Pigmentation means colour in the skin, and pigmentation disorders can appear at any time, and there are many reasons for them. Pigmentation is the pigment in the skin which obtains its colour from melanin. Melanin levels differ from person to person – that is why we have so many variations of skin tones. Our DNA determines our levels of melanin, and exposure to the sun contributes to changes in our melanin.
What are melanocytes? What role do they play?
Melanin is constructed by melanocytes through a process known as ‘melanogenesis’. We all have roughly the same number of melanocytes. The amount of melanin produced via these melanocytes varies depending on our DNA – which defines our skin colour.
A cell called a ‘keratinocyte’ stores our melanin in membrane-bound compartments. Keratinocytes play a vital role in positioning melanin to protect our DNA from damage from external aggressors. Melanin shields our skin cells from DNA damage and is the umbrella to protect our cells. UV rays create inflammation within the skin, causing irreversible damage to our cells. DNA damage induced by UV rays can cause cancers, and melanin is limited in how much it can protect the skin from external damage. A mineral, broad-spectrum sunscreen is vital for long-term skin protection and health.
What types of pigmentation are there?
Pigmentation can affect large or small surface areas depending on skin conditions or types of damage. There are three main types of pigmentation that can occur.
When high levels of melanin cause darkening of the skin.
When low levels of pigmentation cause lightening of the skin.
A total loss of pigment in the skin.
Why does skin pigmentation happen?
There is a number of reasons that cause pigmentation to appear. Some are preventable, whereas others are out of our control. Here are some of the main reasons why pigmentation can occur.
Sunshine excites ‘melanocytes’ and triggers the skin to produce more melanin, resulting in tanned skin. Sun-tanned skin is damaged skin. It is critical to remember the risks and dangers of unprotected sun exposure.
Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH) is an inflammation response that happens within the skin layers. This inflammation can prompt our melanocytes to activate.
Inflammation mainly occurs when the skin has endured any form of injury or irritation. Depending on the degree of inflammation and dermo-epidermal junction disruption (DEJ), the melanocytes will sit either deep (within the dermis) or high up (in the epidermis). The stability of the melanocytes, type of ethnicity and skin colour contribute to the severity of a PIH reaction.
Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH) typically happens in darker skin tones. Fitzpatrick skin types 4 (e.g. Indian) to 6 (e.g. African) have a much higher risk of developing PIH due to the higher melanin levels within their skin.
The infamous pregnancy mask (scientifically known as ‘melasma’) is induced by a rise in hormone levels, activating our melanocytes to produce more melanin.
Some medications may induce Hypermelanosis (a high concentration of melanin in one area.) In this instance, the skin will only get more impaired if UV comes into contact with the area that has Hypermelanosis.
Mis-formed blood vessels cause red or purple birthmarks whilst darker birthmarks form due to a single cell that overproduces melanocytes.
Small blood vessels can be affected by changes caused by diabetes. These changes result in skin problems known as diabetic dermopathy. Patches may appear on the skin and may show as light brown, scaly oval or circular spots, which can be confused with age spots.
Venous disease is a common vascular disorder where there is high pressure buildup in the veins.
Symptoms of venous disease include: Varicose Veins: enlarged, swollen, knotted clusters of purple veins; edema (swelling in the legs); aching or a sensation of heaviness in the legs; itching skin above the affected veins; skin discolouration and ulcers on the inner aspect of the ankles (in advanced cases). (Information taken from John Hopkins Medicine)
Addison’s disease occurs due to abnormalities in the adrenal gland. The adrenal gland is located on the top of each kidney and is responsible for some of our hormone production.
This abnormality causes a change in our hormone levels, which then affects our melanin production. Due to the fluctuation in these hormones, melanin is produced in higher quantities in people with Addison’s disease than in those without.
Can you reverse pigmentation?
There are a few methods available to reduce the appearance of pigmentation. Sadly, we can never fully eradicate pigmentation.
There are so many external and internal causes of pigmentation, meaning it is almost impossible to protect ourselves from it. If you have a predisposition for pigmentation, you may find yourself fighting it and protecting your skin from further melanocyte production. Darker skin types are always at higher risk due to the amount of pigment produced by melanocytes. There are various reasons why pigmentation occurs, so there are many ways to prevent and treat it.
Treatments can vary from laser resurfacing to chemical peels and topical treatments. Wearing a high SPF, mineral-based sunscreen every day is the most simple and effective way to protect yourself from pigmentation. These treatments (laser, chemical peels and topical treatments) work to release the top layer of the skin. Sometimes, the melanocytes sit deeper within the skin, meaning some treatment options may not solve the issue. Prevention is always better than cure. High-quality skincare ingredients can help to prevent and reduce the appearance of developing pigmentation.
CellDerma Pigment Correct
Pigment Correct is a must-have single serum solution for anyone wanting to achieve a brighter, more even-toned complexion. It offers a naturally-derived alternative to hydroquinone, for tackling pigmentation. A key difference between Pigment Correct and many other brightening products, is that one of the plant extracts used not only helps prevent pigmentation but also tackles pre-existing pigmentation.
Skin cancer is a scary prospect. Taking the correct precautions to prevent it is recommended. Pigmentation is not always a sign of cancer; however, cancerous cells can sometimes present as a form of pigmentation. The most common form we usually identify is moles. It is worth noting that these growths are not always cancerous. When checking moles, you should look for:
rapid changes in size
changes in colour
If you spot any of these signs, we recommend seeking a medical practitioner’s advice and professional evaluation of the mole. It is always best to see a practitioner to determine if the suspicious area needs further medical attention.
‘Melanoma’ is a word common in the skin/cancer realm. Basal cell carcinoma (BCC for short) is the most common form of skin cancer in the UK, with 80% of all skin cancers being a BCC. This type of skin cancer can often occur due to prolonged and unprotected exposure to UV rays.
Most pigmentation is not cancerous. If you are worried or concerned about your pigmentation or moles, please seek medical advice.
Sun protection and the importance of SPF
Not only does sunscreen protect us from UV rays and the risk of skin cancer, but it also goes a long way in slowing down the rate at which our skin ages – which is why prevention is paramount. Sunscreen is necessary every day – even when it’s cloudy! UV rays can still penetrate the skin through cloud cover. If you can read a book indoors without the lights on, you need to wear sunscreen.
Which ingredients target pigmentation?
Inhibits melanin synthesis, thus reducing further pigmentation.
Discover Vitamin C Complex
Our super-stable, triple-action brightening serum, with added Hyaluronic Acid for extra hydration. Buy now | From £75
Rumex Occidentalis Extract and Kojic Acid
These ingredients are similar in that they are both tyrosinase inhibitors. Tyrosinase is an enzyme responsible for producing pigment within the skin.
These ingredients will help minimise the production of new pigment in the skin, keeping your skin brighter and more even-toned.
A biomimetic peptide which targets melanin formation via MSH (melanocyte-stimulating hormone) and tyrosinase inhibition. Nonapeptide-1 reduces the melanin content of melanocytes by 27-43%. It also interferes with melanocyte-stimulating hormone (MSH) which increases during pregnancy, excessive sun exposure and in certain medical conditions.
Arctostaphylos Uva Ursi Leaf Extract and Alpha-Arbutin
Arctostaphylos Uva Ursi Leaf extract is nutrient-rich and includes oleanolic and ursolic acid. Both of these contribute to antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-fungal and anti-bacterial properties. Alpha-arbutin is derived from the Uva Ursi Leaf, and is a well-known pigment fighter.
Learn more about Pigment Correct
Take control of your pigmentation with our pregnancy and breastfeeding-safe pigmentation solution. With added Hyaluronic Acid for an intense hydration boost. Buy now | From £75
Retinoids are a form of vitamin A and a powerful antioxidant which is vital in every skincare routine. Vitamin A is proven to speed up the skin-shedding cycle, allowing new skin cells to form much quicker, resulting in a higher cell turnover, which can help to neutralise existing pigmentation. Vitamin A is also proven to help with acne and spots by reducing inflammation.
Introducing Retin-ACE: Our next-generation retinoid
The most-tolerated form of retinoid. Retin-ACE successfully targets key signs of ageing and reduces pigmentation to reveal brighter, younger-looking skin. Buy now | From £125
Resveratrol helps to protect keratinocytes from oxidative damage and control the inflammation within them. This prevents the stimulation of our melanocytes that leads to melasma and its associated irregular pigmentation.
Collagen Restore: Brighter skin in 2 weeks Our unique patented form of all-trans resveratrol formula down regulates all of the 5 key steps leading to melanin production, and has been proven to brighten the skin in as little as 2 weeks. Clinical studies showed a 50% reduction of melanin content. Buy now | From £110
Hyper-pigmentation is a normal sign of ageing skin but may also follow inflammation, injury or be due to drugs or a medical condition.
To avoid pigmentation, we need to understand how to prevent, reduce, and control it.
Daily topical home treatments (including a broad-spectrum mineral sunscreen) are a must to minimise pigmentation.
A combination of good skincare and in-clinic treatments will deliver the best outcome in cases of significant hyper-pigmentation.
Dr Dev Patel’s recommendations for brighter-looking skin
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