The colour of skin (the pigment) is made of three components:
- vasculature (blood vessels).
The amount of melanin you have determines how brown your skin is. Collagen gives skin its yellow tone. The pink hue comes from the vasculature.
Most pigmentation disorders are associated with excess melanin. Melanin, the brown pigment, is produced by cells in the epidermis (upper layer of skin) called melanocytes.
Exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays in sunlight and hormonal changes can cause an uneven distribution of melanin, resulting in darker brown spots or irregular-shaped patches on the skin.
Too much exposure to UV radiation in sunlight significantly increases the risk of developing skin cancer.
Cosmetically, the most common conditions we see that are related to skin pigmentation are melasma and diffuse sun-related hyperpigmentation (DSH).
Melasma and DSH
Melasma is a condition that usually affects younger women, and is influenced by both sunlight (or UV radiation from sunbeds) and changes in hormones (including those that happen during pregnancy).
DSH is seen more in women over the age of 30, and presents as large slightly ash-brown areas that appear obvious in strong light and gives the forehead a dull, lifeless appearance.
How can we treat pigmentation?
Sun protection: most importantly using high-factor sunscreens (at least SPF 30) throughout the year, even on days that are not sunny.
Sunscreens are vital for protecting the skin, because solar radiation is one of the main causes of change in pigmentation.
Skin-lightening agents: products such as hydroquinone and retinoid acid act on the melanocytes to inhibit the production of melanin. These are prescription-only products: they can only be prescribed by a doctor, dentist or nurse.
Other non-prescription treatments include regular, night-time use of vitamin A, which helps to inhibit pigmentation by blocking pigment-stimulating enzymes. We can also use a course of the Perfect Peel using kojic acid and phenol for great results.
With time: a course of treatment for most skin pigmentation disorders usually lasts between six and twelve months.
For a free skin consultation on pigmentation and other skin concerns, join Charlotte and Victoria at River Aesthetics on Thursday 21 April 2016 for an Obagi Skin Day.