Life often feels like one big competition. Society has a knack of constantly drawing our attention to who is the prettiest, the smartest or most successful in their respective lives and careers. Given this, it is common to struggle with feeling uncomfortable in your own skin every now and then.
And while we so often hear that a huge part of being beautiful is to be comfortable in our own skin, that level of comfort may be a tad out of reach, especially for those who are faced with pigmentation problems.
What is Skin Pigmentation?
Pigmentation, also known as hyperpigmentation, is a condition that darkens your skin in patches, large or small. Our skin gets its colour from pigment-producing cells, known as melanocytes. Melanocytes produce melanin, which is responsible for giving us our unique skin colour. When these melanocytes are damaged, unhealthy, or pushed into overdrive, they begin to produce excessive melanin in certain areas, causing those areas to darken.
While the condition is not harmful, it may be a symptom of an underlying medical issue and can cause your skin to look uneven and unhealthy. Skin pigmentation can deal a massive blow to an individual’s self-esteem and confidence. A lot of women resort to using colour correctors, concealers and foundation to cover up their uneven skin tone.
Probable Causes of Hyperpigmentation
We unearth some possible causes of hyperpigmentation for you to better understand and deal with your pigmentation problem.
Yes, blame it on genetics.
Ever notice those with freckles are usually fair-skinned individuals? That is because their skin’s melanin clusters are clumped closely together instead of being evenly spread out, resulting in the uneven patches on their skin. Not only is this skin type incredibly sensitive to ultraviolet (UV) light and prone to sunburn, it is also more susceptible to skin cancer, so sun protection is highly advised.
On the other hand, some of us are born with mole-prone skin — a condition that occurs when dark clumps of pigment begin to form. As they age, the moles may become raised and have a strand of hair growing out of them. While most are benign and pretty much harmless, it is prudent to keep a watchful eye on them in case the moles change in shape, colour, size or outline. An annual check-up by a dermatologist is recommended.
2. Sun Exposure
Well, if genetics does not cut it, blame it on the sun too!
While your skin pigmentation is primarily the product of your biological parents' genetic make-up, exposure to sun factors in as well. These ageing dark spots of bother are normally the result of excessive sun exposure, particularly the UV rays which penetrate deep into the skin and cause ageing. This is a sign of the body’s attempt to defend your skin cells against UV damage. It is not impossible for freckles to fade when you transition to a cooler climate.
However, freckles may become permanent and UV damage may not be noticeable until you get older. That is when the freckles start to emerge to the surface and you may start to notice these age spots on your arms, face and neck. The once-cute spray of freckles across the nose and cheeks now has become more dense. These spots can become darker and permanent with time, unless you undertake appropriate preventive and corrective measures.
Post-inflammatory pigmentation (PIH) is a type of hyperpigmentation that affects the face and body, and is normally the by-product of skin inflammation. It is common in individuals who are dealing with skin conditions, such as eczema and Addison’s disease.
PIH appears as flat spots of discolouration. Depending on the skin tone and depth of discolouration, these PIH macules can range from pink or red to brown or black. The more inflammation there is, the more obvious the macules will be, both in terms of size and colour. As such, if a pimple is squeezed or popped, it will increase the chances of causing post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation.
Both men and women are equally vulnerable to PIH, regardless of their skin type. While PIH does not cause scarring and will eventually improve over time, even without any treatment, it may take a significant amount of time for the difference in the natural skin tone and the darkened patches to rebalance. There are available pigmentation treatments on hand for you to consider to improve and speed up recovery time.
Women who are on oral contraceptive pills or hormonal replacement therapy are more likely to suffer from hormone-induced pigmentation, also known as melasma. These hormonal fluctuations are also common during pregnancy — known as chloasma — and after menopause, when sun damage from your youth becomes visible as age spots.
The key to treating these types of pigmentation mentioned above is early intervention. The deeper the pigment, the more difficult it is to treat. If you are prone to pigmentation or are battling any other skin conditions, seek a dermatologist.
And whilst pigmentation can quite easily be concealed with make-up, one should never feel the need to shy away from stepping out into the world with a bare face.