Skin pigmentation goes by many names: age spots, sun spots, freckles, hyper-pigmentation, etc. All stem from overproduction of melanin in our skin, and most of us experience it over time.
Sun, hormones, and inflammation send signals to produce melanin in our skin, which is seen as uneven complexion ranging from mild to severe. We all have melanin in our skin, but some of us have more of it than others, which is determined by our genetics. Melanin is produced by melanocytes as a way of protecting our skin from the sun’s ultraviolet rays, which damage skin.
Regardless of our genetics, the cause of discoloration is the same: triggers, such as sun or inflammation, send signals to the melanocytes to “turn on” and produce more melanin, leading to pigment laydown and visible skin darkening. Although the even laydown of pigment, such as with a tan, can appear attractive, more often than not, the pigment laydown is not uniform, and our skin coloration becomes mottled and uneven and is decidedly unattractive. Moreover, the sun can also stimulate the activity of other pigmentary changes, such as the expression of seborrheic keratosis and new moles, or a darkening of existing moles.
As discouraging as this sounds, there are ways to limit and even eliminate unwanted discoloration. Here are some of the key methods:
- Microdermabrasion with infusion. During microdermabrasion, the uppermost layer of skin is gently removed to get rid of these pigment containing cells; infusion of lightening agents is key to helping reduce the pigmentation in the deeper layers of skin.
- Chemical peels. Multiple types of acidic agents can be used to gently coax the skin into releasing and banishing the pigment from skin. Expertise is required in choosing the appropriate chemical agent, as well as the depth and strength of the peel, as different forms of pigmentation, and different skin types, require different chemical agents to achieve happy outcomes. Choosing the wrong agent for the wrong skin type can sometimes aggravate the pigmentation and lead to unhappy outcomes.
- Retinoids. These skin forms of vitamin A come in prescription and non-prescription varieties, and helps combat pigmentation, as well as multiple other skin issues, at a genetic level. Retinoids are widely considered the most important reparative molecules for skin.
- Hydroquinone. This prescription level agent acts to block melanocyte production and is often required as a powerful, but short term, agent used for challenging pigmentation such as melasma.
- Vitamin C. This key vitamin for skin is important for interrupting melanin formation, as well as a multitude of other benefits for skin health.
- Niacinamide. A derivative of niacin, also known as B3, this powerful molecule not only helps to diminish pigment and brighten skin, but also strengthens the skin barrier and protects it from the damaging effects of ultraviolet light.