Age spots, brown spots, freckles and melasma are skin pigmentation disorders. Are these playing havoc with your complexion? Combating fine lines and wrinkles usually tops the list when it comes to maintaining a youthful appearance, but one must not ignore uneven skin tone and unwanted pigmentation as these beauty bugbears not only ruin your looks, but add years to your age as well!
Skin colour differs from individual to individual. Whether fair or dark, your skin gets its colour (pigment) from melanin, which is produced by special cells in the skin called melanocytes. The amount and type of melanin determine a person’s skin colour. Skin pigmentation disorders affect the colour of your skin, and may affect patches of skin or the entire body. The less melanin your body produces, the lighter your skin becomes. Conditions like vitiligo causes patches of light skin. Infections, blisters and burns can also cause the patches of skin that has healed to become lighter due to the loss of pigment in that area.
Conversely, if your body produces too much melanin, your skin gets darker.
Melasma is an example of hyperpigmentation. This condition is characterised by tan or brown patches, which typically appears on regions on the upper cheeks, upper lip, forehead and chin.
COMMON TYPES OF PIGMENTATION
The most common type of pigmentation is ephelides aka freckles. Most freckles are caused by repeated exposure to sunlight, particularly if you have a fair complexion. They mainly appear on the face although they may also appear on areas of the skin that is exposed to sun, such as arms or shoulders. Even though freckles are not a skin condition, they are a characteristic of the skin with low level of melanin which makes it more vulnerable to damaging effects of UV radiation.
Also referred to as liver or sun spots, these are pigmented spots have a clearly defined edge. They may occur anywhere on the body and vary in colour from light brown to black. These spots are caused by UV sun exposure and the degree depends on how much UV light these melanin pigments are exposed to. Solar lentigines must be monitored as they may develop into skin cancer and melanoma. Annual checks are essential.
Melasma or chloasma is pigmentation that is deeper in the skin’s dermis. It appears on the face as larger brown patches with a non-distinct border. This type of pigmentation is more common in women. Though causes are unknown, it is often stimulated by hormonal increases. The condition is made worse with UV sun exposure, certain medications, pregnancy and stress.
This is a response to injury of the skin and can be the result of acne, burns, friction or aggressive skin treatments. This condition may resolve with time and generally responds to topical products, although it can recur.
WHAT CAUSES PIGMENTATION?
Most of us are born with baby soft, smooth and clear complexion. As we age, however, the melanocytes malfunction or become damaged due to various factors which interfere with the normal functioning of melanin production.
When there is an overproduction of melanin, dark spots and uneven areas of hyperpigmentation surface as a result of the clumping and uneven distribution of melanin in the epidermis.
PIGMENTATION CONTRIBUTING FACTORS
Excessive and long-term exposure to sunlight is a major cause of hyperpigmentation in skin (particularly on the face, arms, hands and back) as it is left unprotected from the sun’s harmful uv rays. Further darkening of already hyperpigmented areas also occurs as melanin production is accelerated to protect the deeper layers of the skin.
Conditions like pregnancy and addison’s disease (decreased function of the adrenal gland) give rise to free radicals (which cause cellular damage), inflammation and hormonal changes within the body, which trigger the melanocytes to overproduce melanin.
Certain medications, including some antibiotics, antiarrhythmic and antimalarial drugs could also lead to the overproduction of melanin.