Are you having concerns about skin pigmentation? Pigmentation that appears on the face is very common, and can manifest as pesky spots to full blown patches.
However, not all pigmentation are created equal, and we will be guiding you through a rundown of the common causes for skin pigmentation as well as possible solutions.
Sun spots and melasma are two of the most common cases of skin pigmentation. Skin pigmentation refers to darkened spots or areas and can be considered undesirable for some people. Some forms of pigmentation, such as freckles, are considered beautiful! It all comes down to personal preference, but there is a dark side to skin pigmentation.
Generally speaking, pigmentation is often triggered or exacerbated by UV rays. This is due to the body’s natural reaction of trying to protect your skin from UV rays. Melanocytes are then produced, as these skin cells are stimulated. From the surface level, the presence of melanocytes can reveal themselves as hyperpigmentation, spots, and even moles.
The important thing to remember is that melanocytes appear in response to UV rays and that can sometimes mean your skin is being damaged from UV rays.
Sun Spots are directly caused by UV damage to the skin, and melasma can be worsened through exposure to the sun.
Sun Spots vs. Melasma
Sun spots are typically located in superficial skin that is closer to the outermost layer of skin, the epidermis.
They are a form of hyperpigmentation and many people are prone to developing sun spots on the high points of the face, such as the nose, cheekbones, and forehead. As mentioned previously, freckles are actually a form of hyperpigmentation.
Sun spots can appear on any area of skin and not necessarily just the face, but facial sun spots are the most common and noticeable because the face is always exposed to the elements and clothes can offer protection.
Melasma is a little more complicated.
These are dark skin patches that mainly appear on the face but can also be present on the body. Pigmentation from melasma also tends to remain at the bottom of the skin’s top layer.
Interestingly enough, facial melasma is usually symmetrical! This means that if you have melasma on one side of your cheek, the other cheek has the same dark patch.
Melasma is generally caused by hormones, although exposure to UV rays can cause the patching to be more prominent and frequent UV damage to the skin can make you more vulnerable to developing melasma. It is quite common for Asian women to have melasma.
This skin condition is closely associated with the well-known hormones estrogen and progesterone and many women show signs of melasma on their face after pregnancy and sometimes menopause, possibly due to hormonal imbalance.
Melasma is not as superficial as sun spots, making them more difficult to eliminate and more resistant to topical treatments.
Treatments for Sun spots
Sun spots are not challenging to treat.
In less severe cases, topical creams can help lighten the spots. Topical treatments can be especially effective when the spots are newer and not as dark.
Hydroquinone over the counter can help with lighter cases of sun spots and help even out the overall skin tone while making the spots less noticeable in contrast to the skin. Certain retinoids and steroids may help as well.
More prominent sun spots can be treated with a Q-Switch laser such as Lutronic Spectra™. These non-invasive lasers use short controlled releases of energy to target and ‘attack’ pigments. These pigments then break into tiny fragments which will then be naturally eliminated by your body. More prominent sun spots can take multiple sessions of laser treatment. The rest of your skin is unharmed and not affected by the laser, but you may wish to avoid any freckles or beauty marks you DON’T want to get rid of!
Q-Switch laser treatments can be done quickly depending on the size of the treatment area. There may be minimal discomfort and numbing cream will be provided. Many patients describe the sensation as a rubber band snapping against your face, and the treated area will feel hot to the touch. Some technicians like to complement the procedure with a device blowing cool air or cooling mask. The cold air will soothe your skin during the process and help you feel more comfortable, as well as prevent hyperpigmentation.
Treatments for Melasma
On the other hand, melasma treatments normally consist of a combination of laser and topical products.
Q-Switch lasers have a Laser Toning setting that gradually lightens melasma spots using very low energy settings. This treatment approach takes time and the treatment sessions are spread out routinely. Take-home treatments such as hydroquinone may be offered to maximize results and success. Vitamin C may also be used for its skin-brightening properties.
Aftercare is crucial
Regardless of your skin condition (sun spots or melasma) and treatment route, it is crucial to protect your skin from the elements after your treatment. Your skin is even more fragile and vulnerable after your treatment, and further exposure to UV rays can wreak havoc on your skin, possibly even causing your pigmentation to return or worsen any existing pigmentation.
Remember to always apply generous amounts of sunscreen before going outside. The weather conditions do not matter – always wear sunscreen!
Pinpointing sun spots and melasma may not be an easy task due to the fact that both appear as pigmentation and not everyone’s sun spots or melasma looks the same.
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