Did you know that the tan you received when you were out in the sun for too long is NOT a “healthy glow”? It’s actually your body protecting itself, it’s in fact damaged skin. I’ll say it again…the tan you received whilst you were in the sun is actually your body protecting itself. Your tan is a sign of damage that has occurred due to excessive exposure to UV light. When you’re young, this tan can be mistaken as a “summer glow” however as you age the slow forming side effects of this “summer glow” begin to show their true colours…literally! That’s why most of our clients undergoing pigmentation treatments are usually aged from about 28 and upwards.
In this blog, I’m going to explain what is pigmentation, I’m going to talk about the different types of pigmentation as well as their triggers, how to prevent pigmentation from forming and some treatment options including some really important ingredients that are going to help reduce its appearance.
To begin with….What is Pigmentation?
Pigmentation is a darkening of the skin. This occurs when our melanocytes over produce pigment in order to protect itself from factors such as trauma, hormones and the environment. While there are many different types of pigmentation the most common conditions fall under three categories:
- Epidermal (Superficial)
- Dermal/Melasma (Deeper)
- Junctional (Combination of both)
Epidermal pigmentation is pigment that sits very close to the surface of the skin and is mostly caused by environmental factors such as UV exposure and can also be genetics.
Freckles, age and sunspots are all forms of epidermal pigmentation and are usually the easiest type of pigment to treat. They have a well-defined border and are usually brown to dark brown in colour. They are found mostly in lighter skin types, however it’s not uncommon for darker skins to show signs of freckles if exposed to excessive amounts of sunlight.
Dermal pigment such as Melasma/chloasma sit in the deeper layers of the skin which makes it more difficult to treat. Melasma is a condition in which brown patches appear on the face that can either last for years or be there permanently. Melasma may be a result of hormonal changes during pregnancy, genetics and/or sun exposure and is more likely to occur in women however men can also develop this condition.
The muddy brown or grey-brown patches of melasma almost look like paint splatter and appear most often on the cheeks, forehead, nose and chin. In women, Melasma often fades on its own after pregnancy or after an affected woman stops taking the contraceptive pill, however it can always re-surface if not managed properly. It’s important to understand your triggers and what causes your pigmentation as this can differ for everyone.
Junctional pigmentation such as poikiloderma of civatte affects mainly middle-aged women and is seen on sun-exposed areas such as the sides of the neck, centre of the chest and peripheral areas of the face. It’s a combination of both Epidermal and Dermal pigment and its main triggers are sun exposure, hormones, perfumes and cosmetics.
What causes skin pigmentation and what are its triggers?
Pigmentation may be caused by so many different things, which you may or may not realise. Here is a table that shows some of the most common causes and triggers associated with pigmentation. Intrinsic triggers cannot be controlled; they are out of our hands and are essentially the way we were born. An ongoing management program is required to keep the pigment at bay and results are varied from person to person and in some cases treatments for pigmentation caused by intrinsic factors may not be effective.
Extrinsic factors on the other hand, we can control in order to prevent pigmentation from forming or becoming worse. We need to establish what our triggers are and prevent them from occuring. For example, a woman who develops pigmentation whilst she was pregnant may find that after she gives birth and hormones rebalance themselves the dermal pigment fades away, however if that same woman exposes herself to excessive amounts of sun light or is constantly in an environment where she experiences constant heat to the area, then there is a high chance her pigment will reappear. This is why it is absolutely crucial to understand what your own triggers are. This will be different for everyone.
|Intrinsic (Internal)||Extrinsic (External)|
|Genetic Predisposition||UV Exposure & Heat|
|Skin Disorders||Surgical Procedures|
|Oral Medications||Topical Medication|
How to prevent pigmentation from forming
We all know that sunscreen is the most common and effective product we need to be using daily to prevent pigmentation. I’m not going to go into sunscreen too much in this blog, but if you want to find out more about sunscreen, you can read another blog I’ve written on sunscreen here
So how can we prevent pigmentation (in addition to sunscreen)?
So first of all, understanding the triggers associated with your own pigmentation is vital! This can potentially lighten and fade away your pigment for good! There are so many great ingredients we are able to use topically but truly understanding what is causing your pigmentation in conjunction with these ingredients will give you maximum results! For example, if you know the contraceptive pill you’re taking is causing your pigmentation, than speak with your doctor to see if you can change to a different type. If you do a lot of driving and find that your developing pigmentation to your face and hands than make sure your car windows protect you from the highest level of UV light and every time you drive pop on a pair of gloves. Just think about, even if you’re in the car a total of 60 minutes per day, that’s 21,840 minutes less sun exposure over an entire year! (Imagine you’re in your car for longer than 60 minutes each day?!).
Look at everything you do each day that can potentially be causing your pigmentation, any form of constant friction or heat to an area can be causing your pigmentation.
Ever since I was a little girl, I developed a habit where I would brush my teeth for a considerable amount of time whilst I was in the shower. The toothpaste would sit on my chin until I washed it off. Whilst I was pregnant with my first son and on holidays, due to the intense heat I noticed my dermal pigmentation surface. What also became apparent was the toothpaste shadow on my chin. I realised then that all these years of brushing my teeth the way I was had created underlying pigmentation that became obvious with a combination of the hormones from pregnancy and being in a hot climate. I got rid of that habit quick smart! Although I can still see this pigmentation under a woods lamp I keep it at bay by being sun smart, using the right skin care and of course not allowing the tooth paste to ooze onto my chin.
So ask yourself, what are you doing to trigger your pigmentation?
- Do you pluck your chin hairs constantly every day (friction)?
- Do you wax your face every week (trauma)
- Do you rub that part of your face or body out of habit?
- Do your thighs rub when you walk?
- Do you constantly suck your bottom lip?
- Are you constantly looking at a computer monitor? (Yes even the light from your computer screen can be making your pigment worse).
Once you’ve figured out what is triggering your pigmentation we have a much better chance of helping you manage it.
Common triggers to think about when investigating why you have pigmentation:
|Irritants (Products)||Allergic Reactions|
Let’s talk ingredients
You’ve probably heard your therapist tell you that you need to be on a Tyrosinase Inhibitor, Melanin inhibitor or lightening creams. To explain the purpose of skin lighteners as simply as possible, here are 4 ways they help reduce pigmentation within our skin:
- Blocks the production of tyrosinase to inhibit its activity to avoid pigmentation (A tyrosinase is an enzyme that converts an amino acid called Tyrosine to oxidize and essentially create an over production of pigment).
- Prevents the transfer of melanin from the melanocytes to keratinocytes
- Encourages breakdown of melanin
- Production of free radical scavengers to inhibit pigment
To me, in addition to sunscreen this is a very important part of ones skin care routine – especially someone who’s concerned about pigmentation (present or future). Lira Clinical utilizes unique lightening and brightening ingredients from plant stem cells to botanical extracts and proven medical ingredients to create product perfection when it comes to pigmentation management.
Some common ingredients used for effective lightening and brightening products are:
- Licorice root Extract
- Kojic Acid
- Azelaic Acid
- L-Asorbic Acid (Vitamin C) and
- Mulberry Extracts
- Hydroquinone (prescription only, however banned in Australia)
“Okay, got it! I need to be using home care to manage my pigment, what about treatments in clinic, there are so many different options. How do I know what’s the best course of action for me and my pigment?”
This is something many of our clients ask and if they don’t ask I know they are thinking. Yes there are many options when it comes to treating pigmentation and it’s important to understand how each of them work to lighten or remove your pigmentation. Is your pigment dermal, epidermal or a combination of both? The only true way to establish this is by looking at your skin underneath a woods lamp. Very often, dermal pigment cannot be seen by the naked eye, therefore if you’ve been recommended a treatment plan without a proper skin consultation (which includes a woods lamp assessment), I would be extremely nervous as some treatments can actually make your pigment worse.
In clinic Treatments for pigmentation
- Laser (Different types i.e Q-Switch, Alexandrite, YAG etc) Specific wavelengths of light can treat both epidermal and dermal pigmentation. The wavelength needs to be considered as incorrect use may cause further pigmentation.
- IPL Should only be used when treating superficial/epidermal pigmentation and absolutely no signs of dermal pigment present, as this can often make the dermal pigment worse.
- Chemical Peels Can be used to treat both, however peels that ‘create heat’ within the skin can cause dermal pigment to become worse
- Cosmelan is a highly effective and intensive 12-week program aimed at dramatically fading epidermal and dermal pigmentation.
- Skin Needling Is effective for treating both epidermal and dermal pigmentation by creating tiny puncture channels that trick the skin into believe it has been damaged and needs to repair itself. Once in repair mode, the ‘damaged skin’ than flakes off leaving a smooth more even skin tone.
- LED and Low level Laser treatment in conjunction with any other modality is going to increase growth factors and chemical signals that reduce inflammation in turn lighten pigmentation as well as inhibiting the production of tyrosinase.
In order to obtain maximum results, you may be advised to have a combination of modalities to treat most forms of pigmentation. In addition to this, the ongoing management of pigmentation through advanced cosmeceuticals and in clinic treatments as well eating foods that assist in reducing inflammation within our skin will provide long term and lasting results.
Here is a list of some great foods that are anti-inflammatory and should be incorporated into our diet to assist us in treating pigmentation (and other skin conditions) internally as well as topically.
- Berries for their antioxidants and vitamins that prevent free radical damage to the skin
- Leafy greens for vitamins and phytonutrients that act as photo protectants against harmful UV rays
- Wild-caught fish for healthy oils like omega-3 and carotenoids
- Tomatoes (the darker the red, the better) with lycopene
- Yellow and orange vegetables like carrots, pumpkin, and sweet potatoes to promote collagen formation
- Mushrooms, and cauliflower for a daily dose of biotin that strengthens skin and prevents dryness
- Green tea for antioxidants and polyphenols – this is so great for skin you will even find it in many skincare products to be applied topically
- Olive oil, avocado, nuts, and seeds to get healthy fats that keep your skin hydrated