Most Australians have pigmentation in some degree. Indications of sun damage are often evident even in teenagers. Research indicates Australian women look 10 years older than our European friends. This is due to our harsh environment and ongoing battle with pigmentation and uneven skin tone. Pigmentation comes in 5 main forms and the good news is: pigmentation can be treated effectively.
The colour of our skin is formed by a substance called melanin, produced by melanocyte cells in the basal layer (epidermis) of our skin. Melanin is black and works to absorb UV, protect our dermis (the layer underneath the epidermis that contains all the living structures in our skin) from UV damage. In an even skin colour the melanin is evenly distributed, however when overstimulated melanocytes can cluster together to form what we know as freckles, moles, age spots or liver spots.
There are five main causes of pigmentation.
The Science of Pigmentation
Our fabulous little melanocytes protect our skin from the damaging effects of UV radiation. (our own natural sunscreen) But, if the exposure is too great, they multiply rapidly, more melanin is produced and your skin will begins to show darker cells on the surface.
Often these spots can appear years after the sun exposure has occurred, so protection is critical in your childhood.
Sun damage is is the most common cause of pigmentation and easily treated when caught early, before pigmentation seeps deeper into the lower dermis level.
Hormone imbalances also control our melanocytes. Changes within our body like pregnancy, medications (especially birth control pills) and menopause can trigger the production of melanin causing dark patches, called Melasma or Chloasma.
Melasma is particularly common among women, as oestrogen and progesterone stimulate the overproduction of melanin when skin is exposed to the sun. It is always important to check with a qualified dermal therapist if a skin treatment or product is suitable when pregnant to ensure sun sensitivity is not additionally increased.
Hyper-pigmentation is also symptomatic of certain illnesses, such as some auto-immune and gastrointestinal diseases and vitamin deficiencies. Certain hormone treatments, chemotherapy drugs, antibiotics, antimalarials, anti-seizure drugs and other medications can trigger symptoms.
Hormonal related pigmentation often fades, once the cause has been removed, however some forms of Melasma can be much more difficult to treat.
Some of us are just more prone to the clumping of melanin, instead of an even spread throughout the skin. Those with fair skin types are often born with adorable freckles. This skin type is very sensitive to UV light, can easily burn and is more susceptible to skin cancer. These skin types need to be vigilant and always wear protection.
Some of us are also born with mole-prone skin – when a dark clump of pigment forms. Watch these carefully in case they change size, colour, shape or outline, but most moles are benign.
Some times the skin can produce pigmentation as part of it’s own healing mechanism. Post inflammatory hyper-pigmentation can be caused by acne, allergic reactions, incorrectly applied cosmetic treatments like laser and chemical peels, surgery and other trauma. Before undergoing any pigmentation treatment, ensure it will be performed by fully qualified and para-medically trained dermal therapists or physician.
Sometimes we get the opposite of hyper pigmentation, called hypo pigmentation. This is where patches of skin completely lack melanin and go very pale in contrast to a normal darker skin tone. This can be caused by a variety of systemic disorders, such as vitiligo, chronic inflammation and skin damage caused by traumas like acne scarring.
These pigment changes are often irreversible. At The Skin Studio we offer cosmetic tattooing to return the area to it’s normal colour.
Client treated with IPL
The Skin Studio
How to Treat Pigmentation
The best way to understand what type of pigmentation you have an how to treat it, is to have a comprehensive skin assessment by a dermal specialist. A skin scan will determine the depth and extent of the pigmentation and suitable treatments discussed.
Some of the more common treatments for pigmentation include Intense Pulsed Light (IPL), peels and medical grade cosmecuticals.
Intense Pulsed Light is a quick, simple and effective treatment, that helps fade the brown patches giving the skin a more even appearance within a few days. Although slightly uncomfortable, usually only 2-3 treatments are required after a test patch performed.
Pigmentation peels work to lighten and remove the affected surface cells. This is a slower, gentler option and very effective in the ongoing maintenance of an IPL treatment.
Home care plays a huge part in the maintenance of your pigmentation. Look for a highly active, medical grade cosmeceutical to achieve results, rather than an over-the-counter product. Vitamin A and C, Alpha or Beta Hydroxy Acids are powerful ingredients to even skin tone. Our favourite is Aspect Dr Complete Pigment Serum that will lighten and brighten pigmentation, used in combination with Aspect Dr Exfoliator or Exfol A to remove surface cells to achieve fabulous results.
Of course prevention is better than a cure. Wearing a sunscreen with a high SPF everyday and being mindful of covering up and reducing sun exposure, will ensure no further damage occurs.
Still not sure? Book a consultation with a dermal specialist here