What is pigmentation?
Human skin colour ranges from the darkest brown to the lightest pinkish or white hues. Skin pigmentation has evolved to primarily regulate the amount of UV radiation penetrating the skin and therefore controlling its damaging effects on the body. The colour of our hair and skin is predominantly due to the amount of brown melanin pigment produced by our melanocyte cells. The amount of melanin present is determined by our natural skin colour (white, brown or black) and by photo-type, which is the skin’s response to UV exposure, or tanning.
Hyperpigmentation and Hypopigmentation
You will hear a lot about ‘hyperpigmentation’ and ‘hypopigmentation. An increase in melanin (hyperpigmentation) can be caused by an increased number of melanocytes (pigment cells) or from increased production of the melanin pigment. The opposite of this (hypopigmentation) is caused by a decrease in melanin. Melanin’s job is to protect the body from damaging ultraviolet light, which is why if you suffer with hypopigmentation conditions, such as albinism, you will always be advised to take extra care to protect your skin from the sun’s harmful rays.
What causes pigmentation?
Do you wonder what might cause your pigmentation? The sun, genetics, medication and skin ageing are the main factors that influence skin pigmentation. These factors can cause melanin to distribute unevenly in the skin and accumulate at the surface of the epidermis, causing an uneven, blotchy, ’freckle like’ appearance. Unsightly dark spots or a diffused pigmentation form on the surface of the skin, most commonly on face, neck, décolletage and the back of the hands.
Types of pigmentation
1. Lenitgo: also known as ‘age spots’ are due mainly to the intrinsic ageing of the skin.
2. Solar Lentigo: is caused by considerable, regular sun exposure.
3. Melasma: is pigmentation concentrated across the cheeks and nose and is generally due to hormone imbalances and can be caused by medication or sun exposure during pregnancy. This is known as the ‘mask of pregnancy’.
4. Ephiledes or ‘freckles’: are clusters of concentrated melanin. Although freckles are genetic they are triggered by exposure to sunlight and are sometimes known as ‘Liver Spots’.
5. Post-inflammatory pigmentation occurs following acne and is due to excess melanin caused by inflammation.
What contributes to hyper-pigmentation?
The answer is Inflammation! Any one thing that stimulates an inflammatory response in the skin can result in hyper-pigmentation. Genetics, sun exposure, acne, medication and hormones are the most common. Exposure to the sun is the number one cause of pigmentation and as we all know if this inflammatory response is severe, this results in a sunburn. However, even very brief exposure to UV light can invoke this response. Simply walking outside can cause very subtle inflammatory processes to be initiated in your skin. This inflammation from continued exposure smoulders along undetected.
Hormone like substances are activated when the sun hits the skin. These hormones trigger a large number of responses in the skin that lead to increased redness, swelling, pain, irritation and an activation of melanocytes leading to hyperpigmentation. If the skin is continually exposed to UV radiation over a number of years, the constant becomes cumulative- the constant production of these inflammatory hormones ultimately results in a permanent activation of melanocytes and therefore ‘blotchy’ hyper pigmented skin.
The main factors that influence skin pigmentation:
- Sun exposure
- Natural skin ageing
- Hormonal fluctuations eg, pregnancy
- Acne related skin trauma
- Medication (topical and oral antibiotics)
- Various forms of eczema and dermatitis
- Burns: temperature and chemical
- Fragrance, soaps, deodorants
- Hair removal (creams, waxing, tweezing)
We will advise as to what the best course of treatments suit plus home care advice to allow you see good results.