Skin Pigmentation: What is it? Causes and Treatment

  5 minutes
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We live in a world where people of all skin tones live around us in different parts of the world. From the glistening melanin-rich skin of the native Africans, the pale Caucasian skin seen in Europe and America, to the dusky gleam of skin that we come across in India, the variations in skin pigmentation are limitless.

What does skin pigmentation mean?

Pigmentation is essentially the colouring of our skin, hair, and retina caused by the production of a pigment. Our skin pigmentation is determined by an essential part of our skin’s structure, which produces the pigment that gives us colour. Pigmentation is the term coined for this process, and it decides what colour appears on what part of our skin.

This particular pigment goes by the name of melanin, and cells known as melanocytes specifically produce it.

How does skin pigmentation become a skin condition?

Healthy skin is reflected through an even distribution of melanin throughout the face and body. On the other hand, any defects in the cells or melanin production may lead to targeted patches of irregularity or overall disruption in skin tone. This is often when pigmentation becomes a skin condition to be treated.

Skin disorders caused by pigmentation issues

The three major types of skin disorders caused by such pigmentation irregularities are hypopigmentation, hyperpigmentation, and depigmentation.

1. Hypopigmentation

This is a skin condition that leads to a decrease in pigment in certain patches of skin all over the body. It is important to understand the difference between hypopigmentation and depigmentation. 

While hypopigmentation is merely the decrease in pigment presence in certain parts of the skin, depigmentation is the total absence of it. 

Causes for hypopigmentation 

The causes for hypopigmentation are usually either trauma or injury-related or a genetic disposition. Trauma to the skin like accidental wounds, blisters, burns and even infections can leave behind damage in the form of hypopigmentation.

Additionally, to fuel people’s frantic pursuit of lighter skin, specific cosmetic treatments tend to cause this condition if administered incorrectly. These include chemical peeling and laser therapy.

However, the genetic dispositions that lead to hypopigmentation usually appear at birth or early childhood and are chronic..

2. Depigmentation

As mentioned above, depigmentation is the random absence of pigment in the skin. It is more often a genetic disposition that reveals itself at birth. Albinism is the leading skin condition that exhibits depigmentation. The melanocytes, which are meant to produce melanin, fail to do so, leaving the skin’s surface completely uncoloured.

3. Hyperpigmentation

Hyperpigmentation is a skin condition that occurs when there is excessive production of the pigment melanin. This can be visibly seen as darker patches of skin all over the body where the affliction takes place. Depending on your skin tone, these patches may range from anything from a tan colour to dark brown.

Triggers for hyperpigmentation

There are numerous possible triggers for hyperpigmentation that you have chances of coming across in a lifetime.

The pregnancy mask

One such trigger experienced by women is during pregnancy. A phenomenon known as the “pregnancy mask” sets in at times for certain pregnant women. This is when the facial skin turns darker than its normal skin tone. Many women who expect to get the much-hyped “pregnancy glow” often feel cheated when they fall prey to this condition instead.

Chloasma

This is scientifically termed chloasma, and it is a result of the inevitable hormonal changes that the woman experiences during the early stages of pregnancy.

Excess oestrogen in the system can sometimes trigger a condition commonly called melasma, of which chloasma is a pregnancy-specific type. This is when the melanin-producing cells are triggered to produce excessive amounts of melanin, which gives the skin a dark colour.

Stress and anxiety

This condition is scientifically termed “Hyperpigmentation” and is one that is very evident on the skin. Many people suffer a blow to their self-confidence, and emotional stress often follows. The unfortunate fact is that emotional mood swings and stress contribute to hormonal imbalance and may worsen such existing skin conditions.

The sun!

Moreover, hyperpigmentation can be seen on smaller scales when exposure to sunlight becomes too extensive. Sun damage exhibits itself through hyperpigmentation in the initial stages. It is also capable of darkening areas that are already suffering from hyperpigmentation.

Exposing your skin to the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays (UV-A or UV-B) means allowing the formation of free radicals that can damage cell structure, leading to hyperpigmentation.

Medications 

Lastly, hyperpigmentation can also be the side effect of certain medications such as antibiotics and antimalarial drugs.

What causes pigmentation on the face? 

The reasons for pigmentation on the face are no different from those occurring in other parts of the human body. One of the reasons why this may specifically affect the face has to do with the skin on your face.

  1. Facial skin is more sensitive and thinner than skin elsewhere. Hence, even moderate sun exposure without protection can lead to pigmentation. Melanin as a pigment is a constituent that protects the skin from harmful UV exposure and is a leading fighter against the threat of skin cancer.

However, such sun exposure tends to unnecessarily trigger the excessive production of melanin. This is why we witness darker skin after spending a long day out and about in the sun.

  1. The second culprit for pigmentation, specifically on the face, is hormonal imbalances. In this case, a possible presence of excess oestrogen can lead to the immune system unwantedly triggering the production of melanin, even though there is no actual need for it.

Can pigmentation be cured?

Since pigmentation is naturally a part of the skin, it cannot be classified as entirely curable. However, for people suffering from its more adverse conditions, there are different types of remedies and solutions of varying intensity that can help fix irregularities.

Treatment for skin pigmentation

The possible forms of treatment for pigmentation, in general, can depend on the degree of change that you prefer.

  • People looking to reduce a tanned look and remove excessive darkening merely tend to opt for natural remedies like honey, baking soda pastes, and lemon juice, all of which have natural bleaching properties. However, you must take into account allergies before attempting these.
  • More drastic measures include topical medications that mostly contain a potent drug known as hydroquinone. It is well known for lightening dark patches of skin damaged by sun exposure, liver spots and dark spots.

However, it is a powerful drug that must be applied with utmost caution because of its extensive list of possible side effects. Ideally, only dermatologists and experts should be prescribing this to patients who need it.

  • Lastly, the last resort for people with severe forms of hyperpigmentation is surgical procedures like chemical peeling and laser therapy that help remove the damaged skin to reveal younger and healthier skin underneath.

A word from our Consultant dermatologist

Experts like Dr Charu from Cureskin specifies that “treatment for pigmentation comes with stages of first controlling any and all triggers that may be aggravating the condition, and secondly, correcting the issues by starting with constant sun protection and exfoliating and cleaning away the damaged skin”. This may be the first healthy step to take towards having more evenly pigmented skin.

FAQ’s

1. Can microdermabrasion help pigmentation?

Microdermabrasion is a non-invasive and non-chemical procedure that uses a microcrystal spraying technique to get rid of the outer layer of dead skin and debris. This exfoliating and cleaning process is meant to be a step towards reducing pigmentation and its effects. It additionally helps in increasing collagen levels, which prompts the production of new skin cells.

This is said to be a safer procedure than other surgical options. However, always get the opinion of a dermatologist after having your skin diagnosed before undergoing any procedure.

2. When do you need to see a doctor? 

Most medical procedures are abrasive, and if done incorrectly, can leave the skin severely damaged. This is why skin specialists and dermatologists are always recommended for consultation before patients take drastic or impulsive decisions.

3. How effective are home remedies?

Home remedies do not have too much medical backing and, in many cases, cause irritation to the skin or allergies. Always do a patch test before using them on your skin.

4. Does vitamin C help with pigmentation?

Vitamin C is an excellent antioxidant and is known to help keep the skin healthy and reduce hyperpigmentation. 

Struggling with a Skin or Hair issue? Download the CureSkin App now by clicking here to get the best treatment. It’s easy, fast and affordable!

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Author

Dr Jisha Gomez

Dr Jisha Gomez

She is a highly skilled dermatology physician with strong expertise in improving skin & hair health through the development of corrective treatment combinations. She completed her Post-graduate Diploma in Dermatology from Cardiff, UK & Fellowship in Aesthetic Medicine (FAM) from the Institute of Laser and Aesthetic Medicine, Delhi with over 5+ years experience treating skin patients. She has worked in Government hospitals in Trivandrum and Bangalore. She is actively involved in creating awareness for healthy skin, breaking the social stigma based on skin colour & stopping steroid abuse in our country.

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