In the days of miraculous beauty breakthroughs - when stubborn wrinkles can be smoothed away, sagging cheeks resculpted or thinning eyelashes and eyebrows regrown - pigmentation remains a challenge for most women.
While there is much modern foundation and concealer can do to even skin tone and cover hyperpigmentation - the unsightly dark patches that creep across the face - permanently removing it has always been problematic. Hyperpigmentation covers a gamut of issues, ranging from melasma, typically caused by pregnancy hormones, to sunspots triggered by ultraviolet-ray (UV) exposure. It's unsightly and can be frustrating for those wanting even-toned skin, but there is increasingly help at hand.
According to Hong Kong-based dermatologist Dr Tinny Ho, some people are simply more prone to hyperpigmentation than others. But there are some basic steps, such as avoiding UV exposure, that can help keep the dark patches at bay. 'The most important thing is protection from the sun,' she says. 'Use a good sunscreen with both UVA and UVB protection. A well-formulated Vitamin C skincare product is also worth using - although it's not a strong skin lightener, it's excellent for overall anti-ageing and repairing sun damage. Hydroquinone remains the gold standard in this part of the world for lightening pigmentation, but a stronger preparation such as 4 per cent needs a prescription from a doctor.'
Barcelona-based skincare brand Natura Bisse has been at the forefront of research and development in at-home treatments. 'There's a lot of concern out there about pigmentation,' says the brand's international education manager, Tahimi Gonzalez.
'Many factors influence pigmentation; for example, stress, pollution and even diet. If, when younger, we regularly lay in the sun with no protection, the skin inevitably starts to show signs of damage as we age.'
Gonzalez believes the problem has increased in the past few years, particularly among younger people, and global interest in lightening products certainly bears her out.
'Consumer research tells us [hyperpigmentation] is the top concern of Americans and women globally', Debbie D'Aquino, vice-president of Clinique Product Development Worldwide, told The Moodie Report at the launch of its Even Better Clinical Dark Spot Corrector in 2010. 'We know that in France 82 per cent of women use products that provide clearer, brighter skin. In Italy, it's 95 per cent; in Russia, it's 97 per cent. In the US, brightening is cited as the fastest-growing segment in skincare, ahead of anti-ageing, which is now number two.'
Until recently, hyperpigmentation has typically been an area of concern for Asian women, who have driven the development of whitening and brightening products by global beauty companies such as Lanc?me and Shiseido. But eradicating those telltale blemishes has become an obsession in the West too. The market is now flooded with products promising to brighten or lighten all skin types. So which products should you consider, and how can you maximise the results they promise?
According to Gonzalez, successfully eradicating dark patches often needs more than the application of one cream. Natura Bisse, like many major players, has developed a combination of products designed to work together, but customers are strongly advised to have a personal skincare assessment first. 'Sometimes it's not just one product that is magical and makes a difference,' Gonzalez says. 'You need a personalised treatment [programme] to address the problem, then the possibility of a good result is much higher.'
Part of the company's successful Diamond Collection, the new Diamond White Intensive Lightening Corrective Treatment uses a skin-friendly brightening acid complex that not only promises to reduce the size and intensity of dark spots while improving the evenness of skin tone, but also actually inhibits the pigmentation process.
Gonzalez advises exfoliating the skin first with a product containing alpha hydroxy acids, then massaging in the Diamond White treatment and finishing with an SPF cream infused with natural ingredients, such as daisy extract, designed to control the production of melanin.
Also advocating the benefit of a multilayered skin-whitening regime is Kiehl's Dermatologist Solutions. The brand recently launched the Clearly Corrective White line, a five-step range of products developed specifically for Asian customers. As with Natura Bisse, Kiehl's formulations attack deep-set dark spots while limiting excessive melanin production by using the latest-generation Vitamin C derivative on the market, Activated C. 'We have to break up the overproduced melanin, prevent it from clustering into a dark spot and stop it from migrating to the surface,' says Dr Angelike Galdi, Kiehl's head chemist and assistant vice-president of research and development. 'We refer to this as anti-cluster activity, and Activated C is outstanding in this functionality.'
Sisley's Phyto-Blanc Whitening Serum with Vitamin C derivative ascorbic acid 2-glucoside, Estee Lauder's Re-Nutriv Radiant White Age-Renewal Collection with concentrated white tuberose, Giorgio Armani Beauty's Luminessence serum with Inovation Actyl C and jasmine extract - every reputable skincare brand is offering a similar solution, with its own special ingredients.
In March, La Prairie launched its Swiss Cellular White Intensive Illuminating Mask. What makes this product stand out is the mask itself, which comes in two sections, each with its own unique formula: one half is applied to the lower face (chin area) and the other to the upper face. Ingredients including wattleseed extract, garden cress sprout extract and oligopeptides all help brighten the face, diminish spots and prevent further blemishes appearing. And, unlike many of the products on the market, which have to be applied daily, La Prairie recommends the mask be applied for 10 minutes, three times per week.
Another product to recently hit the shelves is The Whitening Lotion Intense, the new star addition to the Blanc de la Mer Collection by La Mer.
'The Whitening Lotion Intense is a critical first step in La Mer's Blanc de la Mer ritual that combats hyperpigmentation and enhances the performance of the products that follow,' explains Loretta Miraglia, senior vice-president of product innovation.
The combination of La Mer's proprietary ingredients - Miracle Broth, Smoothing Ferment, Micro White Ferment, White Algae Ferment and White Nutrient Ferment, to name a few - is believed to help fade the appearance of existing spots, stop the formation of age spots and protect skin against future discoloration.
Beyond skincare, a number of brands are also launching whitening make-up collections to further enhance radiance.
Chanel's Le Blanc range includes make-up bases with white mineral ceramic pigments and a loose powder with pearl extract to counter dullness and yellow tones.
Also harnessing the power of the pearl is Guerlain's comprehensive Blanc de Perle collection featuring the Meteorites Perles Light-Perfecting Primer with iridescent powders and Brightening Foundation with SPF 20.