Pigmentation explained

Everyone loves that healthy summer glow but did you know that glow comes with a damaging down side? In order to protect itself from the damaging effects of the sun, your skin increases its production of the dark brown pigment called melanin. The extra melanin makes your skin look darker or suntanned, resulting in that nice healthy summer glow. However, that repeated sun-exposure in many cases causes an uneven increase in melanin production. This ultimately produces an irregular colouring (pigmentation) of the skin – sometimes known as sun-spots, liver spots or more correctly solar lentigines. The sun can also cause a permanent stretching of small blood vessels, giving your skin a mottled, reddish appearance which never really fades even in the long winter months. So you can see that if this occurs year after year we start to see a significant accumulation of sun-induced skin damage other-wise-known as photo-ageing.

That melanin which I mentioned earlier is naturally occurring (except in people with hypo-pigmentation conditions like vitiligo and albinism for example) and forms in cells in the top layer of skin, giving our skin its natural colour tone. The other really important job melanin does is to protect the deeper layers of skin from sun damage. The more melanin in the skin, the darker the skin appears, and the more protection it has against sun damage. People with medium or dark complexions naturally have more protection than people with lighter complexions. But people with naturally dark skin can still experience sun damage and ultimately photo-ageing.

Earlier I mentioned solar lentigines (len-TIJ-ih-neze) (those nasty looking flat spots of increased pigmentation). They’re usually brown, black or even grey looking and vary in size. And they usually appear on areas most exposed to the sun, such as the face, hands, arms, chest and upper back. These spots, are common in older adults but also occur in younger people who spend a lot of time in the sun without protecting their skin.

Now the next nasty pigmentation I want to speak about are solar or actinic keratoses (ak-TIN-ik ker-uh-TOE-seez) which appear as rough, scaly raised patches that range in colour from almost white to tan to dark pink or brown. These patches are also commonly found on the face, ears, lower arms and hands, and lower legs of light-skinned people whose skin has been damaged by the sun. If left untreated, actinic keratoses may progress to a type of skin cancer known as squamous cell carcinoma.

Several internal factors also contribute to skin developing sun induced pigmentation, including the amount of collagen, elastin, and melanin present in the skin. Collagen and elastin are the proteins responsible for skin elasticity, tone, and texture, and are also affected by diet, age, hormones, skin products, cosmetic treatments, and overall health, and melanin, as I said earlier, is responsible for colour.

The first step you can take to reduce sun-induced pigmentation and improve your skin texture is to fuel the internal strengths, identify and manage the nasty culprits and diligently work to reduce any further damage. As I said earlier benign pigmentation is exacerbated by long-term exposure to the sun's ultraviolet (UV) rays. Although benign pigmented sun damage is not considered dangerous, it is unsightly and is often accompanied by other types of sun damage such as elastosis, rough skin and wrinkles. In some cases, sun spots can obscure the presence of actual skin cancers. So the need for prevention is obvious. The treatment is not simply aesthetic, but in my experience, confidence building.

Prevention is always the best course of action, however, there are a wide variety of cosmetic

treatments available to improve the appearance of sun damaged skin, including: Chemical Peels, Microdiamabrasion, Intense Pulsed Light Therapy (IPL), Fractionated LASER Rejuvenation and Prescription and Cosmeceutical Skin Care.

In our next blog we will look at these treatment methods in greater detail, so stay tuned.

natalie johnson