It is simply amazing how everyday skin care and hair removal services can either bring beautiful healthy skin, or with a simple misjudgment become unsightly. Fortunately, the latter can be prevented with proper knowledge, practice, and tools especially when it comes to overcoming a hyperpigmentation obstacle with common hair removal methods. Advancements in waxing products, hair removal lasers, and the concept of dermal planing have made hair removal methods a mainstream procedure. Understanding the anatomy and physiology of the skin can provide insight to the measures that can be made to minimize the damage that can surface due to waxing treatments.
Essential anatomy of the skin includes the epidermis and dermis with the associated appendages that systematically work together to protect our internal organs against external stressors and microorganisms. In addition, skin is our largest sensory organ and maintains internal homeostasis just like air conditioning units. When dealing with hyperpigmentation, melasma, or sun damage, darkened skin discolorations that may be visible as brown, yellow, or pink spots are the result of the abundance of eumelanin and pheomelanin that is distributed by specialized cells called melanocytes. Located in the basal layer of the epidermis, these cells can migrate around a given area to distribute melanin granules to local keratinocytes that are located in the Stratum Granulosum. There are many factors that can stimulate melanin production, but there is a plethora of information that has yet to be uncovered about this amazing cell.
Melanin formation can start with any number of enzymes that are induced by ultraviolet radiation (UVA and UVB rays), estrogen (hormones), serotonin (produced in central nervous system, may be stress induced), or endorphins (produced in pituitary gland; induced by excitement or trauma). Keep in mind that in addition to these forms listed, there are many other products that can promote melanin formation. Once the melanocyte is stimulated, melanin is created through the complex alteration of amino acid L-tyrosine from the melanocyte, and results in a granule form that becomes part of a keratinocyte and provides pigment. This process, melanogenesis, is the same for either sun damage or melasma, but the visible characteristics of each skin disorders are different. Sun damage is characterized by fairly regular brown spots that are found on the face and body as opposed to melasma, which is visible as irregular patches or regions of the face that are darkened.
Aestheticians have been trained to categorize their client’s skin type by the most common system in the world: the Fitzpatrick Scale. This method of measurement is important, but there are many considerations that need to be observed and made due to the mixed nature of the human race; ethnicity alone cannot determine a skin type. A thorough skin analysis should determine the relative thickness of the skin, condition of the skin, and the complex mix of eumelanin (brown) and pheomelanin (red) that is dispersed throughout the skin. These forms of melanin determine the amount of ultraviolet resistance the skin has. In addition to skin observations, the astute aesthetician also needs to consider the client’s age and what over-the-counter and prescription medications he/she may be using, as well as topical skin care products and ingredients. Each of these factors aid in determining the path of treatments that are allowed for the clients skin.
Performing a waxing treatment requires an understanding of the skin in order to provide the best result for the client without damaging the skin. Believe it or not, waxing formulations have become advanced in order to prevent skin pulling, tearing, and even discolorations. However, key ingredients must be observed by the aesthetician. First determine the client’s skin type or condition: oily, dry, normal, mature, inflamed, infected, acneic, hyperpigmented, sensitive, etc. Skins that are mature, thin, couperose, hormonal, dry, or sensitive generally desire facial waxing services due to the increased growth of vellus hair and terminal hair. When choosing a hair removal method for these women, dermal planing or waxing are two preferred methods. For waxing the vermillion border of the lip, brows, and chin, choose a hypoallergenic wax that contains titanium dioxide. This ingredient protects the skin surface by allowing the wax to grab the hair, while adding a protective barrier on the skin to prevent pulling or tearing; it also gives the wax a creamy consistency. Furthermore, mature skin that is couperose, thin and/or progressing through menopause or is post-menopausal has less reaction to hard waxes (no strip required) with this formulation. If you are using a natural or clear wax, or waxing sensitive or thin skins, balming the area to be waxed with a petrolatum and shea butter complex is always recommended to help protect the skin. A balm provides increased protection by creating a physical barrier between the wax and skin, much like the Titanium Dioxide in cream waxes, but allows for pulling of the hair. For clientele that desire total facial waxing, consider the less aggressive alternative – dermal planing. This process is essentially shaving the vellus hair (peach fuzz) on the face to give a clean and more refined appearance to the skin surface. Vellus hair will grow back fine, as opposed to terminal hairs, which have a reputation for growing back more coarse. Nevertheless, wax formulations will only assist the aesthetician halfway; technique is of the utmost importance and can only be learned through education and practice.
If aggressive wax formulations can ignite melanocyte activity via cellular trauma, do we wax clients that suffer from hyperpigmentation or chloasma (mothers mask)? Melasma is a difficult skin condition to remove, but it can be lightened and suppressed with proper skin care and treatments. Clients suffering from hyperpigmentation should always be placed on a melanin suppressant line – whether they are oily or dry. A proper skin care line will help balance the skins natural oils and additional moisture or regulation can be added to the regimen. Melanin suppressant products should contain some of these key ingredients: kojic acid (one to 3three percent), azelaic acid (10 to 20 percent), Hydroquinone (two to four percent), Alpha Arbutin (one to two percent, also found in Bearberry Extract), Glabridin (Licorice Root Extract), Tretinoin (less than one percent Retinoid including vitamin A), Lysine, Cysteine, L-Ascorbic Acid (five to 20 percent vitamin C) and Paper Mulberry Extract (less than one percent). Because melasma can be caused by hormone changes, stress, or endorphins, melanin suppressant skin care products (when combined with the proper wax) will help prevent hyperpigmentation flaring post-waxing services, especially when using a hard wax with titanium dioxide. However, because melasma can be induced by heat, trauma, and ultraviolet radiation, there is a risk of post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation associated with waxing.
Another cause of hyperpigmentation that results after waxing is from sun damage. Waxing does remove superficial dead layers of skin. However, this service in no way compares to the effects of a chemical peel, but it must be treated as such. Every wax procedure must be followed by a sun protectant lotion to prevent further ultraviolet damage to the skin. After all, sun protectant is the ultimate product that prevents premature aging and discoloration of the skin. Chronic waxing procedures, especially to the facial area, can make the skin more vulnerable to UVA and UVB damage, which can in turn provoke skin discolorations and result in embedded sun damage long-term.
While chronic waxing may induce sun damage to the skin, sunburn and chemical burn can be another contributing factor to skin damage. Do not wax clients who have a sunburn; it will only assist in pulling and tearing the skin – dermal plane or tweeze instead. Chemical burns and hair removal can be the result of depilatory creams. The key ingredients in these creams, calcium thioglycolate and sodium thioglycolate, cause the hair shaft bonds to weaken and break. When applied to facial skin, sensitive skin, or simply left on too long, these creams can cause chemical burns that result in inflammation and redness that generally lead to trauma induced hyperpigmentation. Another type of burn that needs to be considered with hair removal is a first-degree burn. This type of burn has the appearance of a serous fluid weeping, scabbing and redness, and resembles a common “rug burn.” A first-degree burn can be caused by wax that is too hot, or it may be the result of hypersensitive skin that may be the result of high percentages of vitamins A or C. Choosing a wax with a low melting point offers the hot wax results without traumatizing or burning the skin, thus preventing hyperpigmentation. Should a client present a first-degree burn, have them keep the area clean and dry, never rub the area, and prevent friction from fabrics or other materials. Topical lotions or ointments should include antibacterial agents that promote skin healing while preventing infection to minimize scar tissue formation. Do not allow the client to use alpha hydroxy or beta hydroxy acids, facial creams, or vitamin C products, as these may aggravate the skin, prevent healing, and can result in hyperpigmentation – or worse, hypopigmentation.
Discolorations may not always be in the form of melasma or sun damage, especially when it comes to the body. Key areas where many women (especially those who are pregnant) find discolorations include the underarms, anus, and labia. This form of discoloration can be caused by two means: melanocytes and/or capillary damage. Body friction in these confined areas can induce cellular trauma and therefore spark melanogenesis, thus bringing pigment to keratinized cells and chronically darkening these regions. Friction that occurs in these confined areas can also promote oxidized blood discolorations via surfacing capillary damage. This same form of discoloration can be found as dark circles under the eyes. As a result of chronic discolorations, clientele are asking about anal and labial bleaching specifically to revive and “pink-up” these areas for a more youthful appearance and enhanced self-esteem. However, because these regions are highly vascular areas, the use of hydroquinone is not recommended. For anal and labial bleaching services, it is best to use natural herbal lighteners to help combat these discolorations. This includes low percentage alpha hydroxy acids, kojic acid, bearberry extract, licorice root extract, vitamins A and C, and paper mulberry extract. Waxing prior to a bleaching service will offer some mild surface exfoliation and aid in the bleaching process. However, alpha hydroxy acids, vitamins A and C, and kojic acid should not be used for up to three days after a waxing service. Maintaining Brazilian waxing services in the salon and a proper bleaching regimen at home is the key to a successful anal and labial bleaching regimen. Without maintenance and diligence on behalf of the client, their results will be unsuccessful.
Having the proper tools and knowledge about skin care and waxing technique can prevent skin discolorations as a result of waxing procedures. The essential cause of skin discolorations can range from many variables, but ultimately heat, trauma, and ultraviolet damage are the key players in causing these discolorations. However, conducting a thorough skin analysis with careful attention to the abundance of eumelanin and pheomelanin in the skin can guide you toward the proper skin care treatments and protocols that will effectively suppress and help remove discolorations. This in turn prevents hyperpigmentation after facial waxing procedures and overall chronic sun damage that can incur from waxing. Although facial discolorations appear to be a major concern, the body cannot be ignored. As a professional skin care provider, it is up to the aesthetician to observe all aspects of their clientele – face and body. These observations will not only keep your clientele on your books, but boost service and product revenue as well.
Tina Zillmann is a paramedical aesthetician, having a focus in acne care and light-peeling treatments. She is also the owner of the Skin Rejuvenation Clinique, Inc., a facility that services to pre- and post-operative patients. Zillmann also acts as a national educator for Advanced Rejuvenating Concepts™. Recently, she was the recipient of the Entrepreneur Spirit Award from the National Association of Women Business Owners. She is also the President of Aesthetics International Association (AIA).