The term ‘pigment’ means ‘colouring.’ While many people have even colouring across their skin during their younger years, one sign of ageing is pigmentation. If a patch of skin becomes a lot darker than the areas surrounding it, medical professionals refer to it as ‘hyperpigmentation.’
The pigment of your skin may change when specific cells become overactive. Such cells produce a hormone called melanin, which regulates the colour of your skin. If those cells become overactive, your skin’s colourants may become a lot darker or redder than usual.
Overactive melanocytes are sometimes a sign that your skin is unhealthy, or that there’s something more severe happening beneath the surface. In other cases, the colouration of your skin changes as a part of the ageing process. While you can’t stop this from happening forever, there are ways to slow the process down, and medical professionals can treat existing areas of pigmentation.
While you may not worry about pigments and discolouration on many areas of your body, your face is different. As an area that is visible to others throughout the day, the appearance of pigments on its skin may leave you feeling self-conscious. By learning more about what pigments are, how they happen, and the treatment measures available; you can choose whether to opt for a cosmetic therapy to reduce pigmentation.
WHAT IS SKIN PIGMENTATION?
In the medical world, the term ‘pigmentation’ applies to a lot of conditions. Such conditions include:
Some people are more susceptible to freckles than others, mainly due to genetics. They are more likely to appear during the summer months when you expose your skin to too many UV rays. UV ray exposure encourages your melanocytes to release more melanin, making freckles more obvious. During the winter, they usually fade.
SUNSPOTS AND SUN DAMAGE
Those who expose themselves to too much sun over the years may encounter sunspots. Sunspots and sun damage usually present as large and dark patches of skin, which stand out from the surrounding areas.
Unlike sunspots, age spots have raised edges. Like sunspots, they are dark compared to surrounding areas of the skin. If you begin to notice age spots, you should seek advice from your GP to ensure you are not confusing them with a malignant mole.
According to the American Osteopathic College of Dermatology, most cases of hyperpigmentation are not harmful. However, some patients feel uncomfortable with their appearance, which is why they seek cosmetic treatments.
It is important to recognise that there are other conditions you could confuse with pigmentation. One such example is a malignant mole, which looks like a raised age spot with poorly defined borders. Such moles may change over time, which is another indicator that it is cancerous.
Similarly, pregnant women experience hyperpigmentation, as their bodies produce more melanin in specific areas. For example, they may encounter “the mask of pregnancy;” which is a butterfly-like mask that spreads across their face.
WHO IS MORE AT RISK OF DEVELOPING PIGMENTATION?
Genetics aside, the way you go about your daily life places you at higher risk of hyperpigmentation. Such activities can include:
As the number one cause of pigmentation, excess sun exposure sends your melanocytes into overdrive. Although melanin will try to protect you from UV rays, too much exposure to them will stop their work, leading to pigments.
Did you know that the more fat you carry, the more oestrogen you produce? This applies to men as well as women. The lipid cells in your body send out signals asking for oestrogen, forcing your body to make more of it.
Seeing as women produce more oestrogen than men anyway, this is more of a problem for them. Too much oestrogen can send your melanocytes into overdrive also, leading to more pigments. It’s for this reason that pregnant women experience dark spots across various areas of their bodies.
That’s right, people in certain occupations are at higher risk of hyperpigmentation than others. For example, if you’re a gardener or someone else who spends a lot of time outside, you’re exposing yourself to more sun.
Similarly, if you like to use henna or you’re a tattoo lover, you’ll trigger your melanocytes, and they’ll deposit melanin at random. So, it’s probably a good idea to hold back on the pretty hand art, for now.
WHAT CAUSES SKIN PIGMENTATION?
The most common cause of pigmentation is too much exposure to UV rays. When you expose yourself to UV rays from the sun or a tanning bed, your melanocytes respond by producing melanin. Although melanin leads to a tan, too much UV ray exposure can damage your melanocytes. When this happens, they produce too much melanin compared to those in the surrounding area, leading to pigmentation.
Other causes of pigmentation include:
Changes in hormones - While the exact reasons are not known, some women experience hyperpigmentation when they undergo hormonal changes. Pregnancy is not the only example of this. One female hormone, oestrogen, encourages melanocytes to produce more melanin. Progesterone, which is a hormone both men and women encounter, has the same effect. However, it isn’t clear why they cause hyperpigmentation in some areas and not others.
Skin Injuries & Trauma - Also known as ‘post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation,’ skin injuries and trauma can cause pigments to appear. It is for this reason that those who suffer from acne vulgaris are more likely to encounter pigments. Acne vulgaris is a condition that involves increased inflammation around the epidermis, which is the skin’s upper layer. When the epidermis encounters too much inflammation, the melanocytes beneath release more melanin, causing it to darken or develop dark patches.
Your Genes - Research published in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology in 2007 identified at least six genes related to pigmentation of the skin. As such, if your parents have pigmented skin, you are at higher risk of experiencing it too.
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