how to prevent pigmentation in summersun spots & cute freckles
Ever noticed a darker spot on your skin? Did a new freckle grow overnight? Lazing in the sun like a lizard only to look in the mirror and see your skin looks a little like patchwork? You're not alone.
What are the main causes of hyperpigmentation?
Hyperpigmentation is a pigmentary disorder involving excess melanin production, leading to darkened skin colour and spots. Hyperpigmentation can be present from birth or can develop from underlying health conditions like Addison's disease, diabetes, nutritional deficiencies (vitamin b), or serious medical conditions like systemic sclerosis or chikungunya. WHEW!
Yep, that's a lot to digest, so we spoke to expert Dermatologist Dr. Kathleen Eusebio-Alpapara all about hyperpigmentation, which we are all more familiar with, like melasma, freckles, sun spots or age spots, and post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation.
Melanin is the pigment that gives skin its colour. Our body produces melanin through the cells called melanocytes or pigment-producing cells. The type of melanin the skin produces more determines one's skin tone. Pheomelanin is the yellow melanin produced more among Caucasians, while eumelanin, dark melanin, is common among those with coloured skin.
What types of hyperpigmentation are common?
These are poorly defined light to dark brown spots or patches, which typically develop on the face, especially on the forehead, cheeks, nose, and upper lip. Melasma is common among those with coloured skin. Aside from UV light exposure, genetic and hormonal factors can make one prone to having this.
These are well-defined, small, light brown spots that appear symmetrically on sun-exposed areas, common among those with red or blond hair and Celtic ancestry. Freckles appear in the young, usually on the centre of the face. You're more likely to develop freckles when your parents have them.
Sunspots or age spots (solar lentigo)
Solar lentigines are well-defined, irregularly shaped dark spots found among the elderly with severely sun-damaged skin. These are common among Caucasians and Asians. Do you know that more than 90% of those with white skin develop sunspots by the age of 50? Though these are benign, having age spots is associated with an increased risk of skin cancers; yikes!
Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation appears on the site with a prior inflammation such as acne or an injury such as allergic reactions. It is a skin reaction in which more melanin is produced due to an inflammatory cascade resulting in hyperpigmentation. This type of hyperpigmentation is most likely to happen if you have a darker skin type.
Does sun exposure accelerate hyperpigmentation?
Let's make this clear. Melanin production is not bad at all. In fact, increased melanin production can protect the skin from UV rays or sun damage. Melanocytes are found on the basal layer (last layer of your skin) and produce melanin which is transported through tentacle-like processes to the skin cells (keratinocytes) above.
These keratinocytes are eventually pushed to the uppermost layer of the skin. Such placement of melanin in these areas has one main purpose: sun protection. Therefore, skin discolouration after excessive UV exposure is a natural or physiologic response of our skin.
UV Rays and pigmentation
UV rays stimulate melanin production, specifically eumelanin. Hence, those with darker skin develop hyperpigmentation, like post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation and melasma, easily than those with lighter skin.
Sunburn, Freckles, and Sunspots
Frequent sunburns and a gene mutation make one more prone to develop freckles, which may appear at a young age and is common among those with lighter skin types. Age spots, on the other hand, can occur among those with dark skin, a history of freckles, sun-exposure habits, oral contraceptive intake, or progestogen treatments.
How to prevent hyperpigmentation in your skin?
We all want to know how to prevent those unwanted dark spots. Dr. Eusebio-Alpapara confirms you don't need a 10 step skincare routine to prevent pigmentation; it comes down to one simple thing, Good sun protection!
Steps for choosing & using the right sunscreen
SPF is important
Use sunscreens with at least an SPF 30.
Check the ingredients.
Look for UV filters that have protection against UVA and UVB like titanium dioxide.
Apply sunscreen correctly.
Apply graciously on sun-exposed areas 15-30 minutes before UV exposure and re-apply it every 2 hours if with continuous sun exposure. Prevent direct sun exposure or excessive sun exposure by using wide-brim hats, umbrellas, and sun-protective clothing.
When using oral conceptive pills, sun protection must be heightened than usual. Good sun protection prevents these types of hyperpigmentation and skin cancer as well.
How do I get rid of post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation?
Is it possible to get rid of hyperpigmentation, and how? Though relatively resolves spontaneously over time, here are a few tips on reducing those darkened areas.
- Deal with ongoing skin inflammation as early as possible. The more severe the inflammation is, the more likely it will become hyperpigmented once it heals. Have your skin treated, be it acne vulgaris or an allergy, before it worsens.
- Be in-tune with your skin, especially when you have sensitive skin. Avoid harsh skincare products and procedures. Stop using them when you feel as much of a sting in using skincare products. Please do not wait for it to become irritated and red before stopping them.
- Protect your skin from UV exposure, both from the sun and tanning beds. UV exposure worsens dark spots, especially melasma, freckles, and age spots.
- Use products with medically reviewed and scientifically proven ingredients to reduce hyperpigmentation based on peer-reviewed studies, like hydroquinone.
- Visit your trusted dermatologists for hyperpigmentation medically reviewed procedures like laser therapy or chemical peels that best suit your skin.
What are some natural remedies to help treat hyperpigmentation?
Lightening dark spots can also be attained by using natural ingredients. Medically reviewed treatments for hyperpigmentation or dark spots from melasma, sun spots, hyperpigmentation from a previous inflammation, or an uneven skin tone involve the following:
Preventing increased melanin production
This can be attained by inhibiting the tyrosinase enzyme, which increases melanin formation. Vitamin C, Arbutin from dry bearberry or blueberry leaves, glycolic acid from sugar cane, citric acid from lemon and lime, Kojic acid from fermented rice wine, soy sauce, mulberry, and liquorice extracts are all tyrosinase inhibitors.
Inhibit melanin transfer from the melanocytes to the surface of the skin
Transfer of the melanin from the melanocytes in the basal layer of the skin to the topmost layer should be prevented. Soy and niacinamide, a vitamin b3 derivative, have this ability.
When you remove the dead skin cells on the top of the skin, you also remove the pigment-laden cells on top, making the skin lighter. Products with vitamin A (retinol) or hydroxy acids like glycolic acid or salicylic acid are exfoliants. They also work well with acne vulgaris. When you have acne-prone skin, using these can minimise hyperpigmentation.
Aside from the topical exfoliants, scrubs also works an absolute treat. Exfoliants work well with tyrosinase inhibitors and melanin transfer blocking agents. Always remember to exfoliate your skin gently. Over-exfoliation can lead to inflammation which can cause hyperpigmentation.
Antioxidants can also prevent hyperpigmentation by binding copper, which the tyrosinase enzyme needs to function. Aside from this, antioxidants neutralise free radicals that can damage the skin and decrease inflammation. Argan oil and green tea are antioxidants known for their anti-inflammatory ability. Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) functions as an antioxidant and a tyrosinase inhibitor, making it an excellent product for hyperpigmentation from photoageing like melasma.
Kathleen May Eusebio-Alpapara is a board certified dermatologist who practices both medical and cosmetic dermatology at VE Eusebio Skin Centre.
References: Kang S, & Amagai M, & Bruckner A.L., & Enk A.H., & Margolis D.J., & McMichael A.J., & Orringer J.S.(Eds.), (2019). Fitzpatrick's Dermatology, 9e. McGraw Hill.
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