “snow”, “bright”, “white” or “pearl”, while some brands have enticingly described it as “illuminating” or at its fanciest, “aura-activating”.
However hard skincare companies try to outdo each other in hailing their newest skincare products, it’s the same thing really.
They’re all offering those who long for a clear complexion, the chance to even out or brighten their skin tone.
According to the Datamonitor Consumer Survey 2013, half of Asian consumers consider skin lightening benefits to be a key feature of skincare products.
One in five consumers in Asian countries say they use a lightening product almost daily.
The survey also reveals that less than a third of women globally consider skin whitening claims to be trustworthy.
With skincare products that promise “whitening” or the more accurate term of “brightening”, what does it really mean?
“For skin to look bright, it means that it should be smooth, firm with abundant collagen, evenly coloured, properly hydrated and unblemished,” says Dr Yap Hae Mun, a consultant aesthetic practitioner in Kuala Lumpur.
So, regardless of the colour of your skin – fair, medium, tan or dark – brightening is NOT about having fairer skin; it means having skin that looks healthy, even-coloured and unblemished.
Dr Yap points out that as one ages, the hormone level declines so we lose collagen and our skin’s renewal process ability slows down.
“But younger women can also have dull skin, due to excessive sun exposure, skin disorders such as eczema, psoriasis or lupus, or a lack of diligence in their skincare routine,” she says.
“While a small amount of ultraviolet radiation is required for the production of vitamin D to keep bones and muscles strong and healthy, skin can burn from just 15 minutes of exposure to strong sun. It damages the DNA in our skin cells, leading to mutation or even cell death.”
To maintain clear skin and avoid pigmentation, Dr Yap says sun protection is crucial and one should use sunscreen every day, even on a cloudy day.
“Protect yourself from UV radiation, both indoors and outdoors. Always seek the shade outdoors, especially between 10am and 4pm. Also, since UVA penetrates glass, consider adding tinted UV-protective film to your car’s side and rear windows as well as your home and office windows.”
“Remember that your sun protection only equals to the SPF of the product with the highest rating that you are using. For example, using a SPF12 foundation along with a SPF30 sunscreen, it only provides a SPF30 protection.
Generally, SPF30 is adequate but for those who are active outdoors, SPF50 will provide better protection,” she advises.
Ivy Gan, training manager for Sulwhasoo Malaysia, concurs that living in a tropical climate affects our skin tone and colour.
“Aside from protecting our skin against the damaging UV rays, we need to choose skincare products that can help to calm and soothe skin because heat can damage our skin’s collagen, resulting in duller skin tone,” says Gan.
She advocates using skincare that works on strengthening your skin’s collagen, and targets dark spots to reduce existing spots and prevent future ones.
Many brands utilise ingredients such as bird’s nest, snail slime or bee venom which they claim help in moisturising, lightening and reducing fine lines.
While most seem harmless, Dr Yap remains sceptical that these have a significant advantage when it comes to skin brightening.
“Look for ingredients like vitamin B5 (panthothenic acid) that helps in repairing the skin; vitamin B3 (niacinamide) that is anti-inflammatory; vitamin C, a free-radical fighter that helps produce collagen naturally and has a mild lightening effect; retinol (a derivative of vitamin A) that promotes skin renewal and lastly, tranexamic acid (a plasmin inhibitor) that inhibits the process of melanin synthesis in melanocytes,” she explains.
Aside from skincare, Dr Yap says there are three ways to treat pigmented or blemished skin, and to keep skin looking even-toned and bright: medical skincare or lighteners; medication or supplements and medical facials.
“With medical skincare or lighteners, chemical exfoliators such as fruit acids, alpha-hydroxy acid (AHA) or beta-hydroxy acid (BHA) help to exfoliate and remove a thin layer of our dead skin cells. Medical lighteners include hydroquinone, 4-n-butylresorcinol, kojic acid, alpha arbutin or licorice,” she adds.
When it comes to medication or supplements Dr Yap explains that a low dosage of oral tranexamic acid, L-glutathione and Crystal Tomato (a breed of non-genetically modified white tomatoes cultivated for use in supplements) are categories of drugs that reduce or inhibit the synthesis of dark pigmented melanin.
“Medical facials that help in removing dead skin cells include superficial chemical peels with fruit acids or mechanical peeling with microdermabrasion. Medical machines such as Nd-Yag laser or Clear and Brilliant – a fractional diode laser – both use gentle, non-ablative resurfacing laser to improve the natural radiance and glow to your skin.
“Another treatment that is commonly used is iontophoresis vitamin C. It makes use of electrical current to infuse high potency vitamin C directly into the skin’s cells,” Yap continues.
To treat the appearance of dark spots caused by hyper pigmentation, Janet Pardo, senior vice predident of Product Development Worldwide for Clinique says that the brand utilises a multi-pronged approach.
The technology works to inhibit the appearance of dark spots, specific ingredients break up the appearance of existing dark spots and then, exfoliate to speed the departure of the cells that have been affected for a more even skin tone, Pardo explains.
Down to basics
Basic skincare steps of cleansing, scrubbing, masking and moisturising are all important as they play different roles in keeping the skin healthy.
Cleansing is the most important step as it prevents dirt, oil, viruses, bacteria and unwanted debris accumulation on our skin.
“Without scrubbing, dead skin cells contribute to the dullness of skin. A toner helps to restore the skin’s normal pH balance and prepares it to absorb a moisturiser. Lastly, a moisturiser or mask helps in hydrating the skin, says Dr Yap.
Prevention is always better than cure, so “start while you are young in taking adequate sun protection measures and be committed to your daily skincare regimen”.