A Dermatologist-Approved Guide to Reducing Pigmentation
The recent freckle trend is no doubt pretty cute. A smattering of little brown dots across the nose and cheeks gives one a fresh, youthful appearance and potentially a slightly athletic look too. Some people have natural freckles, but some others have freckles due to overexposure to the sun. You might have noticed after a day out in the sun or while on holiday by the beach that your arms have some brown specks on them. This is a sign of pigmentation. And unlike freckles which are usually just little brown dots, pigmentation can grow into blotchy brown patches that will persist.
What causes pigmentation?
Another term for pigmentation is hyperpigmentation, and it is a skin condition that occurs when there is an increase in the amount of the skin’s pigment-producing cells. You might be familiar with the pigment produced, melanin, and it is what gives some people a darker color than others.
There are different types of pigmentation depending on where they occur and the severity of it. Melasma is a form of pigmentation that occurs on the face around the ages of 20 to 40. Those who have naturally darker skin are more susceptible to it. Interestingly, it is not just caused by overexposure to the sun. Hormonal changes can also be a factor contributing to melasma. In fact, over 90% of people affected by melasma are women and most of the cases are caused by pregnancy. Going on contraceptive pills such as birth control can also be a cause of melasma since the hormone levels in the body are changed. Pigmentation can also occur after you suffer an injury or some sort of inflammatory skin ailments such as eczema or severe acne. This is more likely to be a temporary pigmentation, but if you are disposed to darker skin tones, you will likely have a deeper, more long-lasting pigmentation.
The difference between pigmentation and freckles is that freckles are inherited, and they usually occur among lighter-skinned people. These people have lower levels of melanin and when they turn a darker shade under the sun, this color fades. It is different from the pigmentation that occurs later in life as a result of overexposure to the sun and UV rays.
How can I prevent myself from getting pigmentation?
There’s no way around it — the best way is to limit your sun exposure and wear SPF at all times. Dermatologists routinely agree and stress the importance of wearing sunscreen on a daily basis as the best preventive measure against pigmentation. We can’t totally avoid being out of the sun, and neither would we want to deprive ourselves of getting some nice warm sunlight, so the next best option is to be diligent with applying sunscreen every day before leaving the house. Dermatologists recommend a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 50. You should also avoid being under direct sunlight between 12 pm and 2 pm as this is when UV rays are at their peak. Add a cap or hat for some added coverage if you’re going to be under the sun during this time.
How can I reduce pigmentation?
If you are already seeing some pigmentation, especially if you are a woman who might have just undergone pregnancy or are starting a hormonal contraceptive, there are some steps you can take to alleviate the situation.
1. Figure out what might be causing the pigmentation
Think back to what you did before the pigmentation occurred. If you went on a new medication and noticed pigmentation after that, you might want to check with the doctor who prescribed the medication to see if there are alternatives.
2. Get serious about your sun protection
Just because the pigmentation has already occurred that does not mean you slip up with your sun protection! In fact, you should get even more serious with your sun protection so as to not aggravate the pigmentation even more. Wear a hat when you are under the sun and avoid being in the sun for prolonged periods of time.
3. Incorporate some brightening serums and skincare products into your regime
While you can’t get rid of the pigmentation entirely, you can definitely reduce and lighten it with some skincare products. Look for products that have the following ingredients — vitamin A (such as retinoids), niacinamide, vitamin C, arbutin, azelaic acid, and alpha-hydroxy-acids (AHAs) such as glycolic acid. These antioxidants and exfoliants can help to improve your cell turnover which can lighten and reduce the darkness of the pigmentation spots.
4. Go get a chemical peel with a dermatologist
A chemical peel is quite effective for pigmentation because it essentially gets rid of your epidermal layer, which is where the pigmentation occurs. A dermatologist will use acid of high concentration to dissolve the layer of the skin in the areas with pigmentation. Some chemical peels might use an even stronger acid that will reach the middle layer of the skin, also known as the dermis, for even more visible results. Chemical peels can be quite expensive and of course, please go to a licensed dermatologist that you trust for such a process. Acids can potentially burn your skin and cause irritation if not used carefully. There is also a downtime required post chemical peel due to the redness and rawness you might feel, so you’ll want to factor that in too.
5. Microdermabrasion and dermabrasion
Microdermabrasion also works on the epidermal layer of the skin. Your dermatologist will use a small handheld device with an abrasive surface to gently scrape at your skin, removing the epidermis in the process. You won’t see results immediately, and it will require a few weeks and multiple sessions for the pigmentation to lighten. Dermabrasion is the other alternative and it is more intense as it works on the dermis layer, which is deeper than the epidermis layer. The results will be quicker and more long-lasting. However, both these processes are more suited for people with fairer skin, and those with darker skin might even see an increase in pigmentation from these abrasive processes.
Pigmentation clearly isn’t easy to reduce or lighten, so the best way is to prevent it from occurring through diligent sun protection from young. Sun tanning might seem fun and you might like the golden brown while still young, but pigmentation’s effects set in later and once it does it is hard if not impossible to reverse.