What is skin pigmentation? Pigmentation means colouring. Skin pigmentation disorders affect the colour of your skin. Your skin gets its colour from a pigment called melanin. Special cells in the skin make melanin. When these cells become damaged or unhealthy, it affects melanin production. Pigmentation has 2 main forms, hyperpigmentation and hypopigmentation which both have several symptoms. They are both common and can cause loss of confidence and embarrassment.
Hyperpigmentation is where patches of skin become darker in colour than normal, healthy skin. This darkening often occurs because there is an excess of melanin, which forms deposits in the skin. People with darker Asian, Mediterranean or African skin tones are also more prone to hyperpigmentation, especially if they have excess sun exposure.
Types of hyperpigmentation
- Melasma presents as brown patches on the face of adults and some adolescents. Most commonly affected areas are the cheeks, bridge of the nose, forehead & upper lip. Usually occurring in women, it affects only 10% of men. Often women who take contraceptive pills or have an IUD fitted develop this type of pigmentation. It can become more prominent if the skin is exposed to sunlight, hence often worsens during summer.
- Chloasma Some pregnant women overproduce melanin and develop a condition called Chloasma or the "mask of pregnancy", on their faces or abdomens. This can cover a relatively large area & may worsen after sun exposure.
- Lentigo/Lentigenes - Lentigo simply means one freckle; lentigenes are multiple freckles.
- Solar Lentigenes widely known as ‘sun spots,’ ‘age spots’ and ‘liver spots,’ solar lentigenes are freckles caused by sun exposure. 90% of fair skinned people over the age of 60 develop this condition. In general, those who are most likely to have solar lentigines are people who have a tendency to sunburn and tan a little or not at all (skin Fitzpatrick Types 1 and 2).
- Post Inflammatory Hyper Pigmentation (PHI) PHI (post inflammatory hyper pigmentation) usually occurs after an injury to the skin. It can commonly occur after acne spots or other skin lesions, after traumatic skin treatments, such as inappropriate or overly aggressive laser or after over use of some skin care products - particularly those that have been misdiagnosed for the skin type.
Hypopigmentation is caused by the reverse process of hyperpigmentation. Hypopigmentation is the result of a reduction in melanin production, causing patches of skin to become lighter than the surrounding skin.
3 common types of hypopigmentation and pigment loss are sun damage, vitiligo and albinism.
If you’ve had a skin infection, blister, burn, or other trauma to your skin, you might have a loss of pigmentation, in the affected area. The good news with this type of pigment loss is that it’s frequently of a temporary nature, but it might take a long time to re-pigment.
Vitiligo causes smooth, white patches on the skin. In some people, these patches can appear all over the body. It is an autoimmune disorder in which the pigment-producing cells are damaged. There is no cure for vitiligo, but there are several treatments, including cosmetic cover-ups, corticosteroid creams, or light treatments.
Albinism is an inherited disorder caused by the absence of melanin. This results in a complete lack of pigmentation in skin, hair, or eyes. People with albinism have an abnormal gene that restricts the body from producing melanin. There is no cure for albinism. People with albinism should use a sunscreen at all times because they are much more likely to get sun damage and skin cancer. This disorder can occur in any race, but is most common among Caucasians.
Pigmentation can be very difficult to treat effectively as the causes can be from so many different underlying reasons. For this reason a thorough Clinical Skin Assessment is required before clinical treatments or homecare can be prescribed. While pigmentation often can be prevented simply by avoiding UV exposure, sometimes it cannot be avoided. Cellular health is very important to improving the condition and a dietary intake of essential fatty acids such as Omega 3 & 6 is beneficial. Protection from UV exposure together with the right skincare is of the utmost importance.