Pigment usually appears as dark patches that become numerous in number either quickly, or over time. It is primarily caused by sun exposure but can also be influenced or caused by hormones. Before we get into why some people get pigment and what to do about it, we need to understand which skin cells are part of the issue.
Melanocytes are the skin’s pigment producing cells. They produce melanin (pigment) via a process called melanogenesis. These cells have dendritic arms that pass out bits of melanin to the surrounding skin cells when stimulated by UV (ultraviolet radiation) from the sun. In order to do this, they need to be unlocked by an enzyme called tyrosinase.
Fun Fact: Everyone, including those with darker skin have the same number of melanocytes, we just have more or less of the enzyme tyrosinase.
*Think tyrosinase is the key and melanocytes are the lock*
For example, have you ever been to the beach and noticed someone who tans really quickly, while someone else remains pale for the whole the summer? The person who tans easily has more tyrosinase than the person who remains pale all summer!
Issues with pigment arise when the melanocytes become damaged by UV radiation. Each cell contains genetic information that becomes confused due to the UV damage. This results in clumps of melanin being passed off to skin cells and shows up as the dark spots we call pigment. This information is important because we can’t expect pigment to change if we don’t use UV protecting measures.
What you can do to protect from UV radiation:
• Wear UV protecting sunglasses
• Wear a hat
• Wear a physical sunscreen (I recommend the brands Avocado Zinc & Mother SPF)
Physical sunscreens have come a long way! There are some great products on the market now that don’t come up as greasy and opaque. I recommend a physical over a chemical sunscreen as a physical sunscreen blocks UV rays from entering the skin as opposed to using a chemical reaction that can lead to inflammation and cell damage. They are also low tox and safer for you and the environment.
In terms of treatment there’s lots we can do to get your skin on track. Here’s what I recommend:
Stage 1: Use the right actives to help skin cells correct genetic damage, so they can function properly (actives are the ingredients in products like serums and moisturizers that help to repair various types of cell damage, or stop damage from occurring)
When it comes to pigment, topical actives vitamin A, B & C are the key players.
Vit A – Corrects genetic damage which in turn results in a regulation of the melanogenesis process and helps skin cells to turn over quicker
Vit B – Melanin uptake inhibitor (stops skin cells from taking up too much melanin)
Vit C – Inhibits tyrosinase (the enzyme the triggers melanocytes to produce melanin)
I recommend products with these actives in them and to use the products for 4-weeks along with dermal rolling 1-2x weekly (dermal rolling, or ‘at home microneedling’ as it’s also called, helps the actives penetrate closer to the cells we’re wanting to affect)
Stage 2: Medical Microneedling sessions
This is the pièce de resistance of the pigment treatment plan. Medical microneedling is the best way to help the skin to desquamate (or turn over) the old, pigmented cells near the surface. Skin needling also regulates melanogenesis by promoting 3 different growth factors:
MGF (Melanocyte Growth Factor) works as the general manager of the melanocyte and will correct its function
KGF (Keratinocyte Growth Factor) works to produce new keratinocytes which will help push out pockets of pigment
EGF (Epidermal Growth Factor) Increases cell turnover
The point of prepping the skin 4-weeks prior is that the new skin cells that have been produced below are of good quality and working correctly, so the above process yields new healthy melanocytes and fresh happy skin cells! You’ll carry on using your actives after microneedling to continue the correction process.
If your pigment is in part due to hormones (eg. estrogen dominance, response to progesterone during pregnancy) then that will need to be addressed along with the topical treatment plan. Both internal and external measures will need to take place. If you’re pregnant and experiencing melasma, microneedling and products with the actives mentioned above may be able to prevent/stop the spread of pigment.
Mature skin with pigment is among the most difficult to treat. It’s important to know that if you’re in your 50’s and have sun damage, those cells have been malfunctioning for that entire duration. It can take time and persistence to see results.
If you suffer from pigmentation and resonated with this blog post, don’t hesitate to reach out with any questions you might have. I also offer 15-minute free skin consultations where we can sit down and chat one-on-one.
Andrea Murphy works on a Wednesday, Thursday and Friday from 2pm to 8pm and a Saturday from 9am-2pm.
138 Tanti Avenue, Mornington, VIC
03 5973 6886