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Skin Pigmentation

What is Skin Pigmentation?

Skin pigmentation occurs as a result of abnormal synthesis or accumulation of melanin, a substance that gives skin its color. Melanin is produced by skin cells called melanocytes that protect our skin from the sun. When the melanocytes are damaged, the melanin production will be affected and as a result, patches may appear on the skin.

If your skin appears darker compared to the other areas, it means that your skin cells are producing an excess amount of melanin which results in darker skin. Decreased production of melanin makes the skin lighter.

The other causes of skin pigmentation include exposure to UV radiation from the sun, hormonal changes during pregnancy, trauma which is a result of laser treatments, acne, and chemical peels and birthmarks.

Treatment for Pigmentation

Pigmentation can be treated on any part of the skin using skin-lightening agents or creams and laser techniques. Topical application of skin-lightening agents such as creams and lotions are used, which inhibits the enzymes that produce melanin and increases the turnover of the skin to remove the existing pigmentation.

You can prevent the occurrence of the pigmentation by the use of good sunscreen lotions or creams every day, even if it is cloudy or overcast. There are two types of sunscreens, namely physical and chemical sunscreens. Physical sunscreens are not absorbed by the skin and provide long-lasting protection. Chemical sunscreens are absorbed by the skin and require the application of this cream after every 2 hours.

The most common pigmentation disorders include melasma, vitiligo, and solar lentigo.

Melasma, also known as chloasma, is a form of pigmentation which causes brown-grey patches on cheeks, nose, forehead, and chin and commonly occurs in pregnant women. Hormonal changes during pregnancy and exposure to the sun may cause melasma. There are several treatment options available for treating melasma such as chemical peels and Melange skin-lightening system, microdermabrasion and topical application of de-pigmenting agents.

Melange is a chemical superficial masque applied on the skin which can be removed by the patient after a period of time depending on the skin type. It helps to stimulate collagen production, improves the skin tone and texture, and reduces the lines and pigmentation.

Microdermabrasion is a non-invasive method that uses highly controlled sprays of fine aluminum oxide crystals to remove the outer layer of the skin and reveal a younger, tighter and more radiant skin underneath.

Vitiligo - It is a pigmentation disorder where white patches or spots appear on the skin. It develops when the melanocytes are unable to produce the required amount of melanin. The exact cause is not known, but physical trauma or certain diseases such as diabetes may cause vitiligo.

Vitiligo can be treated by several methods such as the topical application of creams such as pseudo catalase and de-pigmentation. Surgical therapies include grafting procedures such as mini-graft surgery. Laser therapy such as XTRAC laser is used which clears the vitiligo without damaging the surrounding skin.

Pseudocatalase is a cream that is applied to the vitiligo affected area. It functions as a catalase which inhibits the progression of pigment loss in vitiligo affected skin. It works by removing peroxides from the vitiligo affected skin.

Mini-graft surgery is done by harvesting grafts from the buttocks, hips or behind the ear and holes are created in the vitiligo affected area. The grafts are inserted in the holes. Skin bandage and adhesive tapes are used to hold the grafts which will fall off after 5 to 7 days.

Solar lentigo or sun spots- The solar lentigines appear as flat, large brown spots that resemble freckles and commonly appear on the sun-exposed areas such as face, back, and hands. It commonly develops in individuals who are above 60 years and have light skin. The main cause of solar lentigo is chronic exposure to the sun.

Lentigo can be treated by topical creams which help in peeling the affected surface and regeneration of new skin with healthy cells. Other treatment options include cryotherapy and laser therapy.

Cryotherapy is a method where liquid nitrogen is sprayed on the affected skin which freezes the area and helps in the removal of sunspots.

The short-pulsed dye laser is used to destroy the pigment which is present within the solar lentigo.

  • Houston Methodist, Houston
  • Ascension
  • Memorial Hermann Health System