Coping with Melasma and Hyperpigmentation
Age spots, dark spots, sun spots—just what is meant by pigmentation? You may be lucky enough to have little in the way of prominent facial lines or wrinkles, but still feel like you’ra ageing. This is no doubt due to uneven skin tone. Freckles are one thing but large, uneven patches on the face, hands, and body can become a very sensitive issue for those of us they affect.
The term pigmentation covers the colouration in our skin, determined by the amount of melanin (the colour/pigment) which the body produces from its melanocyte cells (we discuss melanin in more detail here).
The amount of melanin your epidermis produces depends primarily on genetics, skin type, and exposure to sunlight. Fairer skin is due to lower melanin production, while darker tones are because of higher production. Other than colouring the skin (plus hair and eyes), melanin also offers us a certain level of sun protection by absorbing UVB radiation. A suntan (known officially as Melanogenesis) is the result of higher melanin production caused in response by the body’s own defences against damaging UVB rays. Hormonal and environmental factors can also impact melanin production, resulting in different pigmentation disorders.
At first glance, dark skin patches on the face might appear to be a consequence of just one thing—too much sun—but when you examine closer, those uneven abnormalities in tone are different. These patches can also be symptomatic of other conditions.
Different Types of Pigmentation Explained
Whether you have post-blemish skin scarring following a stubborn breakout, freckles that have developed into full-blown sun spots from too much sun exposure or marks caused by issues like eczema or psoriasis, such skin discolouration all fall under the umbrella of hyperpigmentation.
Ephelides, more commonly known as freckles, are the most common type of skin pigmentation. Freckles are most common for fair-skinned, redheads. Common freckles are quite harmless and do not develop into skin cancer. They tend to become darker during summer with more sun exposure and fade in the winter. Genetics also influence freckles.
Also named liver spots or sun spots, solar lentigines are pigmented spots with a clearly defined outline. These smaller spots can develop anywhere on the body and vary in pigmentation from light brown to black. Solar lentigines appear after UV sun exposure. The colour, degree, and darkness is a result of how much the melanin pigments are exposed to UV light. It's important to monitor your sun spots or liver spots as they potentially can develop into melanoma and skin cancer. Make yearly check-ups with your doctor or dermatologist to keep an eye on them.
Birthmarks and other pigmentation patches are common on many people. Some of the most typical are pigmented birthmarks, hemangiomas, port wine stains, macular stains, while conditions which include albinism, melasma, vitiligo, and pigmentation loss are symptomatic of more profound underlying skin damage.
Melasma or chloasma faciei is a result of pigmentation that lies further down in the skin’s dermis layer. The condition develops on the face as larger brown patches with a non-distinct border. This type of skin pigmentation is more common in women, especially those who are pregnant, taking hormone replacement therapy (HRT) or on oral contraceptives. Though the reasons are unknown why, hormonal increases often stimulate melasma. The patches are made worse with UV exposure, certain medications, pregnancy, and stress levels.
Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation is a temporary pigmentation issue that follows injury to the dermis layer (e.g., cuts, grazes or burns) or inflammatory skin disorder (e.g., dermatitis, infection, etc.). Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation is also called acquired melanosis.
What Causes Pigmentation?
Most hyperpigmentation is typically caused by external stressors, the most common of which is too much sun exposure. When sunlight reaches the skin, it triggers the melanin production. As mentioned, these dark spots can appear in all shapes, sizes, and colour densities, and they can impact all skin types, tones, and ethnicities.
Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation develops following different types of skin trauma (such as burns, grazes, cuts or any scrape that breaks the skin), blemishes and the misuse of topical treatments that might be too intensive for your skin type. Allergic reactions can also cause post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation too.
Tips for Treating Pigmentation
To prevent dark spots and uneven pigmentation from developing successfully, the best daily treatment which you can self-administer is to apply sunscreen every morning, ideally one with an SPF30 or higher. Using sunscreen more regularly will also prevent hyperpigmentation which is caused by breakouts or scars from becoming darker.