Skin pigmentation is a condition that many women in South Africa struggle with. We can thank this in part to the harshness of our African sun and a lack of diligent, daily application of sun screen. And alas yes, age also plays a factor. I’ve recently noticed an alarming increase in the appearance of sun spots on my décolletage. No doubt, my years of being a swimmer and outdoor enthusiast are to thank. Then there are the small spots of discolouration I now see forming on the side of my temples. In need of advice on how to tackle this problem, Equilibrio decided to find out more from the people at The Renewal Institute.
Basically, when our skin is young and healthy, its pigment producing cells (melanocytes), ‘feed’ the surrounding cells evenly with melanin, giving the skin a uniform colour. However, when skin is damaged or affected by hormones, the body produces too much melanin and then disperses it unevenly. This results in dark, patchy colour build up on the skin surface which we see as pigmentation.
However, before you can effectively tackle any pigmentation issues you may have, you need to identify the TYPE of pigmentation. Yes, it’s not that straight forward. There are four main types of pigmentation of varying degrees of seriousness and with different treatment regimens required. (Click on the links to find out more about the treatments recommended).
POST INFLAMMATORY HYPERPIGMENTATION (PIH)
Like the name suggests, PIH is the result of injury or inflammation. For example, if you have previously suffered from acne, you’re often left with brown spots where there used to be acne lesions. Thanks to squeezing, picking and the inflammatory nature of the lesions dark spots are left behind. These spots or patches may even become darker if exposed to sunlight (UV rays). While it can occur in anyone, PIH is most common in darker skin types.
PIGMENTATION DUE TO SUN DAMAGE OR SUN SPOTS
Caused by repeated sun exposure, this type of pigmentation manifests the older we get as the sun damage from our youth rises to the surface. However, one bad case of sunburn can also contribute to the condition.
This type of pigmentation can be treated with a number of professional treatments as well. These include Fraxel DUAL, Pearl Fusion, chemical peels, Limelight, Laser Genesis, carboxytherapy, Microdermabrasion and Transdermal Mesotherapy.
HORMONAL PIGMENTATION (MELASMA)
Melasma is switched on by external triggers like sunlight and internal triggers such as hormones, leaky gut syndrome, and uncontrolled inflammation in the body. (Yet another demonstration of how important a healthy gut is to your overall wellbeing.) Triggers include pregnancy, contraception and fertility treatments, although the pigmentation can arrive years later. Once you have it, it doesn’t just switch off again. Because it has so many potential causes, melasma is one of the most difficult types of pigmentation to treat.
Unfortunately, it’s something you may have to maintain for the rest of your life. The chances of recurrence are high if not managed correctly.
Melasma is more challenging to treat and may require the intervention of a medical professional who can conduct blood tests to investigate potential hormonal issues, gut health, and possible deficiencies. Generally, hormonal pigmentation requires gut restoration, hormone balancing and a reduction in inflammation, before treatments will work. Topical treatments are used to suppress pigmentation while targeted treatments such as Cosmelan and Dermamelan and non-inflammatory treatments like Mesotherapy slowly and systematically target the pigmented areas.
Hypopigmentation is when an area of the skin starts to lose pigment, and you’re left with white patches or spots. Again, it’s very difficult to treat as it can have multiple causes, including injury, severe sun damage, scarring and certain diseases. In some cases, especially when related to diseases that completely destroy the pigment producing cells (melanocytes), hypopigmentation is irreversible.
It’s advisable to consult an Aesthetic Doctor to ascertain the cause and whether there is any chance of restoring the natural pigmentation process. If not, your only option may be to replace the pigment artificially, using permanent makeup.
IN A NUT SHELL
So basically, pigmentation and the effective treatment thereof is not straightforward. It’s likely to require a combination of professional topical and physical treatments that need to be administered as part of a professionally prescribed program. For optimum results, it’s advisable that you visit an aesthetic doctor for an individual assessment to ensure that the correct treatments are prescribed. I’ll be doing the same and testing some of these procedures out myself. We’ll keep you posted on the results. In the interim, please feel free to share any of your experiences with us and our readers.
But, as an immediate start to aid in prevention and further spots forming, you MUST be scrupulous with the application of a broad-spectrum sunscreen every single day! Don’t forget to apply generously to your décolletage and hands as well.
We have a wonderful selection of great non-toxic, natural sunscreens for you and the family right here.