What is Pigmentation?
The colour of your skin is the result of millions of years of evolution, which explains the wide range of skin tones we see in everyday life. People with origins close to the equator, where the sun is the most intense, had to develop protection against dangerous UV rays. The result? – an increase in the production of Melanin, a natural skin and hair colorant that absorbs UV radiation and protects the body from damage. In fact, the epidermis of a dark skinned person absorbs up to 25% more UV than that of a light skin.
Pigmentation disorders are caused by many factors, which include sun damage, hormonal imbalance, and skin trauma or disease. Of all these causes, sun damage is both the most common, and the most easily prevented!! Simple application of a sunscreen with a SPF 15-30 everyday, and avoiding peak sun times around midday, will do a lot to prevent the sun damage that can make your skin’s pigment mis-behave
Types of Dark Spots
Melasma: also known as the mask of pregnancy.
Hormonal imbalance, a cause of pigmentation mostly affecting women, can occur during any time that the body’s natural hormonal balance is disturbed. These triggers can include hormonal changes, such as those that happen during the menstrual cycle, birth control pills, prolonged stress, menopause and most commonly pregnancy. Unlike pigmentation related to trauma or sun damage, hormonal induced hyper-pigmentation generally disappears when hormone balance is restored, and it can be treated during the interim period with topical skin brighteners. If you are pregnant always wear a SPF on your face, this will prevent the Melasma from getting darker and prevent damage. Try mineral sunblocks as they are less irritating if your skin is sensitised with pregnancy.
These are caused by sun exposure and sunburn. They’re completely preventable with sun avoidance and protection. People of all skin and hair colours can get these, solar lentigos result from environmental factors like excess sun, more than genetic factors.
Dark patches contribute to the appearance of ageing as much as wrinkles, yet many people focus on wrinkles not recognising how dark spots detract from skin’s youthful appearance.
Also called Ephelides, freckles are associated with red hair and fair skin, while solar lentigos are not, although their appearance is similar. The gene believed to be responsible for freckles is the MC1R gene, which is known as the “red head gene”, and this determines your tanning potential. While you can’t control your genes, you CAN control your sun exposure. Freckles appear in early childhood, they increase as a result of sunburn and sun exposure.
The pigmentation related to skin trauma (cuts, wounds, scrapes etc) is difficult to prevent in the case of accidental damage to the skin. Picking at acne and squeezing lesions is also a big no-no, this will only exacerbate the pigmentation associated with wound healing. This can be more common in black and Asian skins and increases as you get older.
Age spots occur when melanin is literally dumped in the dermal-epidermal junction (DEJ). The epidermis and Dermis are interlocked by rete pegs (finger like protusions), these start to separate with old age. There is little you can do about this with any cosmetic formula or treatment, some lasers may be helpful.
How Pigment is Formed
Skin pigment producing cells (Melanocytes) produce skin pigment (Melanin), which creates skin colour as well as the excess forms of pigmentation. Our skin has a different colour in different areas, however the concentration of about 1000-2000 melanocytes per cubic millimetre is the same for all race groups! So it doesn’t matter if you are a black-skinned person, or a pale northern European, you will still have the same number of melanocytes, just a different balance of Eumelanin and Pheomelanin pigment granules inherited from the family gene pool. As we get older we don’t produce as much melanin, and skin becomes translucent and the damaged dark patches stand out even more.
Ultra Violet Light
When UV light hits the skin, it stimulates an increased production of skin pigment, which is the tanning process. This is the skin’s major defence against further UV damage. UV light worsens Melasma and causes Solar Lentigos. UVB cause an immediate sunburn, UVA is present all year round and causes long term damage and premature ageing. Even broad spectrum sunscreens with a high factor do not block 100% of the suns rays. A conscious effort must be made to avoid all natural and artificial UVA and UVB rays. One thing for certain is that with the weakening of the Ozone protective layer, more UV rays are getting through to earth and as a result pigmentation problems are becoming worse.
Pigmentation can also be triggered by ingredients in your skincare products, especially fragrance. Avoid products that contain fragrance; Parfum, perfume, all mean that there is artificial fragrance in the product. The many chemical components in fragrance can cause irritation and react with UV light causing Photo-sensitivity and pigmentation. Sometimes you see women with blotchy pigmentation on their chest and neck area, this is caused by the perfume reacting with light over many years. If you want a youthful neck and chest, avoid spraying perfume on that area, it’s also very drying due to the alcohol content. Spritz your clothes of dab onto your wrists. Also citrus oils in cosmetics can cause photo-sensitivity when exposed to sunlight, stimulating pigmentation.
When it comes to Hyper-pigmentation you must be patient! It can take at least 3 months before you may notice any changes. So don’t give up using a product just because you cannot see an immediate difference. It largely depends on what is causing the pigmentation and how deeply into the skin it extends. Generally speaking most people see results within 8-12 weeks of beginning a treatment programme. Keep in mind, however, that all sun exposure must be avoided during this time – even one unprotected hour in the sun can reverse all positive treatment results.
Chemical lighteners, predominantly those containing Hydroquinone, are recognised as effective skin lighteners. However, Hydroquinone has been linked with many negative side effects and can cause severe skin allergies and worsening of pigmentation. Hydroquinone is now banned in most countries.
Botanical skin brighteners are a much safer approach for brightening the skin, and are as effective when used consistently in a professional brightening regimen. Brightening agents to look for on ingredients lists include; Liquorice, Bearberry, Rice, Kiwi and Mulberry, Yellow Dock, Kojic Acid, Arbutin, Lactic Acid, Niacinamide, Soy and Vitamin C and A.
In the cosmetic industry we can only brighten and inhibit tyrosinase, doing both of these will eventually lessen your pigmentation.
These ingredients work by two main mechanisms. The first is to inhibit the enzyme Tyrosinase, which will prevent the formation of melanin. Tyrosinase needs an oxidising atmosphere to work, and this is why antioxidants like Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) are so effective. Many topical cosmetic ingredients as above are tyrosinase inhibitors. The second method of preventing the production of excess melanin is to forestall the transfer of the colour into the skin cells, studies show that Niacinamide (vitamin B3) and Soy prevent this transfer, which is why they are in skin brightening products.
Daily Sunscreen Use
If you really want to prevent further damage and stop your dark patches from getting worse, then make it a habit to apply sunscreen every morning whether you plan to be indoors or out. UVA easily penetrates windows into buildings, cars and aeroplanes. Keep your favourite sunscreen in your car, desk and handbag just in case you forget to apply at home. Also your make-up can provide you with extra sun protection – mineral make up is a great choice as most give you a SPF20 or higher, and give you a physical sun block that bounces off UVA and UVB, and it’s less irritating.
Here are some recommended products that target and reduce pigmentation. They are all effective and have a brightening effect on the skin and contain Tyrosinase inhibitors. An effective routine of cleansing, exfoliating the pigmented cells away, then treating the pigmentation with a brightening serum and sun protection will give you a more even skin tone.
- Dermalogica Age Smart Resurfacing Cleanser
- O2 Intraceuticals Opulence Brightening Cleanser
- Dermalogica ChromaWhite TRx Tri-Active Cleanser
- Jan Marini Bioglycolic Cleanser
- Dermalogica Daily Microfoliant
- Dermalogica Gentle Cream Exfoliant
- Dermalogica ChromaWhite TRx Powerfoliant
- Jan Marini Bioglycolic Lightening Gel
- Jan Marini Bioclear
- Dermalogica ChromaWhite TRx range
- O2 Intraceuticals Opulence Hydration Gel
- Crystal Clear Skin Brightening Complex
- Crystal Clear Illuminate
- O2 Intraceuticals Opulence Moisture Brightening Cream
- O2 intraceuticals Opulence Brightening Wand
- Jan Marini Age Intervention Enlighten