Skin Hyperpigmentation 101: What It Is & How to Treat It

Skin Hyperpigmentation 101: What It Is & How to Treat It

Reference Lab

FEB 23, 2022

If you spent your teen years sun-worshiping or hitting the tanning bed, you’ve seen firsthand how quickly UV rays can darken your skin in a short period of time. It’s all thanks to melanin, the natural pigment our skin produces when exposed to UV rays. But even if you long ago learned your lesson and started slathering on sunscreen, your skin is likely still harboring signs of UV damage that may be just beginning to come to the surface: hyperpigmentation.1

Hyperpigmentation is an age-related condition in which excess melanin collects in the skin. This results in darkened patches often referred to as “age spots” or “sun spots”.2

What is hyperpigmentation of the skin? This skin condition is a telltale sign of skin aging that can leave the skin looking older than you’d like. The good news? Our proprietary peptide, OS-01, can help brighten its appearance over time. To understand how OS-01 reduces hyperpigmentation, let’s take a closer look at the common causes and treatments of skin hyperpigmentation.

What Causes Hyperpigmentation?

Melanin is the overarching term for a group of pigments that occur in human hair, skin, and eyes. The darker your skin tone or hair, the more melanin your body produces. Melanin is made by special cells called melanocytes, which produce and transfer melanin pigments to neighboring cells.1

Hyperpigmentation occurs when our melanocytes go into overdrive, producing lots and lots of melanin that collects in the skin. Scientists have come to discover that the body creates melanin as a protective measure against sun damage, but the exact biological purpose of overactive melanin production is still not entirely clear.1 While the majority of hyperpigmentation occurs due to unprotected sun exposure, not all hyperpigmentation is related to UV rays. In fact, there are three major types of hyperpigmentation, each with a different cause.
  • Sun spots: Caused by UV rays & can appear many years after initial sun exposure
  • Melasma: Often triggered by hormonal changes like pregnancy but made worse by sun exposure and heat on the skin.
  • Post-inflammatory Hyperpigmentation: Initially caused by skin trauma or inflammation but exacerbated by sun exposure.2

Common Treatments

As one of the most common concerns for all skin types, hyperpigmentation is regularly treated with over-the-counter products and prescription formulas alike. Kojic acid, retinol, and hydroquinone are the most common treatments for all three types of skin hyperpigmentation. Let’s take a closer look at some of the research into these ingredients.
  • Kojic Acid: A byproduct of certain types of fermentation, kojic acid inhibits the skin’s production of tyrosinase, an enzyme essential to melanin production. While approved for use on the skin in very low concentrations, kojic acid is a known exfoliant and skin irritant that can cause dermatitis, including eczema, especially for those with sensitive skin.3
  • Retinol: Retinol has long been considered the anti-aging gold standard for its ability to smooth skin texture, brighten dark spots and reduce the look of fine lines and wrinkles. Unfortunately, retinol also comes with some very irritating side effects. It works by stripping your skin’s top layer, stimulating cell renewal to replace that layer with new skin cells. However, overuse of retinol can strip your skin too quickly, reducing barrier function and causing redness, peeling, and inflammation. In a test performed in the OneSkin lab, our scientists found that while retinol activates genes associated with collagen and hyaluronic acid production, it also significantly increases the activity of genes linked to aging and inflammation. (Read more here.)4
  • Hydroquinone: Hydroquinone is a commonly used ingredient for stubborn forms of hyperpigmentation like melasma. While hydroquinone is an effective tyrosinase-inhibitor, its use is controversial among skin experts. Prolonged use (over 3 months), can cause ochronosis, a condition that causes blue/black discoloration of facial tissue. Cosmetic use of hydroquinone is banned in Europe and as of 2020, hydroquinone is no longer permitted in OTC beauty products in the U.S. due to safety concerns. Products containing hydroquinone must now be registered as a drug with the FDA.5
Meet OS-01: The Peptide that Extends Your Skinspan. Learn more!

Study: OS-01 vs Common Treatments

Given the downsides of common hyperpigmentation treatments, our scientists decided to test if our proprietary OS-01 peptide could outperform kojic acid and retinoic acid (retinol) in the lab. The study was performed in three steps:
  1. Induce hyperpigmentation: To increase melanin production in human skin models, our scientists exposed melanocytes to IBMX (isobutylmethylxanthine), a molecule that mimics one of the main pathways induced by UV radiation and also imitates a pathway induced by ACTH (adrenocorticotropic hormone), a hormone that is thought to be one of the main factors behind melasma.
  2. Expose melanocytes to different treatments: After the melanocytes were exposed to IBMX to induce melanin production, we treated the melanocytes with either nothing (positive control), retinoic acid, kojic acid, or the OS-01 peptide.
  3. Measure resulting melanin production: Finally, we measured the amount of melanin production both intracellularly (inside the cells) and extracellularly (outside of the cells).

The results

The results of our study were astounding. While all three treatments reduced melanin production, the OS-01 peptide reduced melanin production significantly more – demonstrating its superiority in repairing skin hyperpigmentation.

Not only does OS-01 address hyperpigmentation more effectively, it does so without any of the irritating side effects of retinoic acid or kojic acid. In fact, the OS-01 peptide has been shown to greatly improve skin health markers by increasing skin’s epidermal thickness, improving skin’s barrier function, and increasing skin’s natural ability to produce collagen, elastin, and hyaluronic acid (shown in lab-grown human skin models). This data indicates that the OS-01 peptide is a superior hyperpigmentation treatment for supporting both visible results and long-term skin health.
Melanocytes were first exposed to IBMX to induce melanin production, then exposed to either nothing (positive control), Retinoic Acid, Kojic Acid, or the OS-01 Peptide. Melanin production was subsequently measured intracellularly and extracellularly. The melanocytes that were exposed to OS-01 reduced the amount of melanin production both intracellularly and extracellularly significantly more than those that were exposed to Retinoic Acid, Kojic Acid, and the positive control.

Don’t just take it from us

When it comes to OS-01, the data and the customers agree! Here’s what people think about OneSkin’s OS-01 FACE Topical Supplement, a daily facial moisturizer powered by the OS-01 peptide.
Using Oneskin has taken the age spots away from my arms. They are almost clear and getting even better. Thank you so much.
Chuck, male, age 65+
My rosacea has improved using this product, not including my hyperpigmentation has improved as well which was a surprise because I never expected to ever see my normal skin color again after a failed IPL years ago. This is the best product I've ever used.
Joshua C., male, age 25-34
OneSkin is amazing! It made my melasma fade like no other cream.
Luciana W., female, age unknown

Pictures speak louder than words

In a 12-week clinical study, participants experienced a reduction in hyperpigmentation from using OS-01 FACE Topical Supplement 2x daily.

Key Takeaways

  • Hyperpigmentation is an age-related condition in which excess melanin collects in deposits around the skin
  • Common treatments like kojic acid, retinol, and hydroquinone have serious risks including irritation, skin aging and skin discoloration or darkening.
  • In a study comparing retinoic acid, kojic acid, and OneSkin’s OS-01 peptide, OS-01 notably outperformed all other treatments in its ability to reduce hyperpigmentation.
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