So many of us have pigmentation and an uneven skin tone on our face and body. To varying degrees, differences in skin colour are natural, however, for some people it is a real issue…so what is it, what causes it and what can we do about it, I hear you ask?
The Anatomy and Physiology of Pigmentation
The colour or pigment in our skin is formed by a substance called melanin, which is produced by the melanocyte cells in the basal layer of our skin. This is the layer at the bottom of our epidermis that divides the epidermis from the very important dermis. The dermis is the layer containing all the structures that are alive in our skin, including blood vessels, nerves and our collagen and elastin. Within these melanocytes, melanin is derived from an amino acid called tyrosinase. Just 5-10% of our skin cells are melanocytes, with lighter skinned people having less. However, it is not the number of melanocytes that gives a person their skin colour, but the level of activity the melanocytes have. This activity is under hormonal control.
Normally, when melanin is produced, it spreads to surrounding cells to provide an even distribution of colour in the skin. However, melanocytes may cluster together, forming freckles, moles, age spots or skin discolouration.
The purpose of melanocytes, to put it simply, is to protect the dermis from the damaging effects of UV radiation. If you can imagine the melanocytes sitting there, waiting for you to go out in the sun – oh dear, no sunblock, no hat! As the UV’s hit the skin, the very top layer sends a signal down to the melanocytes – they snap into action putting up a “veil” or “umbrella-like effect” to stop the UV’s getting to the fresh new cells. Melanin is black, so it can block and absorb the UV rays more effectively. If they do penetrate, it is likely that DNA damage will be done and you are on your way to seeing all the signs of a prematurely aged skin. Once a cell has been damaged in this way, it is very difficult to reverse it to its original state. If you repeatedly expose your skin, more melanocytes will be formed and your skin will begin to show darker cells on the surface because they see that your skin needs extreme help. When we have uneven tones appear on our face, or anywhere on our body, it is almost always a sign that your melanocytes have been working well. They are also known as sun spots, age spots & liver spots – because they often don’t appear until people are older, even years after the sun exposure has occurred.
This is why we are always saying ‘Wear a sunblock every day’!!
Causes of Pigmentation and Uneven Skin Tone
However, there are other reasons why uneven skin tone or pigmentation can occur in the skin. Let’s look at a few of the most common reasons why:
The action of melanocytes is controlled by hormones and so, their action is influenced by certain changes within the body, such as pregnancy, certain hormone-related diseases, cancers, medications (such as birth control pills) and poor gut health. These may trigger an increase in the amount of melanin that is produced in the skin, causing areas of dark patches, especially when the skin is exposed to the sun. Quite often, these patches will come up in a mask-like symmetrical pattern on the face. This is known as Melasma or Chloasma.
You are more UV-sensitive while pregnant, which means it is easier for you to stimulate your melanocytes and, if your skin is not protected, easier to damage your DNA. A product that is safe to use while pregnant is the Aspect Dr Complete Pigment Serum – it will help keep things under control. Well, your hormonal pigmentation, anyway!
You’d think that as your hormones decrease, all should get better, but unfortunately there are a couple of bad-news stories regarding menopause:
- Although the number of melanocytes decreases as menopause progresses, the skin actually appears lighter, which means the pigmentation or brown spots become more noticeable
- As oestrogen regulates melanin production, actually keeping it under control, when this action is removed, its synthesis increases. This gives us more pigment, which means more brown spots on our faces, arms, hands, throat and décolletage; essentially all the areas previously exposed to UV radiation.
This decrease in melanocyte protection and increase in melanin synthesis means menopausal skin is far more prone to sun-damage. The overall effects of all the changes are heightened – more wrinkles, more loose skin, more thickened, dull skin and more brown spots!
Injury to the Skin
Trauma to the skin can cause what is known as post-inflammatory hyper-pigmentation. This can be caused by acne, allergic reactions, surgery and incorrect use of microdermabrasion, laser and chemical peels, which induce an inflammatory response that stimulates melanocytes to produce more melanin. The little red marks often seen once a pimple has healed are different, but still inflammatory. These are best treated with Vitamin C and Vitamin A serums.
So… what can be done about your Pigmentation and Uneven Skin Tone? View our Treatment Recommendations to decide what is best for your skin NOW!
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