Let There be Light

Many global skincare trends are established in Japan and other Asian markets, and the skin-brightening market is one that has a long history in Asia. For centuries, women there have been diligent about maintaining a porcelain skintone. The importance of luminous skin is still evident, as brightening services represent 23.5 percent of the facial market in Japan, and brightening is the second largest market in Asia, behind anti-aging. In the U.S., the brightening market is young by comparison, though product and service offerings are expanding. The U.S. market grew 17.4 percent from 2006 to 2007, with professional skincare sales reaching $13.5 million in 2007. While anti-aging products have always driven the market, uneven pigmentation has joined the list of aging skin concerns.

In the past, hyperpigmentation was treated with prescription medication. Today, technology has evolved to the point of meeting most consumers' needs through at-home regimens and professional brightening treatments. Brightening offers spas the opportunity to serve all ethnic groups, as uneven pigmentation affects all skin types, tones, and colors and is a top concern for women of color. As we diversify—half of the world and one-third of the U.S. population are people of color—brightening promises to continue to attract an increasing number of faithful users.

Achieving a porcelain-like complexion has long been a priority among Asian spa-goers. (PHOTOGRAPHY: FOTOLIA)
Achieving a porcelain-like complexion has long been a priority among Asian spa-goers. (PHOTOGRAPHY: FOTOLIA)

Treating Hyperpigmentation

Inflammation of the skin can cause redness, swelling, pain, and heat. This is the body's normal response to injury or infection. Many everyday events and exposures can also lead to a low level of inflammation that is less obvious but can result in damage to the skin, hyperpigmentation included. In addition, skin cells are exposed to inflammatory agents like smoke, pollution, and chemicals, as well as other factors like sunlight and stress. All of these can contribute to inflammation, which leads to a cascade of biochemical events that result in the overproduction of melanin, causing hyperpigmentation and uneven skintone. Dark spots on the skin can also arise due to age, sun exposure, pregnancy and other hormonal changes, or acne scarring.

Treatments range from non-surgical cosmetic procedures, such as laser resurfacing and peels, to at-home regimens. Some aggressive treatments that deliver immediate benefits can actually cause an inflammatory reaction in the skin, contributing to damage and pigmentation over the long term. Chemical peels and physical procedures can also elevate the risk of pigmentation, as they cause greater sun susceptibility.

Hydroquinone and kojic acid, which both have a bleaching effect on the skin, are two ingredients long associated with brightening. As concerns about harsh chemical treatments have emerged, however, natural health and beauty companies have come forward with botanical alternatives whose function is not to lighten the skin overall. Rather, they work with the client's skintone and texture to achieve a clear and luminous appearance.


Most major professional and retail brands offer brightening regimens and treatments. These products target concentrations of melanin, which appear as areas of hyperpigmentation. Brightening products reduce the appearance of pre-existing dark spots by breaking them down through exfoliation and dispersing them into smaller, less visible particles. They help prevent new discoloration through the use of antioxidants and SPF protection and soothe with anti-irritant ingredients.

Antioxidants are considered the first line of defense. Examples of plant-based antioxidants found in brightening products include grape, mulberry root, and rosemary leaf extracts and vitamins C and E. Rosemary leaf extract also serves as an anti-irritant, counteracting inflammation, along with other botanicals like brown algae, caffeine, gentian extract, and scutellaria.

Proper hydration is required for skin to serve as a protective barrier, which can also help with hyperpigmentation. The skin barrier relies on lipids and water to maintain function. Replenishment of native skin lipids has been proven to restore the moisture barrier and reduce evaporation of water from the surface of the skin using plant ingredients, such as palm oil and shea butter. Increasing the water-loving components of the skin, including hyaluronic acid, is also an effective means of rejuvenating the skin's state of hydration.

Exfoliation also plays a key role in creating a smooth and glowing complexion, as it prepares the skin to more readily absorb ingredients. Glucosamine and salicylic acid are leading exfoliators, and glucosamine also stimulates the skin to produce more of its own hyaluronic acid.

There are many tools available in the brightening category and treatment techniques that enhance their efficacy. Your mission is to educate guests through promotions, in-spa events, and complimentary consultations. Education should take place throughout services and can be delivered in a number of venues. Station estheticians in the spa retail area during downtime, or have them perform hand treatments on guests in the relaxation area. Give your guests the opportunity to touch, feel, and smell products.

Brightening may currently be considered a trend, but as skincare professionals, we know it will be an ongoing concern. It will be a bright future for spas that include brightening products and services on their menus.

Shelley Bawiec is the director of spa sales and education for Aveda, which offers a comprehensive, natural skin-lightening line called Enbrightenment. For details, visit www.aveda.com.