All skin contains some level of the pigment melanin, and the variety in our natural production of this molecule is what determines individual skin tone. Melanin is produced to protect skin cells from damage, for example when exposed to UV light. It is also produced in response to other stimuli, both internal and external, some of which can lead to excess melanin production.
Pigmentation can be caused by a number of factors including genetics, excessive sun exposure, hormones and stress. Melanin’s function is to protect the skin cells, but extended sun exposure can trigger abnormal melanocyte activity, leading to excess melanin production and dark patches appearing on the skin. Blue light can also lead to pigmentation. The highest levels occur in sunlight, with electronic screens and LED lights an additional source. We are almost always exposed to blue light, even in the shade, so its important to protect the skin with supplements and topical care.
Alongside external stimuli, hormones play a crucial role, particularly for women. The reproductive hormone oestrogen can stimulate the overproduction of melanin when the skin is exposed to sunlight. This contributes to a specific type of hyperpigmentation known as melasma or ‘pregnancy mask’.
Scientists continue to uncover additional causes of pigmentation. The endocrine stress response can trigger the production of melanocyte stimulating hormones. Studies suggest free radicals generated by the response to stressors such as pollution or a lack of sleep can damage cell DNA and cause melanin production.
TYPES OF PIGMENTATION
Melasma is a specific type of hyperpigmentation caused by hormonal change and exacerbated by UV damage. It is more common in women, particularly pregnant or menopausal women or those taking hormonal contraception. People with darker skin tones are more likely to experience melasma.
Inflammation in the epidermis stimulates the melanocytes to increase melanin synthesis, which leads to excess pigmentation. This type of pigmentation often appears in the wake of inflammatory skin conditions such as acne or dermatitis, leaving a darker patch skin where the area has healed. It is more common in darker skin tones.
Age spots, liver spots, sun-spots or senile freckles are all solar lentigines- patches of darker skin caused by sun damage and most common in skin over 40. These marks can appear all over the body, but particularly on the face arms and hands were the skin has been exposed more to the sun over the years.
Freckles can appear at any age, and result from the short-term response of melanocytes when exposed to sunlight. In freckles, the amount of pigment produced by melanocytes increases, but the number of melanocytes within the skin remains the same. Freckles are not a sign of severe skin damage, but indicate that you are susceptible to UV damage, making sun protection particulatly crucial.
Visibly the opposite of hyperpigmentation – hypopigmentation creates white, or pale marks on the skin due to an absence of melanin. Hypopigmentation occurs when there is a decrease in the number of melanocytes or a decrease in the amount of melanin produced, this leaves light or unpigmented marks on the skin. Several genetic conditions, including vitiligo and albinism, cause hypopigmentation, and it also caused by skin damage, for example sun damage, inflammatory skin disorders, or burns.
Hypopigmentation is common and manifests as small, unpigmented flecks on the arms or legs – places where sun care may have been less rigorous.
TREATING PIGMENTATION: PROTECTION AND PERSISTENCE
Improving pigmentation can be very challenging, its not a one size fits all treatment or plan. It is often caused by years of damage and reversing this will not happen overnight. However, significant improvements can be made with treatments, your commitment and, crucially, time.
Pigmentary blemishes are a life-long problem which cannot be ‘cured’ but can be controlled to various degrees. Patience is key here as the melanocytes are in the lowest layer of the epidermis, so it takes time for the results to become visible.
Sun protection is vital if you want to see and maintain long lasting results. The close relationship between UV and blue light exposure and abnormal pigmentation necessitates a strict, sensible approach to the sun. A few minutes of unprotected direct or indirect UV or blue light can immediately undo any beneficial effects from skincare and treatments.
Using a good broad spectrum sun cream containing physical sun blockers and antioxidants should be used. Environs Rad, Rad Shield and Alpha Day Lotion are ideal as they offer superior sun protection.
Essential Radiance Reveal
A targeted solution for sun-damaged or pigmented skin. Boosting the skin with the correct combination of ingredients, results in flawless, radiant-looking skin. 60-90mins
Focus-on Even Tone treatment
The powerful combination of Vitamin A, C and AHA is a unique approach to assist in lightening the appearance of pigmented marks resulting in a more even-toned, brighter complexion. 30mins
Bright Recovery Cool Peel
This gentle lactic acid cool peel assists with reducing the appearance of premature ageing, fine lines and uneven toned skin complexion as a result of excessive sun exposure. 60-90mins
Skin EssentiA Range, Youth EssentiaA Range and Focus Care Radiance+, Rad Sun care Range
Advanced Nutrition Supplements Recommended l
Skin Vit A, Skin Vit C, Skin Ultimate