Pigmentation (Hyper and Hypo) – Melasma – Freckles – Sunspots – Age Spots – Vitiligo – Albinism
The skin has a vary array of colour that reflects and absorbs light in different ways. This represents the amount of pigments we have in our skin, how light penetrates the layers of our skin and how it responds to the radiation from light that causes melanisation.
The amount of pigment we have, called Melanin, varies between person to person. The melanin effects our skin and hair colour.
There are 2 melanin pigment types:
- “Eumelanin” which is in dark and brown skin tones
- “Phaeomelanin” which is a reddish-yellow colour found in lighter skin tones.
Our unique shade and tone of the skin varies because both types of melanin are present. Colour in our skin can also reflect capillaries which give a ruddy appearance. Carotene can also be present, which gives a yellow tinge to the skin. The amount of pigmentation varies according to a person’s genetic characteristics.
Scientists use a system known as the “Fitzpatrick skin photo types” to know more about melanin levels. This system calculates how easily the skin burns or tans when exposed to the sun. In countries where the sun is harsher or more prominent throughout the year, the skin has more melanin. Africa as a great example. Melanin will act as a natural sun protector. On the other hand people from countries that lack sunshine for most of the year tends to have less melanin. Sweden would be an example. As the human race migrates from country to county, the melanin production gets confused which can lead to skin issues.
Pigmentation issues can range from sun damage/freckles, melasma, vitiligo, albinism, hyper-pigmentation, hypo-pigmentation, melasma and age spots, to name a few. Some pigmentation can only be seen under a “wood” lamp, magnifying glass or 3D imaging analysis machine. This machine can identify the depth or severity of pigmentation. Often, pigmentation can be visible to the naked eye or a trained specialist. In severe cases it can cause self-esteem issues and depression. Certain types of pigmentation on the skin can be of a more serious nature like skin cancers. A specialising skin doctor should check these spots immediately. It’s also important to be aware of any changes in the skins appearance, size and colour. This type of change should be checked immediately.
Freckles, Sun Damage, Sun Spots and Age Spots.
These are small pigmentation spots where there is an over production of melanin in that area. These pigmentation producing cells are called Melanocytes. Such as constant over exposure to the sun and it’s UVA & UVB rays. UVA being the most harmful of the two. The skin is exposed to these rays all year round. In daylight, rain or shine and even through glass. This is where melanin production helps to protect the body. The more the body is exposed to sun, the more melanin is produced. But, it’s not always even over the body. Some cells will over produce, and some won’t worry at all. Over time this repeated process causes “clumping of pigment”. Pigmentation production occurs under the skins surface so by the time you “see” it, there can be a lot more happening deeper in the skin’s layers.
These spots will occur in any exposed areas. Not only our face but our chest, arms and hands. As well as that, when we are driving in the car. One side of our face is more exposed to the UV rays causing skin issues. If we wear long sleeves, then our hands will get more exposure. Also, if we have a fringe and wear big sunglasses then our nose will get more exposure then our cheeks. This type of pigmentation is all down to sun exposure and how our body reacts with melanin production. As we age, more spots appear causing us to look older then we want to.
Hyper-pigmentation and Melasma.
This is again an over production of melanin. This can also be attributed to sun exposure. However, it usually results from acne, skin trauma, allergic reaction or hormonal changes. If hyper-pigmentation is in the epidermal layer (top layer) of the skin then it can last weeks or years. It depends on the severity of the situation, inflammation or trauma. If the trauma is severe and effects the dermal layer of the skin then the marks can be permanent. An acne spot can be bad enough without it causing a brown spot as it fades and heals.
Melasma occurs from an increase in estrogen-type hormone. They are especially present in woman during pregnancy. A discolouration forms around the outer edges of the face, above the upper lip and across the cheek. Yet, it can form differently on different women. Birth control pills or hormone replacement therapy also causes the hormones to control pigmentation production. It is often referred to as a “pregnancy mask”. The combination of hormone and sun exposure can bring the discolouration on quickly. Therefor reducing the amount of sun exposure can reduce discolouration. However, some women find the pigmentation can last a lifetime.
Hypo-pigmentation, Vitiligo and Albinism.
This is usually an under production of melanin or no production at all. This can occur in small patches on the face and body or completely over the body. This lack of production can be from a trauma like chemical burn or inflammation like eczema or dermatitis or an auto-immune disease. Subsequently, this occurs because of a decrease in pigmentation. This affects the way melanocytes (pigment cells) work and the production of melanin (pigment).
Albinism is a little different. According to NOAH (National Organization for Albinism and Hypo-pigmentation), “Albinism is an inherited genetic condition that reduces the amount of melanin pigment formed in the skin, hair and/or eyes. Albinism occurs in all racial and ethnic groups throughout the world. Most children with albinism are born to parents who have normal hair and eye colour for their ethnic backgrounds.”
Hyper-pigmentation on the face.
Treatment will depend on the severity. Also, whether it’s visible on the surface or beneath the surface layers. It is always best to treat the whole area of the face. To put it differently, not just the patches of skin with pigmentation. It’s important to note this is not an overnight fix. It has taken a long time to surface so it will take a while to lighten and brighten, possibly months. Patience and dedication is required. Keep in mind that sometimes more can surface before it dissipates and fades.
- Exfoliate. Cleansing the skin is a must as well as removing the dead skin cells from the surface layer. This will take away the dead cells containing excess melanin. Exfoliation will clear the way for the next step. This will allow the active ingredients to penetrate further making the skin appear smoother. It will also make the skin appear light reflective. Alternatively, this process can be chemical or mechanical. Refrain from using anything abrasive as this can cause irritation and make it worse. Key word here is “gentle” exfoliation. With this one step the skin can already look better.
- Treat. Now you want ingredients that lighten and brighten the skin. These ingredients are usually hydroquinone and/or vitamin C and retinol. Retinol and Vitamin C don’t like each other so it’s important to note the packaging. This will help deliver the right ingredients to the skin in the right order. A liquid type of application will generally penetrate deeper and quicker into the cell. This will disrupt the production of excess pigment. More often then not, this will be a toner with hydroquinone. The next step is the lotion with vitamin c and retinol. The mixture is applied in either two steps separately or mixed right before it’s applied to the skin. This combination will ensure a more efficient, longer lasting brightening system. Alternatively, natural ingredients that brighten the skin include, bearberry or licorice extract, arbutin, and kojic and salicylic acids.
- Lock it in. Now you want to lock in those amazing ingredients and protect it from the sun. Final step is Moisturise and sunscreen. Another key point is sunblock should contain zinc oxide, avobenzone or mexoryl to be most effective. This will protect the new skin from UVA and UVB rays. Furthermore, cover up as much as possible by wearing a hat and protective clothing. In this case a day in the sun can undo months of good work.
Other clinical treatments:
- Laser treatment
- Clinical microdermabrasion
- Acid peels
Hypo-pigmentation on the face.
Generally speaking, this can be difficult to treat. Medical treatments may be required for an auto immune condition. It is best to see your doctor or skin specialist. UVA treatment may also be needed to stimulate the melanin production. Talk to your doctor for more information.
Some treatments include:
- Corticosteroid creams: Topical corticosteroid treatments reduce inflammation and decrease skin lightening.
- Laser therapy: Fraxel laser, Excimer laser, or Intense Pulsed Light treatments are all light-based procedures.
- Surgical skin grafting: for severe cases.
- Skin bleaching: to blend the pigmented areas with the non pigmented areas.
Makeup will help camouflage any imperfection. The right formula, colour, tone and texture will all aid in disguising issues. Therefore, a few simple tricks and nobody will know there was an issue to start with. Anything can be concealed, even tattoos. Applying the products correctly is the key.
To begin with we want to use a primer. Preferably a primer that will brighten and blur the skin. Next step is foundation. This can be from medium to full coverage. Last step, the concealer. Only conceal where needed for example where there is pigmentation or discolouration. Powder where you conceal or overall if necessary. Finally, apply the rest of the makeup as per normal. If the skin and base are great the overall look will be perfect.
Concealing will Depend on how severe the issue is, how large of a surface area or how discoloured the pigment. Colour correction may be an alternative if foundation and concealer isn’t enough coverage. That information is for another post. Basically think of the colour wheel and correct using the opposite colour before foundation.
Depression and counselling.
There are cases where discolouration from trauma or pregnancy can lead to negative feelings, low self esteem or depression. If this is occurring seek counselling. Don’t let it develop further. A counsellor is a person trained to help you or someone you know with concerns or problems such as anxiety, depression, grief or relationship difficulties. Negative feelings, chemical and hormone imbalances, post-natal depression, PTSD and depression can affect, not just our health but our skin as well.
For more help:
- Talk to your doctor
- Phone 13 HEALTH (13 43 25 84)
- Contact your local hospital
- Contact a community health centre
For further information: