Today, most people struggle with the appearance of hyperpigmentation on their face. Hyperpigmentation can occur either in the form of freckles, sun-induced freckles or in more severe forms such as melasma or lentiges. For the most part, hyperpigmentation is not a health risk, but it is an aesthetic problem. Why does our skin even have the color that it has? How does hyperpigmentation occur and what types of hyperpigmentation do we know?

Skin color depends on several factors

Pigmentation or skin colour is one of the most variable and most noticeable changes in humans. What colour our skin will look like depends on genetics, but it also depends a lot on where we live. General skin pigmentation patterns show a strong correlation with the location of stay and the intensity of ultraviolet radiation (UVR).

What determines the colour of our skin?

The skin colour is determined by several molecules, namely melanin, hemoglobin and carotenoids. But let’s just focus on melanin as it will almost be the main star of this post. Now things will get a little complicated, but only for a short time. All this complication will help you understand how certain active skin lightening ingredients work in the next post. Let’s start. Melanin in the epidermis is produced by highly specialized cells called melanocytes. Within melanocytes, melanin is synthesized in specific organelles called melanosomes.

The main enzyme involved in melanin synthesis is called tyrosinase. This enzyme is responsible for converting an amino acid called tyrosine to a molecule called DOPA. DOPA is later converted to DOPAquinone and this is how melanin matures. So now we have melanin, melanocytes and melanosomes, what can be even more complicated?

Did you know that there is not only one type of melanin in our skin?

Melanocytes produce two different types of melanin: brown-black eumelanin and yellow-red pheomelanin. The amount of both depends on the color of our skin. The brown-black eumelanin works photoprotective, preventing the penetration of UV rays into the deeper layers of the skin.

Now let’s take a look at what hyperpigmentation is

Hyperpigmentation occurs when more melanin is produced at one area in the skin than usual. This may make the resulting stains darker than the surrounding areas. Hyperpigmentation is a common skin condition that can affect people of all ages and skin types. Some forms of hyperpigmentation (sunspots, melasma) are more likely to affect areas of the skin exposed to the sun, including the face, arms and legs.

Hyperpigmentation can occur for one of the following reasons, depending on what type of hyperpigmentation occurs:

  1. More melanin is produced (freckles, melasma, melanosis)
  2. The number of cells that produce melanin is increased (lentigo, melanomas)

The most common hyperpigmentations

There are therefore several types of hyperpigmentation, the most common being melasma, sunspots and post inflammatory hyperpigmentation.

  • Melasma – although it can affect both men and women, melasma most commonly occurs in women and is said to be triggered by changes in hormone levels. Melasma occurs in 10–15 percent of pregnant women and 10–25 percent of women who take oral contraceptives. Areas of melasma can occur on any part of the body, but most commonly occur on the abdomen and face.
  • Sunspots – are associated with overexposure to the sun and appear as spots in the areas most commonly exposed to the sun (face, hands). They usually look like small, darkened islets on the skin that are light brown to black.
  • Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation – occurs as a result of injury or inflammation of the skin (acne, exfoliation)

Postinflammatory hyperpigmentation

Hyperpigmentation can be exacerbated by additional sun exposure

Freckles, age spots and other types of hyperpigmentation can become darker when the skin is exposed to the sun. This is because melanin absorbs the energy of ultraviolet rays to protect the skin from overexposure. The usual result of this procedure is the browning of the skin. The skin is already browned in areas that are hyperpigmented, thus exacerbating the appearance of hyperpigmentation. For this reason, it is essential that you apply sunscreen daily. Wearing Sunscreen should be “broad spectrum” (i.e. blocking both UVA and UVB). A single day of excess sun can invalidate months of treatment.

This post may have been more complicated than the rest, but I promise that I have explained things so expertly for one reason only, that in the sequel to this post it will be easier for you to understand how active skin lightening ingredients work. Namely, the skin lightening ingredients block various steps in melanin synthesis.

Sources:

  • Nieuweboer-Krobotova, L. (2012). Hyperpigmentation: types, diagnostics and targeted treatment options. Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology, 27, 2–4.
  • Vashi, N. A., & Kundu, R. V. (2013). Facial hyperpigmentation: causes and treatment. British Journal of Dermatology, 169, 41–56.
  • Bastonini, E., Kovacs, D., & Picardo, M. (2016). Skin Pigmentation and Pigmentary Disorders: Focus on Epidermal/Dermal Cross-Talk. Annals of dermatology28(3), 279–289.
  • A. Walters, M. S. Roberts,. Dermatologic, Cosmeceutic, and Cosmetic Development: Therapeutic and Novel Approaches.
  • Del Bino, S., Duval, C., & Bernerd, F. (2018). Clinical and Biological Characterization of Skin Pigmentation Diversity and Its Consequences on UV Impact. International journal of molecular sciences19(9), 2668.
  • Yamaguchi, Y., Brenner, M., & Hearing, V. J. (2007). The Regulation of Skin Pigmentation. Journal of Biological Chemistry, 282(38), 27557–27561.
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