Is hyperpigmentation giving you the beauty blues?
Or an airbrushed finish complete with no blemishes on your beauty wish list?
Many people struggle with their skin appearing lighter or darker than usual in concentrated areas, but there is no such thing as perfect skin.
Especially when you consider that there are 529 genes involved in pigmentary disorders, regardless of colouring or ethnic background, making hyperpigmentation a real-life issue.
How does skin colour?
Hyperpigmentation results from very complex biological processes in your skin, which can lead to melanin production by melanocytes found in the basal layer of your outer layer of skin.
These melanocytes can be likened to tiny pigment factories in your skin. These pigment-producing cells, triggered by a tyrosinase enzyme, are responsible for creating the colour of your hair, skin, and eyes.
Different coloured skin types contain the same number of melanocytes, but those with different ethnic backgrounds carry genes that make melanocytes produce more pigment – referred to as melanin.
Excess melanin creates hyperpigmentation: brown spots on your skin can appear anywhere, but most commonly on your face, hands, neck, and décolleté.
The causes of excessive melanin production
- birth control
- excessive UV light
- environmental pollutants
- trauma to the skin, including picking and acne scarring
The nitty-gritty of hyperpigmentation
There are essentially four types of pigmentation disorders:
These are often referred to as sun spots or solar keratoses. They are pigmented blemishes associated with ageing and sun damage.
They range from light brown to black and are predominantly found in areas with excess sun, such as your hands, face, and arms.
These are often referred to as ephelides. They are small pigmented spots containing more melanin than the surrounding skin.
Freckles are believed to be an inherited skin characteristic due to overactive melanocytes. The cause of freckles appears to be largely genetic.
Interestingly, research has found that those who possess a variant of the melanocortin-1 receptor gene tend to develop freckles than those who don’t.
Hyperpigmentation appears on pregnant women with a genetic disposition to over-produce melanin when they expect it; often, these marks disappear, but in some cases, they remain permanently.
It appears as a mask on the face and sometimes on the belly, where it shows up as a vertical line known as “line nigra”, Latin for the black line. You can read about both melasma and chloasma here.
PIH appears due to trauma to the skin, such as a burn, acne, or squeezing pimples.
It is an overproduction of melanin following inflammation. Cytokines and inflammatory mediators have a stimulatory effect on melanocytes, leading to increased melanin production.
Inflammation may also cause the destruction of basal keratinocytes, which leads to an accumulation of pigment at the site of traumatised skin.
In the case of PIH, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure; the key is avoiding inflammation, so no squeezing.
Essentially, every time you interfere with melanin production, you are compromising the health of your skin.
Capillary flow becomes restricted, which is critical to skin protection because it is the only way antioxidants and co-factors such as minerals are delivered to the skin, giving you natural free radical support that helps maintain skin health.
It is a vicious cycle because a deficiency in antioxidants and protective enzymes can increase melanin production.
It’s your skin’s way of saying, if I don’t have enough antioxidants to help, I will go into the second tier of protection and create more melanocytes, resulting in excessive hyperpigmentation.
Note: Hyperpigmentation shows up as brown patches, whilst skin cancer appears as red or brown lesions. If you are concerned about pigmented lesions, we’d advise you to get them looked at by a medical practitioner.
Are you sporting that tan?
UV exposure is the biggest contributing factor to hyperpigmentation, and when melanin is produced in an even fashion, your skin will tan.
A tan is a normal reaction to the sun, stimulating the skin and producing an enzyme called tyrosinase. This signals the melanocyte to INJECT into the surrounding cells; after a couple of days, a tan begins to develop.
UV rays – in particular, UVB rays – cause melanocytes to produce an excessive amount of melanin. This forms dark patches of colour on the skin’s surface, creating imperfections and uneven skin tone.
Why does our tan fade? Melanocytes inject melanin into a cell, and as these cells move towards the surface, they shed.
Various treatments can improve or eliminate hyperpigmentation; the article “How to Lighten Skin“ covers this topic in more detail.
To conclude. The naked truth
So we have established that melanocytes are pigment-producing cells; the tyrosinase enzyme triggers them, which are responsible for creating the colour of our hair, skin, and eyes.
Those with different coloured skin types have the same amount of melanocytes in their skin but carry genes that make melanocytes produce more melanin.
Excess melanin creates hyperpigmentation: brown spots on the skin can appear anywhere, but most commonly on the face, hands, neck, and décolleté.
There are four types of pigment diseases – Age spots, chloasma, freckles and post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation.
UV exposure is the most significant contributing factor to hyperpigmentation, which is why it is essential to ensure you protect your skin from damaging environmental rays.