There are many things I love about summer – warm breezes clearing the winter air out of my house, riotous bursts of color from flowers, sundresses – but the dazzling sun and beach days also bring a sense of dread.

Like any good Asian child, I was raised with a healthy fear of sun damage. I am never without my hat or parasol, and I will literally run from the sun if caught unawares. When I began working in the beauty industry, I learned more about the science behind sun damage and hyperpigmentation.

Beneath our skin lie melanocytes, which create melanin to protect our skin. These protective cells are essentially tiny umbrellas, which build up to the surface. Occasionally, these sites can be damaged by sun exposure and overproduce umbrellas, resulting in age spots and sun spots.

Women in all shades of beautiful experience the woes of hyperpigmentation, but with varying degrees of severity. Those of us with darker skin tones have melanin shaped like a carnation, while melanin in the fair end of the spectrum looks more like a pine needle.

One of the most frequent questions I am asked is how to eliminate these spots, and how to prevent future ones. The best way is the least popular: stay out of the sun! But if you’re like me and have a child clamoring for beach days, there are other measures you can take.

Visible hyperpigmentation resides in the outer layers of the skin. Gentle, daily exfoliation will help increase cell turnover, gradually shedding the layers of skin with excess melanin. A brightening serum helps with this process, and can calm your overactive melanocytes to prevent future spots. Be careful, though – many brightening serums contain ingredients like hydroquinones, which will increase your sensitivity to the sun.

As I get older and fashion becomes less important, I may consider investing in a face-kini. Bonus: I bet it would horrify my daughter.

Victoria Tsai
Chief Treasure Hunter

published April 2013

Beauty Secrets, Geisha
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