Skin pigmentation can happen to anyone. It is a common skin condition especially in Singapore’s hot and humid weather. Skin pigmentation occurs when there is excess production of melanin, a pigment making cell found in the skin. Pigmented skin may appear as darker or lighter than normal discoloured patches of skin.
There are many reasons behind skin pigmentation, most notably are sun damaged, acne scarring and hormonal changes. Sunlight is the biggest factor behind almost every type of skin pigmentation. People with dark skin types are more vulnerable to skin pigmentation due to the UV light exposure from the sun all year round. For women, sun exposure causes freckles, Hori’s naevus and melasma. If a woman gets pregnant, it is also common to develop melasma, also known as the pregnancy mask as blotches of dark skin patches can be found around the face.
Causes of Pigmentation
Certain medications or underlying genetic conditions may also cause skin pigmentation to flare up. Freckles and melasma tend to run in families, and may not show up until prolonged sun exposure triggers it. If you have acne, psoriasis or eczema, these conditions cause skin to become inflamed or injured, and simultaneously trigger melanin synthesis. Once the skin surface has healed, these pigmented cells turn into acne scars or keloid scars. Medications such as antimalarials may also cause accumulation of melanin, and are in turn worsened by exposure to the sun. However drug induced pigmentation is usually temporary, and usually fades when medication is stopped.
There are many natural remedies and over-the-counter skin care products that you can use at home for skin pigmentation treatment.
One of the over-the-counter (OTC) products are lightening creams. The active ingredients in these creams reduce pigmentation over time as the cream is applied on the skin. Hydroquinone, licorice extract, N-acetylglucosamine, niacinamide and Vitamin C are a few of the common active ingredients found in lightening creams. They work best for correcting age spots, uneven skin tone, acne scars and melasma for the majority of skin types. Hydroquinone is the gold standard ingredient for treating hyperpigmentation. It is a skin lightening agent that reduces melanin formation and bleaches the darkened patches of skin such as freckles, melasma and age spots for a lighter complexion. Vitamin C blocks the enzyme tyrosinase, which in turns inhibits melanin production. Niacinamide, a form of Vitamin B3 helps lighten pigmentation by restricting the transfer of pigments in the skin.
Retinoids is another popular OTC skincare product that is primarily used to treat wrinkles, but also works well in removing melasma, post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation and keloid scars. Derived from vitamin A, its small molecular size is able to penetrate deep into the skin layers and block the action of tyrosinase which produces melanin, disperse pigmented skin cells and increase skin cell renewal. When combined with hydroquinone, the efficiency of both treatments is enhanced tremendously.
OTC creams also come in gel form, and are a relatively inexpensive way of treating pigmentation. However, results are not instantaneous and may take a while to see the results.
You can also incorporate face acids into your daily skincare routine to help with pigmentation removal. Aside from gently eliminating acne scars, face acids also have the added benefit of giving you a brighter complexion as it exfoliates dirt, sebum and dead skin cells from your face. Alpha hydroxyl acids (glycolic, lactic, malic, citric and tartaric acid), azelaic acid, salicylic acid and kojic acid have achieved holy grail status among DIY home face acids. It works well for removing mild pigmentation, reducing enlarged pores and exfoliating skin for an overall brighter skin tone. Face acids usually have an acid content of less than 10%, and anything higher than that is best left to professional hands to perform a chemical peel.
If you have tried these home remedies and haven’t seen much improvement in your condition, it might be time to explore medical grade treatments. Although these treatments come at a higher price tag, they are more effective in removing deep and stubborn pigmentation permanently.
Medical grade chemical peeling is a fast and effective way of getting rid of pigmentation. Similar to face acids, chemical peeling exfoliates targeted at specific skin areas to fade pigmentation with stronger concentrations of acid. Hence, results are quicker and more visible. At Joyre Medical and Aesthetic Clinic, our chemical peels are broken down into three strength levels: light, medium and deep peels. Lighter acids such as salicylic acid are used for light peels, and it can be done quickly with minimal downtime as only the epidermis layer of the skin is exfoliated. Medium to deep peels penetrate the epidermis and middle layer of the skin, hence it produces more dramatic skin renewal results. The recovery for medium to deep peels are longer (up to 2 weeks), while you can expect to recover swiftly from a light peel in just a few days.
In general, lasers are the go-to treatment for removing skin pigmentation in Singapore. Also known as skin resurfacing treatments, laser pigmentation removal uses focused beams of light to reduce pigmentation. Laser treatment can be divided into ablative and non-ablative. Ablative lasers involve the resurfacing of the top layers of the skin, such as fractional CO2 lasers. On the other hand, non-ablative lasers do not remove any skin layers. Instead it targets the dermis layer to stimulate collagen renewal without removing the epidermis, thus reducing patient downtime and side effects. Examples of non-ablative lasers are IPL, Q Switch laser and yellow laser to name a few.
IPL stands for Intense Pulse Light Therapy, and is a type of non-ablative laser pigmentation treatment. Skin is treated with fast and numerous wavelengths of light which is absorbed by melanin cells, causing melanin to break down. These fragmented particles may resurface as scabs, which sheds off naturally, or it gets eliminated by the body’s lymphatic system. IPL works well in reversing mild sun spots, freckles and uneven skin tone. Besides reducing superficial pigmentation, it also reverses aging signs such as wrinkles and enlarged pores. IPL has no downtime, however repeated sessions are required to remove pigmentation completely.
IPL works better on patients who are just starting to show signs of pigmentation. For deeper and more complex types of pigmentation such as melasma, Q Switch Laser and Pro Yellow Laser are the preferred choice. Both treatments are available at Joyre Medical and Aesthetic Clinic as part of our laser pigmentation removal treatments.
Q Switch Laser is effective at removing freckles, sun spots and post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation from acne in several sessions. It works by generating a high intensity light with short pulse durations that targets pigmentation and its surrounding blood vessels. Once the pigmented cells absorb the light and get fragmented, the body’s immune system will naturally eliminate it. Q Switch Laser has the added benefit of being able to adjust the laser energy settings to target specific types of pigmentation.
For melasma, pigmentation removal is more challenging as it responds slower to treatments and has a high chance of recurrence after laser treatment is discontinued. In this case, a combination of laser treatment such as Quadrostar Pro Yellow Laser and specially formulated skincare products is the best approach. Quadrostar Pro Yellow Laser removes pigmentation by emitting 577nm wavelength laser that gets absorbed by pigmented cells and the underlying blood vessels. The approach is two pronged – by targeting the blood vessels that support these pigment cells, new pigment cells formation is inhibited and prevents the risk of melasma relapsing again.
Another laser treatment that is unique to Joyre Medical and Aesthetic Clinic is the Smartxide Touch Fractional CO2 Laser. It is a new pigmentation removal technology using fractional CO2 laser and bipolar radiofrequency to improve pigmentation. Smartxide Touch is considered an ablative laser, which means it uses laser energy to vaporize the topmost skin layer. As the skin heals, a new layer of healthy and glowing skin is revealed. At the same time, bipolar radiofrequency heats up skin tissues and creates controlled damage, thereby stimulating the body to produce new collagen and trigger remodelling of tissues. This is why Smartxide Touch not only lightens pigmentation that is difficult to remove, but it also reverses aging signs on the face such as wrinkles and sagging skin.
Last but not least, the best approach to preventing skin pigmentation is to limit exposure to sun with a broad spectrum sunscreen, meaning it should block both UVB and UVA rays with at least SPF 30 protection. Wearing sunscreen prevents redness and flushing from sunburns, as well as age spots from forming.
In tropical countries like Singapore, skin pigmentation treatment is complex and requires a tailored approach to your skin type and pigmentation condition. Laser pigmentation removal treatments in Singapore are many and may sound confusing to first timers. Speak to our doctors if you have any questions or advise on pigmentation removal by dropping us a whatsapp at 9751 2983 or email [email protected].