How to Manage an Uneven Skin Tone
Spoiler alert: there’s no such thing as a perfectly even skin tone. Try as you might, your rosy cheeks, red-tipped nose, hollowed eyes and shaded hairline will forever stand in the way of one universal hue – and that’s a good thing!
A little color adds shape and dimension to your complexion, whether it’s achieved naturally or through the use of everyday cosmetics. However, the trouble begins when your uneven skin tone begins presenting itself in blotchy patches or dark spots known as “hyperpigmentation”. Although perfectly even skin simply doesn’t exist, there are ways for you to manage uneven tones to create a more balanced, harmonious complexion. If you suffer from hyperpigmentation or a severely uneven complexion, read through the following strategies to correct and manage your discolored areas and find your way back to healthier skin.
What is hyperpigmentation?
Let’s break it down: “hyper” means above, and “pigment” means color; together, they refer to the overproduction of melanin. Melanin (produced by melanocytes) is the pigment responsible for the color of human skin, hair, and eyes.
You probably observe melanin most noticeably when you watch your skin tan after a day in the sun, since the complex polymer is part of our body’s natural defense against UV rays. Melanocytes will respond to sun exposure by kicking their production volume of melanin into overdrive. In an attempt to defend against the increased presence of UV light, the dark brown-colored pigment spreads itself across our skin.
Unfortunately, such tanning is usually the desired outcome for most sunbathers, despite the harmful effects it poses on the skin’s health. Unprotected sun exposure comes with a slew of consequences – ranging from mild burns to severe cancer – per the result of photoaging.
Whereas chronological aging refers to the body’s natural processes (changes in hormone levels, the slowing down of collagen production, etc.) photoaging is due to damage caused by UV light. Photoaging is premature and accelerates the onslaught of visible age signs, namely in the form of wrinkles, fine lines, and sunspots.
Hyperpigmentation – or those grayish brown sunspots, formally known as solar lentigines – is usually the result of photoaging due to repeated, unprotected sun exposure. The spots form when melanin is overproduced and creates deposits on the skin which can range in size, shape, and color. These spots are harmless, unlike the dangerous melanoma growths that occur once melanocytes become cancerous; nonetheless, they are considered unsightly, especially amongst those who have them.
Prevention is always best when it comes to warding off the effects of the sun, but if you already have hyperpigmentation, treatment is still possible. Unfortunately, the sun isn’t the only cause of discoloration, and determining the root of your troubles is critical for finding the right management program.
What else causes uneven skin?
Not all dark spots are created equal, and there are a couple additional culprits behind uneven skin. For example, dry skin often lacks sebum which makes it vulnerable to cracking easily. Damaged, unhealthy skin is prone to discoloration and can appear patchy or ashen.
Another common skin condition is melasma, which causes brown, tan, or grayish discoloration of the skin. These patches usually form on the forehead, cheeks, bridge of the nose, and above the upper lip, but they can also occur on other parts of the body such as the forearms and neck. Both men and women can experience the condition, but it’s usually caused due to hormonal changes during pregnancy or birth control usage. Estrogen fluctuations stimulate melanocytes to work overtime and create melasma, or pools of unwanted melanin in the skin. Your skin may be discolored due to an injury (post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation), or due to pollution in the environment that’s penetrated the skin’s surface. Whatever the reason, reduce your time in the sun while your complexion struggles to balance itself out.
Identifying your pigmentation’s provenance is crucial for creating the proper treatment plan. The wrong treatment can make discoloration darker, so if you’re unsure of the source, consult a skincare professional.
How to Determine your Skin Type
Before you can learn how to treat uneven skin, you first need to determine your unique skin type. Skincare routines must be tailored around your skin, otherwise you run the risk of worsening your complexion concerns by making your face unduly dry, oily, irritated or blemished. Generally speaking, there are four types of skin:
- Dry skin: Dry skin produces less sebum (a sticky substance generally known as oil) than normal skin. As such, the skin lacks the lipids it needs to retain moisture and shield against environmental influences.
- Combination skin: As the name suggests, those with this skin type have a combination of dry, oily, and normal areas within the complexion. The skin type will generally vary between the T-zone (forehead, chin, and nose) and the cheeks.
- Normal skin: “Normal” is the term used to describe well-balanced skin. The T-zone might be a bit oily, but overall the sebum and moisture are balanced in ratio.
- Oily skin: Oily skin has a heightened sebum production. The face may appear excessively shiny, with pores frequently enlarged and visible.
If you’re not entirely sure which type of skin you have, refer to the following draft as a useful tool.
How to Treat Uneven Skin
Armed with the knowledge of the skin type you’re battling and which type of hyperpigmentation you’re facing, you can begin treating your uneven skin and taking steps toward correcting your complexion. Ready to get started?
- Choose products with your skin type in mind. Although your goal is to treat discoloration, you might add acne or dry flakes to your list of problems by using the wrong products. If you’re not sure which formulas best suit your complexion, here’s some help:
- Dry skin types should look for mixtures that contain water in oil-emulsions (more oils or lipids than water). The lipid film will smooth cracked surfaces and prevent a further loss of water from the epidermis – your skin’s outermost layer. Look for water-binding ingredients such as urea, lactic acid, and glycerin to enhance the hydrating effects of moisturizers.
- Combination skin needs special care; the dry spots should be treated with water in oil-emulsion products, whereas oil in water-emulsions (more water than oil or lipids) should only be applied to oily areas to prevent clogging pores.
- Normal skincare products should keep the skin clean and moisturized without making it too oily. For daytime use, find a light, water-in-oil emulsion formula; however, a product containing more lipids may be beneficial to use at night.
- Oily skin should only use oil-free fluids or light, oil-in-water emulsion skincare products. Find formulas labeled “non-comedogenic” to decrease the likelihood of clogging enlarged pores.
- Exfoliation is a critical step in managing uneven skin tones. To help the correcting ingredients within your cleansers, serums, and moisturizers penetrate the epidermis and do their work, you first need to slough off the dead, dull skin cells at the surface.
Find an exfoliant suitable for your skin type, and use it twice a week to lighten hyperpigmentation and erase away dark spots. Apply your exfoliator following these steps:
- Apply your exfoliator onto a clean, moist face
- Use your fingers or wet a wash cloth with warm water
- In circular motions, gently rub the exfoliant across your face to remove dead skin
- Rinse the product off using warm water
Be careful not to exfoliate too aggressively or too frequently; otherwise, you might disturb the skin’s natural equilibrium and make your problems worse.
- Facials can be an incredibly effective way to repair discoloration in a short amount of time. Either receive a professional-grade facial from either a dermatologist or esthetician, or for those on a budget, perform facials on yourself at home.
If you opt for a chemical facial, consider a chemical peel. These combine a variety of acids and enzymes to literally remove the superficial layers of damaged skin from the face. Chemical facials usually make you red and flaky as the skin peels and sheds itself, but once the process is complete, it’ll look as though you rolled back the clock on your complexion. At-home facials are cost effective and still helpful for managing uneven skin. Buy and over-the-counter product, or make your own facial using natural ingredients! Some ingredients you can use for a facial include:
- Lemon juice: Lemons are highly enzymatic and citrusy, which both have great healing properties for the skin. Place a dab of lemon juice on affected areas and allow it to sit for 10 minutes (but stay out of the sun during this time).
- Apple cider vinegar and onion juice: Apple cider vinegar has been hailed as the latest cure-all and is suggested for hair, skin, nails, and nutrition. However, when combined with onion juice, it’s a great remedy for lightening dark spots. Cut an onion and collect the juice that drains, then mix it with equal parts apple cider vinegar. Allow the mixture to sit on your face for 10-15 minutes before rinsing it off with water.
- Garlic: This one also might also be a little stinky, but garlic can make your skin appear lighter and more natural. We wouldn’t tell you to consume garlic juice – although you can, if you want to – so instead apply a fresh clove to damaged areas and see great effects.
- Aloe Vera: You’ve probably used Aloe Vera at least once in your life to soothe an aching sunburn due to its immense healing and restorative properties, but are you aware of all the other ways you can use this wonder plant?
From makeup remover to shaving cream, the vitamins and minerals found within anti-inflammatory aloe have beautifying effects on the skin. It’s ideal for rosacea, sensitivity, and overall skin health. Apply the gel directly onto the damaged skin twice a day, or get creative by combining it with other ingredients and using it as a facial. Make your own exfoliator by taking ½ cup of Aloe Vera and adding just enough brown sugar or baking soda to achieve a gritty (not sharp!) texture, then apply it to your face and let it sit a while before rinsing it off. Or, for a calming and nourishing facial, combine 1 tablespoon of aloe with raw organic coconut oil and let it rest on your skin for an anti-aging boost.
At home facials can generally be done once or twice a week depending on which ingredients you use, whereas strong, professional facials are usually performed on a monthly basis. Consult your skincare professional for the best advice.
- Exfoliation should be done twice weekly, and facials should be done on either a monthly or weekly basis; however, cleansing and moisturizing your skin should be done every single day. Most experts recommend doing these critical skincare steps twice a day – once in the morning and once at night.
Keeping your complexion clean and moisturized is essential for the health and vitality of your skin. It’ll boost collagen production and increase cell regeneration, thereby helping to counteract the damage caused by sun exposure or hormonal flare-ups. Look for products enriched with skin toning and lightening ingredients, such as:
- Hydroquinone: This is the most common depigmenting agent used to lighten dark patches on the skin and correct uneven complexions. Hydroquinone is an organic compound that’s readily available in many cosmetic products, although high-strength formulas might require a prescription.
- Mulberry: A compound made from mulberry plant roots, this ingredient has been shown to dramatically lighten complexions.
- Kojic acid: This ingredient, produced from the mushroom family, not only whitens, but suppresses the tryosinase enzyme production and impedes melanin formation.
- Glutathione: Commonly found in soaps, lotions, ointments and even pills, glutathione is a peptide whose strong antioxidant powers have a whitening effect.
When cleansing your face, remember to always pat dry using a clean towel, as rubbing can irritate and worsen dark spots. Use your moisturizer immediately after your wash in order to seal in the wetness and retain the hydration.
- Don’t just manage your uneven skin topically; take your treatment a step further by correcting your skin from the inside out. Eating a clean diet helps beautify any complexion, not only uneven ones. Avoid processed foods such as white bread, chips, soda, and candy. The preservatives and additives found within these ingredients cause your blood sugar levels to spike, thereby triggering a hormonal reaction. Additionally, aim to incorporate more foods into your diet that have been proven to improve the quality of your skin, such as:
- Green tea: Green tea is very high in antioxidants which can improve the quality of your skin while minimizing visible aging effects.
- Green vegetables: Consuming raw, leafy greens provides the body with high doses of vitamins B and E, along with ample amounts of fiber, which can improve the quality of your skin, help fight sunspots, and give your skin better protection against free radicals.
- Citrus: Foods that are high in citrus such as oranges and tomatoes contain high amounts of vitamin C, which your body uses to reduce existing pigment, repair skin cells and minimize the effects of UV exposure. Watermelons, grapes, carrots and tomatoes also contain lycopene, a powerful antioxidant with a greater-than-average ability to quench free radicals.
- Tuna: Tuna, salmon, and other seafood are full of healthy fatty acids and omega 3 which, along with a variety of other benefits, can help prevent hyperpigmentation and allow the body to repair damage on the skin.
If you have sunspots, be sure to slather on sunscreen to prevent them from darkening, and if you’re prone to melasma, try to minimize your UV exposure to avoid flare-ups. It may take some time, but if you stay diligent and follow this routine, you’ll see dark spots fade and your complexion even.
How to Apply Makeup to Conceal Uneven Skin
As your hyperpigmentation begins to heal itself through your revised skincare and diet, consider concealing your uneven complexion with a tactful makeup application. A foundation with a blendable, buildable texture can become your new best friend, but be sure to apply it correctly, or risk making your skin appear even blotchier. Follow these steps to look flawless when using products to manage uneven skin:
- Begin by first applying a primer or moisturizer. This will allow your concealer and foundation to glide on smoothly, versus settling into fine lines or wrinkles. Having a primed canvas will prevent the makeup from soaking into the skin, thereby preserving its health.
- Pick the proper color for your skin. In order to do this, you’ll first need to identify your skin’s unique undertone: warm, cool, or neutral. Warm skin skews yellow, sallow, peachy, or golden; cool undertones exhibit hints of a blush, pink, or beige complexion. Identifying the tone of your skin is something top makeup artists can do in their sleep, but for most people it can be a bit tricky – especially if your complexion is uneven. If you’re unsure which undertone you have, ask yourself these questions:
- If you look under your wrist, what colors are your veins? Warm skin shows veins that are mostly green, whereas a cool undertone shows veins that are mostly blue.
- Do you tan easily and rarely sunburn? If so, your skin likely has warm or neutral undertones (but you should still be wearing sunscreen to prevent the worsening of your hyperpigmentation!).
- Do you look better in silver or gold? Personal preferences aside, cool undertones tend to be flattered by silver or platinum jewelry, whereas warm looks better in gold tones.
Once you determine what category you fall into, find a neutral foundation shade with the slightest hint of your undertone, but be cautious to stay away from formulas that appear either too pink or too yellow.
- Apply your concealer before your foundation. Usually concealer is applied under the eyes, along the nose, and on the chin, but those with uneven skin can also apply concealer to areas that need equalizing. Pay extra attention to the red areas around the nose; dot your product in these places and step back to see a noticeably brighter complexion.
- If you apply concealer first, you won’t need to use as much product when it comes to foundation. Uneven skin types should avoid a full-coverage foundation application, and instead only apply the product to uneven areas. This strategy will appear the most natural, especially if you use the correct shade for your undertone.
- Blend your foundation correctly. Always start at the center of your face and move in an outward direction. You can use a brush, blender, sponge, or fingers, but whatever you use, don’t forget to take care of the neck. Without blending your foundation into your neck and jaw, you’ll see a distinctive line of where you stopped, causing that dreaded “mask face”.
These are the basic makeup steps for a flawless complexion, but you can always take your look further and correct your color using blush, bronzers, and highlighters. Setting sprays are great once your application is complete and can help you achieve a long-lasting wear.
Managing uneven skin tone doesn’t always depend on high-tech lasers and expensive doctors. If those things are in your budget, you’re luckier than most. However, those looking for a more affordable way to correct discoloration should begin with this guide. Let’s recap how to manage an uneven skin tone:
- Identify the reason behind your hyperpigmentation
- Determine your skin type to create the best skincare routine for your complexion
- Treat your uneven skin using proper skincare, the correct products, and a clean diet
- Figure out your skin’s undertone to find a makeup shade that can best blends discoloration
Remember – perfectly even skin doesn’t exist, but if you see no improvement at all in your uneven complexion after following these four steps, it might be time to consult a dermatologists to rule out any medical conditions. Stop allowing your skin to make you look and feel years older than your age; get started today and rediscover your youthful radiance.