Years of sun exposure cause your skin cells to act abnormally and produce more melanin (brown pigment) when they try to fight UV rays. This is what is also known as pigmentation: those clover-shaped spots of darker skin on the face and body (especially your décolletage and hands).
Even on cloudy days your skin is still exposed to UV rays, so to prevent further discolouration you need to wear sunscreen. London-based cosmetic dermatologist Dr Sam Bunting says the best way to apply it is to sweep a teaspoon-sized amount after applying moisturiser, before you put on make-up.
La Roche Posay does some of the best high-factor sunscreens. Its Anthelios XL SPF50+ Dry Touch Gel-Cream (£16.50) is the perfect non-greasy base for make-up.
It’s important to know that make-up containing sunscreen is not an alternative to good old-fashioned sunscreen. You’d need to apply seven times the amount of foundation you normally wear to get the full protection.
Antioxidants help to prevent free radicals — molecules that form in the body when you’re exposed to UV rays — from creating brown spots on the skin. A serum is the most effective way to get antioxidants into the skin. Its lightweight consistency sinks easily into the skin’s deeper layers so antioxidants are transported to where they’re needed most.
Scan the ingredients’ list for not just one but several antioxidants. “They become more powerful when they’re combined,” says explains Dr Stefanie Williams, medical director at European Dermatology London. “Skinceuticals CE Ferulic (£129) is the product I recommend to my patients as it has one of the best blends: ferulic acid plus vitamins C and E. Apply it underneath your sunscreen every morning.”
Dr Nick Lowe, dermatologist at London’s Cranley Clinic, is also a fan of niacinamide (vitamin B3). “It’s good at interrupting the formation of dark spots in the deeper layers of your skin,” he explains.
When it comes to brightening there’s one rule of thumb: draw light to the face, then release it up to the surface of the skin and you will achieve a brighter youthful glow. The trouble is, patches of pigmentation act like a shadow on the skin and don’t reflect light, so your face looks older.
These days you no longer need to rely solely on make-up with pearly particles to illuminate. The latest skincare, such as Clinique Even Better Skin Tone Correcting Moisturizer SPF20 (£39), includes optics to immediately brighten your skin while in the long-term also helping to improve the look of dark spots.
“With age, skin sheds dead cells less efficiently,” explains Dr Tom Mammone, Clinique’s Executive Director of Skin Physiology & Pharmacology. “A gentle exfoliator will lift discoloured cells off the skin’s surface and give your complexion greater translucency so it bounces light back. Look out in particular for an exfoliator containing salicylic acid.”
Two to try: Rodial Super Acids X-treme After Party Scrub (£45), which contains this skin-buffing acid. Or sweep on L’Oreal Revitalift Laser Renew Peeling Lotion Night (£24.99); it can be as effective as intense pulsed light at improving surface wrinkles and pigmentation but is gentle enough to use every night.
Misuse of the word ‘whitening’ to describe over-the-counter pigmentation products has made many women too scared to try them, believing they are industrial strength bleaching products. In fact, rather than harsh chemicals, the latest weapons in the fight against pigmentation are vitamin and plant extracts, such as vitamin C, licorice, yeast or kojic acid from mushrooms.
“Their aim is to get rid of the appearance of darker patches rather than change the colour of your skin,” says Dr Mammone. And the way they do this? By interrupting melanin production in the skin’s deeper layers so less pigment makes its way to the skin’s surface.
Apply Ioma Dark Spot Elexir (£49.00) directly on to age spots. This extra sensitive and diligent eraser removes unwanted discolouration, allowing the skin’s surface layer to appear purer, clearer and productively cleansed.
Don’t forget your hands!
Your hands are one of the first places to reveal signs of ageing, including pigmentation. Added to this, when we do wear sunscreen we do so on our face and bodies but rarely on our hands, which is why many of us have more extreme darks spots here.
Before bed, sweep the Spotner pen (£19.99) over the brown clusters. As well as an in-built SPF50, it contains a Swiss alpine plant-derived lightener designed specifically for the hands. “By day, wear a handcream containing an SPF when you’re outdoors, especially when you’re gardening,” says Dr Lowe.
Do your brightening regime every day and night and you should see gradual results after six to eight weeks. So don’t quit just because your age spots don’t disappear overnight.