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Cysteamine – is this the wonder ingredient for pigmentation?

This simple skin lightener is said to brighten and even out the complexion – but does it live up to its claims?

Cysteamine is a versatile skincare ingredient that’s said to brighten and even out the complexion, reduce the appearance of lines and wrinkles, and protect skin against environmental damage.

This skin-lightening agent is used in the treatment of hyperpigmentation disorders such as age spots, melasma and post inflammatory pigmentation. It works by reducing the amount of a naturally occurring amino acid in the body known as l-cystine, or cystine.

By reducing the amount of cystine in the body, cysteamine helps to decrease the production of melanin–the pigment in the skin–thereby helping to combat dark spots and hyperpigmentation. It can also be used to address those pesky liver spots (age spots), that most of us get on areas such as our hands as we get older, as well as hyperpigmentation caused by spots and acne.

How does it help skin?

Cysteamine is known for brightening the skin by inhibiting melanin production. As a result, skin appears lighter and more even in tone. Cysteamine is also a powerful antioxidant, which means it helps to protect the skin against free radical damage caused by environmental factors such as pollution and UV light.

Free radicals damage our skin by clinging to collagen and weakening the skin’s elasticity; cysteamine has also been shown to increase collagen production which helps to reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. EV Expert Dr Bhavjit Kaur, Medical Director of Tuhi Clinic, London, is a fan, saying, “It’s easy to use, available without prescription, and can be used long term.”

What skin type is it best suited to?

Cysteamine is suitable for all skin types, but it’s particularly beneficial for hyperpigmentation and an uneven skin tone.

Although all skin colours can be affected by hyperpigmentation, there are other types of hyperpigmentation such as melasma (sometimes called the mask of pregnancy), liver spots (lentigo), and perioral hyperpigmentation (darkening around the eyes), that are notoriously hard to treat. “Studies have shown that it’s equally as effective as prescription products in treating epidermal melasma,” says Dr Kaur.

Is it safe?

Cysteamine is a naturally occurring antioxidant within our bodies. Scientists have been researching its safety since the 1960s, and apart from some users experiencing some mild, temporary side effects such as redness and dryness, it is generally considered safe for almost anyone to use, although it should be avoided by anyone pregnant, breastfeeding or suffering from vitiligo.

How should it be used?

Cysteamine is typically found in serums, creams or lotions and applied to the skin once or twice a day. It’s important to use it consistently to get the best results and can be used over the long-term. Although some types of hyperpigmentation can be due to genetics or hormones, it’s most often caused by too much UV light, so it’s vital to use a high factor SPF during and after treatment to prevent the risk of further pigmentation.

Luckily it seems to work in a relatively short amount of time, and with consistent use studies have shown that results can be seen in as little as eight weeks.

Are there any side effects?

As with any skincare ingredient, there are some potential side effects to be aware of, such as mild irritation or redness, through this tends to subside as the skin adjusts. It can also make the skin more sensitive to the sun, so, as mentioned before, it’s important to diligently protect the skin from the sun while using it.

Products to try

Cyspera is a range of products, which, as the name suggests is based on cysteamine. There are three products to choose from:

Cyspera Intensive Pigment Corrector helps to reduce the appearance of persistent brown patches and dark spots, reducing the production of melanin, lightening pigmentation, and enhancing the skin’s own natural cysteamine. One pump is applied to the skin and left for up to 15 minutes.

Cyspera Neutralize helps neutralise the smell of cysteamine and rebalance the epidermis to prepare for the Boost product. Two pumps are applied to the skin and gently massaged in before rinsing with water.

Cyspera Boost contains retinol and antioxidants and works synergistically with the Intensive Pigment Corrector to even skin tone, improve complexion by increasing non-pigmented skin layers and soothe the skin after the application of the Intensive Pigment Corrector. One pump is applied to skin initially for five minutes; after one week increase to 15 minutes.

Bhavjit Kaur, Aesthetic Doctor

An aesthetic physician with over 26 years of clinical experience, Dr Bhavjit Kaur is the co-founder and director of...

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