If you have ever notice patches of skin that is darker than the rest, this is what is known as pigmentation.
A common condition seen in Asian skin, pigmentation tends to appear as brownish patches of skin over the cheeks, forehead and jawline, and can even pop up on our lips and neck.
The bad news is: women are 3 times more likely to suffer from pigmentation than men; possibly due to the hormonal changes that occur during or after pregnancy, or after menopause.
As Asian skin types tend to naturally contain more melanin-producing cells – the key component of the skin that functions to protect us from harmful UV rays – too much melanin production from excessive sun exposure can result in clusters of unwanted dark spots popping up.
Most common types of pigmentation and their causes
The most common causes of pigmentation are genetics, sun exposure, the natural ageing process and hormonal changes such as pregnancy and the use of contraceptive pills. In fact, studies done on twins have shown just how sun exposure can accelerate not just ageing but also change our appearance in the form of dull, pigmented skin.
Here are the most common types of pigmentation seen in Singapore:
- Freckles: the most common type of pigmentation that tends to develop after repeated exposure to the sun. Genetics plays a huge role in whether or not you will get freckles.
- Sunspots/ Age spots/ Solar Lentigines: develops due to excessive exposure to the sun and commonly occurs in older adults over 40 years old. Spots should be closely monitored as they can manifest into skin cancer and melanoma.
- Hori’s Nevus: a type of birthmark that is seen almost exclusively in Asian Chinese skin types. Also known as Acquired Bilateral Naevus of Ota-Like Macules (ABNOM), it appears as flat, bluish-grey patches on the cheeks or sides of the forehead.
- Melasma: otherwise commonly referred to as chloasma or “the mask of pregnancy”, this condition involves large patches of darkened skin with a non-distinct border. It is a condition that is most commonly associated with hormonal changes during pregnancy or in those with darker skin tones. Unfortunately, melasma is most prone to recurrence with sun exposure.
- Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH): spots or patches of darkened skin that appear after an inflammatory skin condition or skin injury such as UV burns, infections or an acne breakout (in the case of acne scars).
Pigmentation types can be further divided into two categories: epidermal pigmentation such as freckles, sun spots and age spots, or dermal pigmentation such as post-inflammatory pigmentation and Hori’s Nevus that are found deeper in the skin and tend to be more complicated to treat.
In the case of melasma, it is the hardest form of pigmentation to treat as it can be either epidermal, dermal or a mixture of both. Add on to the fact that Asian skin is more prone to scarring and post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, it isn’t hard to see why pigmentation is a cause for concern for many women in Singapore.
Best treatment options for pigmentation
Some bad news: in about 90% of cases, treatment is necessary to remove pigmentations from the face permanently.
There are plenty of topical treatments available such as hydroquinone, kojic acid, azelaic acid, corticosteroids, retinoids and vitamin C that either work to inhibit the production of melanin, help to speed up skin cell turnover or brighten the skin.
While topical medications can be successful in treating freckles and sunspots; the problem is that they might not work as well in treating deeper, dermal pigmentations such as melasma. In this case, laser therapy can be employed as a minimally invasive and effective treatment.
The Q-switched laser is a low-energy laser that can selectively target melanocytes and partially destroy melanin pigments – breaking them down into smaller fragments so that they can be naturally cleared away by the body. The FDA-approved treatment can even be harnessed (due to its gentle nature) to perform laser toning for skin tightening and overall rejuvenation! As a result, the Q-switched laser is an extremely versatile platform that can not only be used to target epidermal and dermal pigmentations in just 2-4 sessions, but also treat acne scarring, enlarged pores and be employed as a powerful acne treatment.
Studies have shown that dermal pigmentation can be reduced by 70-90% in just a few sessions, and a 2009 study showed that the Q-switched laser has proven to be safe and effective in decreasing melasma recurrence rates!
There are also other laser therapies available such as the Picocare 450, known for its ability to generate intense laser energy at one-trillionth of a second to safely, quickly and effectively break down melanin into smaller particles –since it doesn’t use thermal energy, it is completely safe to use on all skin tones and types with minimal side effects and no downtime!
The general recommendation is 2-6 sessions conducted every 1-4 weeks for the best results. Each type of pigmentation will require a different set of therapies, and insufficient knowledge of how to use specific lasers can result in pigmentation, laser burns and zero results.
Worrying about pigmentation ends here @ The Clifford Clinic
At The Clifford Clinic, our doctors firmly believe that every individual requires a tailored treatment approach. Whether you are undergoing an intensive hair transplant or quick thread lift procedure; your skin tone, the severity of your condition, as well as overall goals and preferences are all taken into account to determine the best treatment for you.
Since the majority of patients have a mixture of pigmentation and other concurrent issues such as acne and eczema, our aesthetic doctors like to utilise a combination treatment approach that includes topical treatments, chemical peels and laser treatments to optimise your results!
Our range of medical-grade and highly-reliable lasers include the Q-switched, Vbeam, Fraxel Dual and Picocare 450 – which can be enhanced with the HEXA MLA handpiece and used as an acne scar removal treatment that doesn’t involve the use of needles in the case of subcision for acne scars!
If you are feeling frustrated with dealing with pigmentations on your skin – get in touch with us to book your consultation and drop by our aesthetic clinic today!