Hyperpigmentation is a condition caused by excessive production of melanin, resulting in unsightly dark spots and skin discoloration. Melanin is the agent that gives skin its color. Because Asian skin tends to have more melanin than Caucasian skin, it’s more prone to hyperpigmentation. There are many ways of treating this condition, but because some approaches bear certain risks, it’s important to inform yourself before deciding on a particular protocol.


Hydroquinone

For years, hydroquinone has stood tall as one of the most effective protocols for treating hyperpigmentation in Asian skin. It works by literally decreasing the amount of melanin produced by the skin. To accomplish this, it slows the production of tyrosinase, an enzyme that plays a key part in melanin production. Improvement can be seen in as little as four weeks. As mentioned in a July 1, 2009, article in the dermatology trade magazine Dermatology Times, hydroquinone is viewed by the medical community as a premier tool in the treatment of pigment disorders.

Unfortunately, hydroquinone can trigger undesirable side effects. When used over long periods of time, it can cause ochronosis, a condition in which the skin becomes darkened and discolored; other unpleasant symptoms of ochronosis include loss of skin elasticity and slowed wound healing. The Dermatology Times article also reports that some studies have linked hydroquinone to cancer. Because of this, the drug has been banned in Europe, Australia and many parts of Asia.

Azelaic Acid

Azelaic acid has been hailed as a more natural alternative to hydroquinone. It’s produced by harvesting a yeast that grows on healthy skin. According to a 2003 study published in the Journal of Applied Cosmetology, azelaic acid and its derivatives are effective at combating hyperpigmentation; the study also concluded that this treatment can bring improvement in mild to moderate cases of acne.

Sulfur

Sulfur has been touted as a holistic means of treating hyperpigmentation in Asian skin. This mineral has long been valued for its healing properties; sulfur-rich hot springs are popular destinations for those seeking relief for everything from arthritis to skin disease. It’s known as “nature’s beauty mineral” because your body relies on it to produce healthy skin, nails and hair.

In her book “Unlocking the Mystery of Skin Color,” Dr. Thienna Ho extols the benefits of sulfur, and states that to achieve the speediest result, it should be used both externally and internally. Dr. Ho cites a study published by K. Wakamatsu and S. Ito in a 2003 issue of Pigment Cell Research (Issue 15–“Advanced Chemical Methods in Melanin Determination”); this study determined that sulfur can serve to reduce hyperpigmentation and lighten skin tone.

Organic sulfur—the kind used by our bodies—is marketed under the name MSM, and is sold in either capsule form or as a powder; take MSM internally to give your body the support it needs to heal your hyperpigmentation. Apply MSM externally by seeking out creams and lotions containing this mineral online or at your local health food store. An additional benefit of MSM is that it helps the body to detoxify, thus relieving stress on the liver. The downside to this treatment approach is that it’s not an overnight cure—it can sometimes take as long as three months before progress becomes apparent.