Pigmentation- what is it and what can we do about it?
Just back from your hols and on closer inspection in the mirror you notice a slightly darker staining on your cheek, or over your top lip, or even on your neck- so what is this new thing and why is it there?!
Patchy areas of pigment appearing on the skin are common, especially at this holiday time of year. Pigment is the name given to the colour in your skin and each person naturally produces it according to our genetics. It is produced naturally as a protection for the skin against light but is also produced as a reaction to light i.e UV rays coming from the sun. We have natural pigment all over our bodies and faces however areas of skin exposed to light or certain chemicals can produce more pigment than others which gives an uneven appearance. This is best case scenario, worse case can be if skin is over exposed to UV rays or damaged in any way it can react by causing 'Hyperpigmentation' or Post inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH). This is characterised by quite noticeable and severe darkened patches of pigment appearing on the skin often surrounded by lighter areas (hypopigmented areas ).
Freckles are a form of hyperpigmentation and are present often in fairer skins that do not produce a lot of melanin (the name for the actual pigment in the skin) but once exposed to strong light can cause the pigment producing cells called Melanocytes to go into overdrive and secrete uneven and excessive amounts.
Freckles are beautiful and so is fair skin but if you have them it is an indication that you do have to take extra care in protecting your skin from the sun at all times, to prevent areas of hyperpigmentation to form and grow. The pigment producing cells eventually become damaged with continued over exposure and that damage can put you at risk from more serious skin conditions or even from skin cancer (melanoma). Other skin types that are predisposed to hyper pigmentation are Asian skins and skins of colour, this is because by their very nature they produce more melanin and are more sensitive to any form of inflammation or injury.
If caused by sun, laser, acne inflammation or injury PIH can eventually fade but it will take up to 24 months for it to do so, so not a quick process.
Can we treat it?
The answer is yes, we can but we can only improve it- however expectations need to be managed and it will involve full participation from the client. Avoiding any form of direct sun exposure is absolutely crucial throughout treatment and beyond, so it is an understanding between therapist and client that the process is a partnership that is important. As far as treatment goes, regular gentle resurfacing (resurfacers and dermaplaning) followed by specific creams to inhibit the stimulation of the melanocytes (tyrosinase inhibitors) can speed up the fading process gradually or more aggressive treatments like chemical peeling and fraxel laser can have a more noticeable effect- however be aware that adversly there is a risk these treatments can also make the situation worse!
There is also another form of hyperpigmentation called Melasma- this is commonly found on the face and is identifiable by a 'butterfly ' shape across the cheeks in women. This is a hormonal condition and cannot easily be treated.
Ask your therapist for a full consultation so they can identify what type of pigmentation you have.
* We would always advise that you seek medical advice if you have any concerns about anything unusual on your skin, such as lesions, moles, veins or unexplained sensitivity.