When it comes to taking care of our skin, most of us are reactive rather than proactive, reaching for products only when an issue pops up. Pimple? Dab on some zit cream. Dry patches? Switch to a richer moisturiser. Feeling bumpy? Exfoliate!

And on the rare chance there’s nothing perceivably wrong with your skin, you just let your skin be. After all, if it ain’t broke, why fix it, right? Wrong.

While it may seem pointless—and even harmful in some cases—to use products aimed at addressing specific issues when you don’t have said issue (like using harsh acne creams when you have clear skin), skincare aimed at brightening the complexion and targeting pigmentation spots are essential for all skin types.

Check below the surface

Even if dark spots and patches aren’t an immediate concern for you right now, left unchecked, they will be.

Case in point: Senior Marketing Executive Reena Tay, 24, found she had spots below the surface of the skin after doing a simple skin check with the SkinScope, which is available at the SkinCeuticals pop up store at Derma Centre (#N3-03 NomadX Plaza Singapura). “I’ve always had freckles, which is why I’m very particular about sun care. So it really shocked me to find out that there’s actually more pigmentation under my skin that will surface over time. I need to rethink my skincare routine,” she says.

According to dermatologist Dr Teo Wan Lin, who is also the medical director of her own practice TWL Specialist Skin & Laser Centre, pigmentation does not occur overnight. “In fact, way before you develop any pigmentation spots, the pigmentation would already have been growing under the skin, rising in the deeper layers before it surfaces,” she explains.

“The earliest signs of sun damage usually start to appear after the age of 25,” Dr Teo says . “The risk factors for pigmentation would include the amount of sun exposure in your routine, specifically recurring sun exposure that causes repeated damage over time,” she adds.

It’s not just the sun

Besides UV damage from sun exposure, an often-overlooked but common reason behind an uneven skin tone is the ghost of your adolescent enemy—acne scarring.

Eileen Mah, 25, an account executive who also got her skin analysed with the SkinScope, has this issue. “I was pleased to find out that I didn’t have much underlying pigmentation, but I do suffer from acne and I have surface marks to deal with,” she says.

“When someone has acne in their teens, it often leaves scars either in the form of post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH) or indented scars known as ice-pick or box-car scars,” Dr Teo says . Scarring causes surface irregularities that result in light being reflected unevenly on the skin. This leads to the appearance of an uneven complexion.

Other factors that can affect the clarity and evenness of skin include scarring from facial eczema, allergic reactions to skincare or makeup products, as well as hormonal fluctuations. “Even pregnancy may stimulate the melanocytes that produce melanin pigment in the skin,” Dr Teo adds .

Why you need brightening products

To keep sun damage at bay, never neglect applying sunscreen. On top of this, use brightening skincare products that list antioxidants such as vitamin C, retinol and niacinamide as active ingredients.

Antioxidants fight against free radicals, which are produced naturally as a reaction to environmental factors such as smoke, UV rays and pollution. “Free radicals can do a number on our skin cells and can lead to excess pigmentation,” Dr Teo says.

However, if you’re daunted by the term “brightening” and the implication that it would alter the shade of your skin, worry not. In today’s parlance, “bright skin” refers to an even complexion that reflects light more evenly, no matter what shade you are.

According to Dr Teo, it’s actually achievable: “With a diligent routine using products that are high in antioxidants, combined with limiting sun exposure and proper sun protection, you can get a more even and radiant skin tone.”

Whether you’re striving for fair “mochi” skin or aspire to be a bronzed Amazonian goddess, all skin looks best when radiant, even and healthy! Here are some products and treatments to get you started on your journey to healthier, clearer, even-toned skin.

Text: Joie Goh

This story first appeared in the CLEO March 2019 issue.