Skin pigmentation can be the result of sun damage, medication, hormonal changes, and inflammations among many other things. Learn more about the science and how to treat it.
Have you ever noticed dark spots appearing on your face and other body areas perhaps, as you get older? These spots are known to be signs of skin pigmentation, and if left untreated, could lead to skin pigmentation disorders.
What is pigmentation?
Let’s discuss the meaning of pigmentation. Pigmentation means color, hence when doctors diagnose a person with skin pigmentation disorders, it means the color of their skin is affected. The discolouration primarily occurs on the forehead, cheeks and nose, but can sometimes affect the skin of other body parts as well.
Skin color is made from melanin, and melanin is produced by pigment producing cells in the skin called melanocytes. When these cells are damaged or become unhealthy, melanin production goes haywire. If your body makes too much melanin, your skin tone gets darker. Conversely if your body produces too little melanin, your skin gets lighter.
Sun and light exposure is the biggest culprit behind skin pigmentation. UV light rays from the sun and visible light triggers pigment producing cells (melanocytes) to produce more pigment. Even the tiniest amount of sun exposure when you are driving or walking under the sun may stimulate skin pigmentation. People often mistakenly think they are exposed to UV radiation only when they are outdoors. That is not true! Even if you are indoors, you may unknowingly still be exposed to UV rays. Although modern glass windows are designed to absorb UVB rays, UVA rays can still penetrate through glass.
You may be wondering, what kind of skin pigmentation disorders can sunlight cause? A few commonly known skin pigmentation disorders are sunspots, melasma, freckles, Hori’s Nevus, post inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH) and seborrheic keratoses.
Pigmentation conditions and disorders
Persistent sun exposure creates sunspots and freckles. Is there a difference between the two? Yes actually! Both appear as brown spots on the skin, but sun spots are usually bigger in size than freckles. Freckles may appear in young people but disappear with age and fade in colder seasons, but sun spots tend to stay on the skin longer and appear later in life, as it is associated with aging.
In Asia, Hori’s Nevus is a common pigmentation disorder, especially among middle-aged women. It manifests as blue-brown spots on the forehead, cheekbones and nose. Hori’s Nevus are rooted in genetics and can be passed down through family generations.
Other pigmentation disorders that run in families are seborrheic keratoses and melasma. Seborrheic keratoses tend to appear as we grow older, and it appears as brown, black or light tan growths on the back, shoulders, chest or face that is waxy and scaly to touch. Due to its slightly raised form above the skin, it can be mistaken for skin cancer but in reality, it is completely harmless.
Melasma is often referred to as the “pregnancy mask”, as it is triggered by the hormonal changes in pregnant women. Melasma appears as grey or brown patches on the face, similar to freckles and age spots, but melasma patches are often bigger. Aside from getting pregnant, going on or off hormonal contraceptive and hormone replacement therapy are also known to also set off melasma. It also appears that genetics plays a role in melasma as affected people often have a family history of melasma.
Sun exposure also sets off melasma. Even if you had underlying factors such as hormonal fluctuations due to getting pregnant, you may not have melasma until you travel to a tropical country or spend more time under the sun. Heat and visible light exacerbates melasma, hence sunscreens are sometimes not enough to protect against melasma. This makes it challenging to prevent melasma if you live in hot tropical countries where the sun is out all year round.
When skin is damaged and changes color to tan, brown or purple color skin as it heals, this is known as post inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH). Acne, burns, eczema, psoriasis, rashes and infection are skin problems that often result in PIH. Skin of color, for example African Amercians, who have more skin pigment often have a higher risk of developing PIH.
PIH can be classified as epidermal (involving the top layer of the skin), dermal (involving the deeper layer of the skin) or mixed. Epidermal PIH are easily treated by topical procedures, but dermal and mixed PIH can be a bit tricky due to the deeper pigmentation present. Dermal PIH may require aggressive treatment such as laser surgery.
How to treat pigmentation?
For pigmentation treatment to work effectively in the long run, it is important to treat the underlying issues that are contributing to the discolouration. Exacerbating factors need to be eliminated before you can see actual improvements. For instance, if hormonal contraceptives are causing melasma, you should stop consuming them.
Some pigmentation disorders can take years to clear completely. Thankfully, there are certain treatments that can accelerate the process, most notably laser therapy. Laser therapy uses specific wavelength lasers to attack pigmentation and allow it to be broken down and eliminated by the body’s immune system. At Joyre Medical & Aesthetic Clinic, we have several laser therapies that target different pigmentation, skin type and skin condition. One of them is Quadrostar Pro Yellow Laser, which is mainly used to treat melasma.
Pigmentation treatment options
Quadrostar Pro Yellow Laser
Quadrostar Pro Yellow Laser is a laser made in Germany that uses a special 577nm wavelength laser which are absorbed by pigmented cells and the underlying blood vessels as well. 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. Therefore, Pro Yellow Laser ensures longer lasting results with zero downtime and minimal redness.
Q Switch Laser
For more stubborn pigmentations, Q Switch Laser is another great option as it has customizable energy settings that allow doctors to adjust the laser power settings for optimal pigmentation removal. Using high-energy laser pulse at the wavelength specified, stubborn pigmentation absorbs the laser rays and disintegrates, making it easier for the body to break it down and eliminate it. At a cellular level, Q Switch Laser brightens the skin tone as well by reducing pigment making cells, hence brightening and lightening your original skin tone over time.
Unlike other depigmentation lasers, Q Switch Laser typically lasts about 12 to 15 minutes, which is longer than the other laser therapies that last around 1 to 2 minutes. This is because treatment is tailored to accommodate your specific skin condition. As a result, you only need to do it once every 3 to 4 weeks! In the long run, it works out to be a cheaper alternative as you require less treatments to achieve the same result. On the bright side, Q Switch Laser also does not thin out the skin as less sessions are needed compared to other conventional laser procedures.
Smartxide Touch Fractional CO2 Laser
If you’ve never heard of Smartxide Touch Fractional CO2 Laser, that’s understandable because it is a new pigmentation removal technology using fractional CO2 laser and bipolar radiofrequency to remove pigmented skin layers. As the skin heals, a new layer of healthy and glowing skin is revealed. CO2 laser with RF not only removes pigmentation, but corrects aging signs on the face such as wrinkles and flabbiness too. Bipolar radiofrequency increases the effectiveness of CO2 laser by stimulating new collagen and remodelling skin tissues, which speeds up recovery time and tissue healing.
Treat pigmentation concerns with a peace of mind at Joyre Medical & Aesthetic Clinic
Each of these treatments may require multiple sessions to see long term, permanent results. Regardless of which treatment you choose, sun spots may reappear, so it’s important to protect the skin from the sun as much as possible.
The key to effective pigmentation removal is a correct diagnosis, followed by a carefully tailored treatment plan for your skin condition. Different pigmentation disorders require a different pigmentation removal plan, and it is also possible to suffer from more than one pigmentation condition at the same time.
If you are unsure about your skin condition, why not ask our friendly doctors? With years of medical aesthetic experience under their belts, they will be most suited to advise you on the appropriate pigmentation removal treatments for your skin. To book an appointment, simply WhatsApp us at 97512983 or email [email protected].