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Pigmentation – Your Skins Colour Evolution!

July 18, 2009


The recent and untimely death of Michael Jackson has (among other things) brought skin colour to our attention. The speculation over Michael’s own skin will continue for many years as the media and fans remain locked in discussions, trying to ascertain whether the lightening was self inflicted or naturally caused.  Whatever the outcome in Michael Jackson’s case (and I am NOT going to be the first to know) the fact remains that uneven pigmentation affects many of us non-celebrities over our lifetime.

Our skin is coloured by melanin and genes determine the amount of melanin that your skin can produce.  Melanin is the skin’s protection against sunburn so it is logical that the skin produces more melanin when exposed to the sun, giving you a tan.  It is also logical that the genes for dark skin developed closer to the equator where the sun’s rays are strongest– although there is some discussion over the evolution of skin colour, this is for another day!  So, we get born into a world full of colour and for most of us, that colour is evenly spread out all over our body  – with a few moles (Nevi) ,freckles and a birth mark or two  as the exception.

As we grow, our skin is developing a relationship with the world around us, adapting as far as it can do deal with the conditions that we find ourselves in. However, our natural mechanisms can only take us so far and if that point is crossed, regularly, there can be implications in the form of ill health, skin pigmentation problems and cancerous growths.  You may be thinking that the environment is the number one cause of skin pigmentation issues. That may be so but the impact of our hormones and a range of diseases must also be considered.

So What Causes Our Natural Skin Pigmentation to go Crazy?

We can split these into four camps:  The Natural Environment, Hormones, and Disease (remember that these are problems that are not genetic) and finally the man-made environment. We will have a little look into each.

The Natural Environment.

The skin is perfectly adapted for life on this planet and has a built in signal mechanism for alerting you when it is in trouble:  >  colour starts to change >> possible tingling /headache > > > sore skin and sickness.  The trick is listening to it!    A lifetime of not listening to our skin when it shouts can lead to pigmentation problems clinically referred to as photomelanosis.  This can be patchy or evenly spread, is caused as a direct result of too much sun, and can range from the common suntan to more permanent uneven skin pigmentation.

Hormones.

The most common cause of hormonal induced skin pigmentation is pregnancy. Many women notice what is known as the “mask of pregnancy”  or melasma appear in the second and third trimester.  Melasma can be seen as brown patches of skin and is usually found on the face across the T-Zone area. This pigmentation change is a consequence of a change on hormone levels and usually vanishes after the baby is born. However, it is made worse and can become permanent when the melasma-affected area is also exposed to the sun.

Disease.

There are a number of illnesses and diseases that result in skin pigmentation changes.  Vitiligo is what many have said may have affected Michael Jackson. This condition results in patches of melanin dying off leaving the skin milky white. While most cases of vitiligo seem to have a genetic cause (or a genetic pre-disposition) not all do.

A consequence of Addison’s disease may also be pigmentation disorders – Addison’s is a hormonal disorder where the adrenal glands fail to produce enough cortisol. This happens because the hormone that regulates (or controls) the melanin in the skin is set out of balance.

Two more common causes of skin pigmentation problems are eczema and psoriasis. The damaged caused to the skin through long-term inflammation, possible infection and mechanical trauma can result in uneven pigmentation that persists even after the underlying condition has been resolved.

One of the more sinister causes of skin pigmentation change is melanoma of which one of the major (but not only) causes is environmental – too much sunburn.   Melanoma or skin cancer can take several different forms and can result in a wide range of outcomes.  Only a trained medical professional should diagnose, manage and treat any form of melanoma.

The Man Made Environment.

Our skin is perfectly adapted to live on this planet but over the last one hundred or so years, we have introduced many un-natural or manmade things into our life. While for the most part these chemicals, lifestyle choices or types of nutrition are great for us, in some cases we can be our own worst enemy and add to our skin’s burden.

Man-Made skin pigmentation may result from contact dermatitis brought on from chemical exposure in the form of cleaning products (for the skin and our living / working spaces), in some cases the over-use of treatments such as chemical peels, dermabrasion and skin-lightening products.  The  miss-use of tanning beds and finally self-expression through tattoo’s!

How do we Even Things up a Little?

The first thing to say is that the cause of the pigmentation should be carefully considered before you try to alter anything. The skin is a living organ and changes in the outside can be a signal to something happening inside (as we have seen). Therefore, it makes sense to check things out before making a decision of what to do next. The next decision is whether to act and then whether to try a permanent or a temporary solution.

Live and Let Live.

Depending on your individual circumstances, the decision taken may be to just get on with life and ignore the uneven pigmentation.  If it is giving you no cause for concern – not itching, changing size, shape or colour and not infected in any way then that is a perfectly reasonable thing to do.   However, to insure that your skin remains manageable, a good, broad-spectrum sunscreen should be part of your daily routine. This may take the form of an applied product (cream, lotion, gel etc) or a physical screen such as clothing or staying indoors at times of high UV.

A Temporary Fix – The Makeup Bag.

For those wanting to even things out a little there are a wide range of products on offer to paint on the skin that you desire. From camouflage base products to foundations that deflect light away giving the skin a radiant glow, there is something for everyone.  If your pigmentation worries are caused by eczema or psoriasis, it is definitely worth talking through your options with a dermatologist before changing your makeup routine. Some cosmetics can irritate an already compromised and sensitive skin so a little research may be pertinent!

Once you have established some ground rules many trained makeup artists and cosmetic aethetitans are on hand to help perfect your look be it for every day or for a special occasion.

The Permanent Fixture.

For those of you wanting to even things out once and for all there are a range of options ranging from products that you have to use on an ongoing basis to one-off or one-course treatments that last forever.  The outcome from all of these options will vary depending on individual circumstances, which should be researched and discussed before going ahead.

Off-the-shelf skin lightening creams are available in abundance with new products containing new sources of active ingredient available almost every day!   Depending on the active chosen these work to interfere with the process of melanin production, resulting in a more even skin.  Hydroquinone was the original skin lightener and is still used today. This chemical is so effective as it works on two levels – breaking down the melanin that is already present and penetrating the skin to prevent further production of melanin.  However, hydroquinone  has some pretty horrendous side effects if used incorrectly and should, in my mind at least only be used under prescription from a dermatologist and for no longer than a 6 month period. It is also banned or severely restricted in some countries, which for me is evidence enough that this ingredient should be respected and treated as a drug rather than just a “cosmetic”.

Alternatives to hydroquinone are numerous with many touted as being naturally derived (which they are with some modification!)  Look out for ingredients such as Arbutin, Kojic Acid, Licorice extract (may also be written as Glycrrhiza…..), Varieties of Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C derivatives), Retinol (Vitamin A) and more.  Again, these all work to block the melanin pathway in the skin but unlike the hydroquinone, the effects of these actives are temporary, only giving a result while the product is being used.

To even out the skin’s appearance in a non-cream way there are many options.  Laser therapy (such as IPL) directs a beam of high intensity light of a specific frequency onto the skin. The lasers energy works by blasting apart the pigmented areas, leaving your body’s lymphatic system to dispose of the pigment pieces.  This is a great and permanent solution for those with cosmetically concerning pigmentation problems. However, it is expensive, can have side effects and can be time consuming!

And then there is microdermabrasion which again uses light but in a different way to the laser therapy. This process is like a very fine but intense face scrub used to slough off the top layer of skin leaving it soft, smooth and possibly even coloured. This treatment is great for those with pigmentation problems caused by light scarring like that caused by acne or eczema.

So, What is Best For Me?

Well, that depends on your individual circumstances. Pigmentation can affect only the very surface of the skin – the epidermis. This is superficial pigmentation and can be treated in a variety of ways, often with excellent outcomes.  Deeper Pigmentation (dermal) will take longer to treat and should not be treated without supervision of a professional.  A “perfectly even” outcome may not always happen in this case. Finally, pigmentation may be a mixture of both of the above – Melasma is one example. In this case, professional assistance should again be sought.

With skin, lightening creams available from the entire major and plenty of niche brands; it is easy to view uneven pigmentation as just another cosmetic challenge. While this may be true in some cases, that can’t be said for everything. Before you try and even out your skin tone do a little research into what is behind it as a little bit of planning can save not only money and time but possibly your life!

This is a huge topic with lots more to add so while we hope that you have enjoyed this introduction into pigmentation we look forward to sharing more insights with you. In addition, if you want to share your story with us please do. We love to hear about your experiences, receive your thoughts and inspiration and learn from you as you Realize your Beauty!

16 Comments leave one →
  1. smilinggreenmom permalink
    July 18, 2009 11:49 pm

    Our son has suffered from severe Eczema since he was a baby and was covered with patches of itchy bleeding spots. We tried all kinds of treatments for him and nothing helped until we tried a probiotic for kids from Vidazorb. We LOVE it. It has been an answer to prayer for him and for our whole family. He went for so long with this condition and now his skin looks better and he feels better too- I have a read a lot of info on probiotics because of this and how they have been shown to really help keep our skin healthy! I also have melasma from pregnancy- will have to research this more but I will likely do as you suggested and “live with it”

    • RealizeBeautyEd permalink
      July 19, 2009 12:10 am

      Hi there Smilinggreenmon,
      It is so awful to see your little one suffer from eczema. I am glad that you have found something to help control it. I suffered badly as a child but was lucky not to get too many infections. My kids also suffer from time to time so I’ll look up the probiotics. As for your Melasma, I would go for a good sunscreen (to prevent any more pigmentation forming) and some tips from a makeup artist to help even out the appearance. Good luck with the family and thanks for taking the time to post a comment.

  2. July 19, 2009 12:37 am

    I am delighted with your blog, much to learn!
    Thanks

  3. July 19, 2009 3:08 am

    also happy to read-read blog
    always successful

  4. February 2, 2010 5:22 pm

    Thanks!! for the good articles. Got a lot of knowledge in Melanoma.^_^

  5. June 17, 2013 6:11 pm

    Dude…amazing web-site you have right here.
    Loads of high-quality material as well as specific content!

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