What is pigmentation?
Pigmentation refers to the coloring of the skin. Our skin gets its color from a pigment called melanin, which is produced by specialized cells known as melanocytes. When the body produces too much melanin, the skin gets darker (hyperpigmentation). When it doesn’t produce enough melanin, the skin becomes lighter (hypopigmentation).
What causes pigmentation?
Both hypo- and hyperpigmentation conditions can be caused by skin disorders or injuries, but hyperpigmentation happens to almost everyone as they age due to repeated sun exposure. The sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays stimulate the production of melanin and can cause dark spots or patches to appear on the skin over time. These are known as sun spots, age spots, or lentigines.
Hormonal changes can also cause hyperpigmentation. During pregnancy, many women develop dark patches on their face and body. This condition is called melasma, or “mask of pregnancy”, and it often disappears on its own after giving birth. Women who take the birth control pill may also experience similar skin changes.
How can you treat pigmentation?
The most crucial step to prevent further hyperpigmentation from developing is to apply a sunscreen with at least SPF 30 to your face and décolleté every day.
Chemical peels, and laser skin resurfacing, do address hyperpigmentation, but in my opinion, these treatments are too harsh on the skin and can produce unwanted side effects.
Potential complications of a chemical peel may include burning, itching or swelling, and patients of color may experience postinflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH) as the result of a peel that is not tailored to their skin type. Because the outcome of a chemical peel depends largely on the skill of the person applying it, patients should only receive these treatments in a professional clinic, and people of color should see a specialist who has expertise in treating darker skin tones. I advise against using at-home chemical peels, even those with low acid concentrations, as they can cause serious problems if applied incorrectly.
People of color are especially prone to postinflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH), a condition in which dark spots appear on the skin in response to damage or trauma. While this condition can affect anyone, it’s more pronounced in people of color because their skin contains more melanin. Sun damage also may lead to hyperpigmentation, and this may be a concern in people of color who mistakenly believe that they don’t need to protect themselves from the sun. Contrary to what some people think, skin of color is not immune to the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays, everyone, regardless of their skin color, needs to protect themselves from the sun by seeking shade, wearing protective clothing and using a broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher.
In order to get the best results and avoid complications, patients should receive at least a month of pretreatment before getting a chemical peel. This may involve the application of topical products at home or, in the case of stronger peels like TCA, the administration of light chemical peels in the professional clinic, gradually building up to the stronger formula. Chemical peel patients also should discontinue the use of topical retinols before the procedure, as this may cause a reaction.
For a gentler treatment option, I love microneedling combined with a brightening treatment. Microneedling creates microchannels in the skin, so the product you follow with penetrates much more deeply and is more effective.
Facial massage is another great way to help brighten and tighten the skin. My massage involve a series of 12 treatments within a month and the results speak for themselves!
If you’re pregnant, talk to your healthcare provider before undergoing any treatments for hyperpigmentation to ensure they’re safe. You may be advised to wait until after you have your baby.