We describe hyperpigmentation as age spots, brown spots and liver spots, but the condition covers a wide range of skin disorders. With the dry-cool season now upon us, now is the time to address any discolouration of the skin.
How many times have we heard or read about hyperpigmentation yet we know so little about this persistent skin condition? Let us explain.
Hyperpigmentation is a common and mostly harmless skin condition in which patches of skin become darker in colour than the surrounding skin. There are many forms of hyperpigmentation, and the colour of the blemishes can range anywhere from brown, grey to red and appear over any length of time. The patches of skin discolouration are caused by melanin, a pigment that gives our skin, eyes and hair our unique colour and is produced by cells called melanocytes found in the epidermis or dermis layers of the skin.
If your complexion is olive to dark, you will also have more melanin in their skin than light-skinned people. This includes Asian skin. Though these spots are characteristically harmless, their appearance can compromise your skin’s clear complexion and in some instances, give you an older and wearier look.
But what you want is to have a spot-free and even glow to your face. The good news is that our Medi-Spa offers several types of hyperpigmentation treatments to help reduce or eliminate the dark spots, including those caused by age, UV sun damage and acne scars. They include Medi-Peels, laser and IPL treatments.
What Causes Hyperpigmentation?
Though varying factors can cause hyperpigmentation, the number one culprit is sun exposure, which the UVA and UVB radiation not only breaks down and damages our skin cells [including the thickness] but also triggers the production of excess dark pigment melanin during the summer. With too much sun exposure, unsightly sun spots will begin to appear. The primary areas include:
- shoulders and back
In the same way, hormonal changes can activate melasma, another but a more complex category of hyperpigmentation. This is commonly found in pregnant women [though it can fade after childbirth] as well as those taking birth control contraceptives.
Acne and trauma can also cause post-inflammatory dark spots, which may reoccur at any time.
So how is Melanin produced?
Melanin is produced by melanosomes —pigment granules found inside the cell which provides the skin’s tissues with colour and photoprotection. Functioning as the synthesis, storage and transport of pigments into the skin cells [keratinocytes], the epidermal cells in the same way also produce a series of signals called cytokines, which are transmitted to the neighbouring melanocytes. The melanocytes then trigger the messengers to begin the production process of melanin.
Setting off another chain reaction, the enzyme [tyrosinase] then signals an overflow of biochemical reactions resulting in the synthesis of new melanin and transfers it to the epidermis cells. It is those pigments we see on the outer layers of our skin.
What are the four main functions of Melanin?
The production of melanin is one of the primary protection mechanisms that our skin has in place against the harsh environmental elements. In the same way, hormonal imbalances play a key role in triggering the tyrosinase enzyme and the synthesis of pigment production. The other two primary factors that stimulate and influence the production of melanin include our genetic make-up and inflammation [such as acne], which is also a common tyrosinase activator.
These factors can act independently, or in combination with one another, on the epidermal cells.
How can excess Melanin production be stopped?
So our ability to deactivate the tyrosinase enzyme is a crucial component in controlling pigment production.
What are the tell-tale signs of age spots?
If you’re older than 40 years old, have fair skin and frequently expose it to direct UV rays during the long, Australian summer months, you will be more at risk of developing sun spots [age spots]. The symptoms range from light brown to dark brown in colour and will appear on the area of your body that is most exposed to the sun.
If you’re a sun-worshipper, we recommend that you have Dr Chang look for any abnormalities to ensure that the age spots are just that as excessive exposure can also lead to skin cancer. Nevertheless, age spots are typically harmless, and several effective treatments can help treat or diminish the spots without any side effects.
What are some of the treatments available?
The most effective treatments are Mela Peels by Dermaceutic, which is suitable for nearly every skin type, IPL [Photofacial] treatments including the advanced Broadband Light Therapy [BBL Therapy by Sciton] and Fractional Laser Resurfacing [Fotona Lasers].
Patients can also opt for a dermabrasion treatment, which temporarily smoothes the outer layers of the skin so that new skin will regenerate. But you want to get serious and go on the attack.
Photofacial: IPL uses various wavelengths of light to target and reduces or eliminate damaged skin cells. Stimulating the body’s natural healing process by gently heating and penetrating the upper layers of the skin, the targeted hyperpigmentation is then broken up and destroyed, a process that causes the skin to shed old cells and regenerate new cells. So temporarily, your skin will look temporarily flaky
IPL Photorejuvenation is especially effective in addressing age spots, freckles, acne and rosacea. Additionally, the treatment will also assist with the production of collagen, giving you a tighter and more youthful look.
Ablative Laser: An alternative but more intense therapy is Fractional Laser Resurfacing, especially when the pigmentation is harder to remove. By creating controlled micro-injuries, the skin begins its natural healing process, and the discolouration is replaced by regenerated skin. This treatment is especially beneficial for treating patients with hyperpigmentation acne scars, with the results often permanent. Above is a BEFORE and AFTER image of a patient treated for acne inflammation.
Mela Peel by Dermaceutic: This is another effective and non-invasive treatment for reducing hyperpigmentation including melasma, ageing spots and post-inflammatory inflammation. The Mela Peel includes a cocktail of ingredients such as mandelic acid, idebenone, and the powerhouse retinol and salicylic acid, with the end-results leaving your skin looking smoother with a more even tone. Additionally, the production of collagen is also triggered.
How many sessions will I require?
Usually three to five, six weeks apart, for optimal results.
How do I prevent hyperpigmentation?
While you can’t always control the development of hyperpigmentation, you can still minimise their appearance.
- The best way to prevent age spots and free-radical damage is to avoid the sun between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. when its rays are at their most intense.
- Apply a minimum of SPF-30 daily with UVA and UVB protection and reapply every two hours on a hot day when you’re sweating or if you’re swimming.
- Wear protective clothing from damaging UV rays such as hats, pants, and long-sleeved shirts.
Our senior dermal therapist, Michele Hetherington, will customise the best skin care program to complement your treatment and provide long-term benefits.
For all appointments and consultations, please contact practice manager, Jane Luong on 97446755.
*Individual results may vary