Medically reviewed by Minimalist Health Specialist -  Written by Shreya Singh (Pharmacist)  on 19th Sep 2020

How To Reduce Melanin Production In The Skin For Clear, Spot-free Complexion

How To Reduce Melanin Production

We are all in the quest for flawless, blemish-free skin, and there could be umpteen hurdles coming along the way to achieving the picture-perfect complexion of our dreams.
One such dread is that we need to conquer irregular melanin deposits leading to dark patches and discoloration.

Darkening of the skin, also known as Hyperpigmentation, is one of the most prevalent skin disorders that many people fall victim to. If you find yourself perpetually fretting about uneven skin blotches and slathering your face with layers of makeup before you head out, then it's high time you looked for a lasting solution.

Since melanin pigment is the chief culprit for the uneven darkening of the skin, the ultimate solution lies in finding ways to reduce excess skin melanin.

And here's the great deal: There is a surplus of potent skin lightening agents and treatments available that can help redistribute unwanted melanin build-up and lighten dark patches up to a great extent. Read on to find out!

However, keep in mind that your skin or complexion isn't a reflection of who you are as a person, and you should endorse your skin as it is, but there's no denying that having a clear, spot-free face amps up one's self-esteem and makes them happier with their appearance.

In this article, we shall talk about excess melanin production in the skin and briefly discover the different ways to treat and manage dark patches, revealing healthy, even-toned skin. 

What is melanin and why is it important?

Melanin is the natural pigment formed by the cells called melanocytes in the lower layers of your epidermis and hair follicles by a multi-level chemical reaction known as melanogenesis.

In scientific terms, this process occurs when the enzyme tyrosinase catalyzes the oxidation of tyrosine to convert into dihydroxyphenylalanine (DOPA).

Melanin pigment is known to serve a dual purpose in our skin:

  • It is the pigment that imparts our skin its characteristic complexion ranging from pale to dark to tanned skin. 
  • It provides some slight degree of protection to the skin against the harmful assaults of the sunrays.

All of us are genetically programmed to possess equal amounts of melanocytes. Despite the same number of melanin-producing cells, some may produce more melanin than the rest due to various internal and external reasons. The more amount of melanin your skin makes, the darker your skin gets.

Fun Fact:

Melanin is actually black! Mostly black or brown in color, melanin levels in your skin determine your skin complexion

What causes excessive melanin levels in the skin?

Sometimes, melanocytes can produce the melanin pigment in excess, which can accumulate at several areas of the skin, making it appear darker than usual, which doctors may refer to as Hyperpigmentation.

The excess build-up of the melanin is caused by a slew of things such as: 

  • Prolonged sun exposure: UV radiations of the sun trigger the melanocytes to produce excess melanin, resulting in darkening of the skin. Therefore, always equip yourself with adequate sun protection measures before stepping out in the sun. 
  • Genetic: Your family genes can also determine the ratios of melanin produced. People belonging to certain ethnic groups are likely to have specific amounts and melanin forms distinct from others.
  • Hormonal imbalance: Certain disturbances in the hormones, especially during pregnancy, may stimulate your melanocytes to produce a surfeit of melanin pigment leading to melasma, often known as "the pregnancy mask." 
  • There are several other factors as well, such as side effects of medication, stress, the process of aging, Inflammation, vitamin deficiency, and improper diet that could end up giving dark patches on your skin. 

How can you decrease melanin production in the skin?

Several in-clinic procedures and OTC treatments are efficient in abating existing melanin deposits in your skin. Some people may choose to breakdown melanin accumulation in their skin for cosmetic reasons to get a lighter, flawless look all year long.

Below are some of the well-known skin lightening agents and treatments effective in addressing this issue: 

Over-The-Counter Treatments:

Hydroquinone:

Hydroquinone is a universally acclaimed skin-bleaching agent used to lighten dark and discolored skin areas such as dark spots, patches, melasma, freckles, and Hyperpigmentation. It is widely used in medicated creams and lotions as an effective ingredient for potentially doing away with skin darkening and pigmentation.

It decreases melanin production in the skin by breaking down melanocytes and acts as a tyrosinase inhibitor, which is the principal enzyme required for melanin synthesis.

However, there are many controversies surrounding the usage of hydroquinone, due to which the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has limited the concentration of hydroquinone to 3% - 4% in prescription products, and 2% in over-the-counter products."

Hydroquinone should strictly be used post doctor's prescription due to its various side effects on the skin. It is highly recommended to use hydroquinone based products only for a short period and under an expert's supervision. 

Kojic Acid:

Another widely popular ingredient used extensively in Asian skincare products to improve skin tone, and clarity is Kojic acid. It is biologically obtained from mushrooms and fermented rice. It acts as a secret skin lightener that effectively diminishes dark spots, Hyperpigmentation, and stubborn post-breakout marks leaving a clear, brighter, and radiant-looking skin. It also works by suppressing the L-Tyrosinase enzyme required for the production of melanin.

Although it is considered safe to use 1-2% concentrations, people with sensitive skin should use it cautiously because of its ability to cause some skin irritation and dermatitis. 

Alpha Arbutin:

Arbutin is a naturally occurring derivative of hydroquinone, which is extracted from several plant species. It has taken over the global market by storm as one of the safest skin-lightening ingredients.

It adds visible luminosity to the skin and evens out skin tone and appearance. It works by causing a reversible blockage in the pathway of melanin formation.

A 2018 clinical study, published by Cosmetic Facial Surgery, reported that arbutin could effectively reduce melanin content to approximately 39%.

The recommended concentration of alpha-arbutin in skincare products ranges from 0.2 to 2%. 

Retinoids:

Retinoids have gained a lot of popularity because of its ability to treat almost every skin aging and hyperpigmentation related issues. It works by repressing the enzyme tyrosinase. They also aid in the cell renewal process and redistribution of melanin pigment, resulting in even-toned skin. 2% Retinoid serum can be applied topically to reduce hyperpigmentation.

Retinoids also have some typical side effects such as dryness, redness, and flakiness, especially when starting out. Limit the initial usage to 1-2 times a week and gradually work your way up as tolerated. 

In-Clinic Procedures:

Chemical peels:

Chemical peels consisting of the blend of potent acids such as Alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) and Beta hydroxy acids (BHA), effectively eliminate melanin accumulation in the skin's superficial layers.

They work as a powerful exfoliant and cause the superficial layers to shed, exposing the newer and fresher skin beneath.

A peeling therapy containing a mild concentration of acids can be used as at-home treatments. However, for a stronger concentration of acids, a dermatologist's supervision is advised. 

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Microdermabrasion:

Microdermabrasion is a medical procedure that involves physical scraping off of the skin cells. It helps remove dark spots by rubbing against the skin with the help of an abrasive machine, which gently pushes away the skin cells containing pigmentation. This results in skin rejuvenation and replenishment. It is a low-risk procedure and is generally considered safe to use. 

Laser Treatments:

This procedure uses targeted laser beams to effectively targets the specific areas containing dark spots. They breakdown the accumulated melanin molecules and burn away the topmost layers of the skin containing discoloration. It helps in removing the damaged and hyperpigmented skin and thus resulting in clear and faultless skin.

Laser therapies are usually costly and may not work for every skin type. Therefore, it is recommended to seek a dermatologist's advice before undergoing any such treatment. Possible risk factors include swelling, redness, irritation, infections, or alterations in the skin's texture. 

Key Takeaways

Melanin pigment formed in the skin is an absolute necessity, but excess skin ratios in the skin could certainly pose some serious issues. Therefore, always seek your dermatologist's or skincare specialist's advice if the condition worsens over time.

Post-treatment care is highly crucial while undergoing any of the treatments mentioned above. Therefore, always equip yourself with adequate sun protection measures like applying sunscreen of at least 30 or more SPF in the daylight.

Also, it's worth noting that there is not a magic pill that could completely lighten your skin in one go. You need to diligently practice the adequate treatment according to your skin type for a while, to see the desired results in the long haul.