Unwanted Skin Pigmentation and How To Treat It
Most of us crave a golden or bronzed tan, indicative of your recent tropical holiday or of your active, outdoor lifestyle. While this type of pigmentation is desirable, many people have some kind of pigmentation that needs treatment, these can manifest in the forms of freckles, brown spots, sunspots, or age spots that are unwanted.
More than 80 per cent of women over the age of 25 suffer from pigmentation. Skin pigmentation can be split into three major types and treated in several ways, which can become quite confusing.
What Causes Skin Pigmentation and Hyperpigmentation?
Melanin is a brown pigment that protects your skin from the damaging effects of ultra-violet (UV) rays. It’s produced in the melanocytes found in the deepest layer of your epidermis, as well as your hair and in the irises of your eyes.
Hyperpigmentation is an increase in the amount of melanin and its distribution in the skin to the point where there is too much being produced in one area, leaving you with skin discolouration. This type of pigmentation can be triggered by a number of factors, including exposure to UV light, hormonal changes, skin inflammation, injury, and genetics.
Three Types of Skin Pigmentation
Solar Lentigines or Sunspots
These non-cancerous, clearly defined, and pigmented sunspots are larger than freckles. Found in the upper layers of the epidermis and mostly superficial, lentigines can develop over a period of years or suddenly appear anywhere on the body. They range from light brown to black in colouration.
The degree of pigmentation is dependent on the intensity and duration of exposure. Sunspots should be monitored, as they do have the potential to turn into skin cancer and melanoma. Sunscreen and proper sun protection (hats, rash guards, etc.) can help reduce flare-ups and deepening pigmentation. To fade dark marks and patches quickly and safely, prescription pigmentation treatments that contain powerful active ingredients are ideal for smoothing and brightening uneven skin tone and texture.
Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH) occurs as a result of injury to the skin from acne, burns, surgery, cuts and scrapes, insect bites, rashes, and aggressive skincare treatments. PIH can naturally fade over time or it may require the application of prescription skin pigmentation treatment that takes into consideration your lifestyle factors and triggers.
Melasma is pigmentation that occurs deeper in your skin’s dermis on areas of the face, neck, and sometimes the chest and arms. Hyperpigmentation from melasma takes the form of dark symmetrical patterns (usually across the centre of the face, forehead, cheeks, upper lip, nose, and chin). Women are more prone to melasma than men (only 10% of men suffer from melasma). People with darker skin, those of Latin/Hispanic, African, Asian, Middle Eastern, or Mediterranean descent are much more likely to suffer from melasma.
Melasma is commonly caused by exposure to UV light, which over-stimulates the skin’s melanocytes. Just a small amount of time spent in the sun can cause melasma to return even after it has faded. This is why there is always an increase in the number of people looking for melasma pigmentation treatment in the summer.
Changes in hormones can also trigger melasma, often occurring during pregnancy, which is why it is often called “the mask of pregnancy”. Using birth control pills and hormone replacement treatments can also trigger melasma, both of which should be discontinued before treating the increase in pigment.
Lightening and Brightening Creams
Over the counter (OTC) creams can reduce pigmentation, and these creams are often available in clinical-strength prescription formulas. Some commonly used ingredients include hydroquinone, liquorice extract, niacinamide and retinoids. While these are more readily accessible, they often take longer than other clinically prescribed pigment treatments.
Clinically Compounded Prescription Creams
You can be prescribed pigmentation treatments that have been tailored specifically to your skin’s needs by a doctor or dermatologist. Telemedicine providers, like Qr8 MediSkin, offer an online video consultation with one of their doctors after you complete a comprehensive questionnaire. In the consultation, the doctor will account for your lifestyle and skin sensitivity and tolerance, after which a specialist compounding pharmacist will tailor a cream with a selection of active ingredients for safe pigmentation removal. They will then deliver this cream or serum base directly to your door.
Dermatologist-approved pigmentation treatment ingredients that are clinically proven to produce results include: hydroquinone, retinoids, kojic and azelaic acids, alpha-arbutin, tranexamic acid, and hydrocortisone. Some services also include personalised follow-up care from their Skincare Support Team, to ensure you get the best results in the shortest time.
Acid and chemical peels work by exfoliating the top layer of the skin, encouraging new cell turnover. This process helps even out and brightens the skin tone and texture. Many of these products are available OTC in drugstores and beauty stores. Look out for ingredients such as alpha-hydroxy acids (glycolic, lactic, citric, and malic acids), azelaic acid, kojic acid, salicylic acid, and l-ascorbic acid – all of which are active ingredients that work to chemically exfoliate your skin.
Although chemical peels are available OTC, consider a professional-grade peel at your dermatologist’s office. These are more powerful, and they yield quicker results.
Sometimes referred to as ‘resurfacing’, targeted beams of light are used to reduce pigmentation in the skin using ablative or non-ablative lasers. Ablative lasers are more intensive and are used to remove layers of the skin. Non-ablative lasers target the dermis, encouraging collagen production and the tightening of the skin.
Intense Pulse Light Therapy (IPL)
IPL is a form of non-ablative laser treatment that stimulates collagen production in the dermis. This treatment requires multiple sessions to achieve the desired effects, flat dark patches of skin are particularly responsive to this treatment. It also aids in the reduction of wrinkles, spider veins, and enlarged pores. Before going for any such intensive procedures, you should first consult with the best plastic surgery singapore doctor and surgeon. A lot of us feel prey to what is being shared online. This is not a safe direction to take. Our facial skin is sensitive and reacts in different ways. What works for someone might not have the same effect on another individual. This is why it is essential that you first check in with an expert, run tests and see suits you best.
Knowing that the major contributing factor in the appearance and reappearance of unwanted pigmentation is sun exposure, sunscreen and sun protection should be your best friends.
A ‘broad-spectrum’ SPF of 30 and above must be part of your daily skincare routine. Even if the weather is overcast, put on your sunscreen – UVA and UVB light cuts through cloud cover, and UVB penetrates water. There is no sunscreen on the market that can give you total protection, which is why sunglasses, hats, and protective clothing are often necessary when the sun is particularly harsh.
While many of us do suffer from unwanted pigmentation, there are a whole host of ways to treat, manage and prevent future flare-ups. Finding the right combination for your skin can take time, and seeking the help of a dermatologist can greatly increase your chances of success.