What to do about pigmentation

Patchy skin? We take a closer look at the possible culprits.

14 August 2014
by Annie Brookstone

Discoloured patches of skin may not affect your health, but they can diminish your self-confidence. Hyperpigmentation is when darker areas appear on the skin and, while in some cases, these uneven spots can be successfully treated, in others prevention is key. According to Dr Ian Webster, a dermatologist in Somerset West, common causes of hyperpigmentation include melasma, post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation and solar lentigines.

What is melasma?

"Melasma is a common form of skin pigmentation that usually occurs in people with a darker skin," says Dr Webster. "It is more common in women and causes large dark patches on the forehead, cheeks and upper lip. Hormonal factors such as pregnancy and the oral contraceptive pill will aggravate this. Sunlight can also make it worse."

He explains that there are two types of melasma: epidermal and dermal. The epidermal type affects just the top layer of skin, making it easier to treat, whereas the dermal type – where the pigment has fallen from the top layer of skin to the underlying dermis – can be far more stubborn to treat.

Treatment for melasma will vary from person to person, depending on the severity of the condition. "The most effective treatment for melasma is topical hydroquinone as this will lighten the pigmentation, but this is by prescription only and its usage needs to be monitored, preferably by a dermatologist," says Dr Webster.

Another ingredient to look out for that may help lighten darker patches is topical vitamin A, which includes products such as tretinoin or azelaic acid, kojic acid, arbutin, licorice extract and rucinol.

What is post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation?

Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, also more common in darker skin tones, commonly occurs in people with a slightly more severe form of acne. "When the pimples heal, they leave small brown marks," explains Dr Webster. ‘A good treatment for this is topical azelaic acid (Skinoren Gel), which helps for blackheads, whiteheads and pimples too and can be bought over the counter without a prescription,’ he advises. Speak to your Clicks pharmacist for more information about this product.

What are solar lentigines?

Solar lentigines – or freckles, as most people know them – are more common in people with pale skin and are the result of sun exposure. Dr Webster says they can be treated by freezing with liquid nitrogen or a laser treatment such as Intense Pulsed Light (IPL), but there is no doubt that daily use of a high-factor sunscreen is an essential part of avoiding the various types of hyperpigmentation.

How to deal with pigmentation

Dr Webster cautions that you should not leave it too late if pigmentation is affecting your life. "If you are worried about pigmentation, it is best to consult a dermatologist as soon as possible to get the best advice and treatment." He also advises the following:

  • Avoid the sun or use a good sunscreen at all times, especially if you are sporty or outdoors a great deal.
  • Use a good moisturiser with a built-in SPF factor.
  • Light chemical peels and IPL can help to even skin tone.
  • There are some topical creams that help with uneven skin tone – consult a dermatologist to discuss your options.
  • Be careful about perfumed products and the sun, especially perfume sprayed on the neck, as this can cause hyperpigmentation.

More star products

Here are some more star ingredients and products that promote even skin tone:

  • Vitamin C is an antioxidant that has brightening properties that can help minimise the appearance of pigmentation. Try Garnier Dark Spot Corrector – it contains vitamin C and helps to minimise both dark spots as well as age spots.
  • For an all-over skincare treatment, try the Eucerin Even Brighter skincare range. It's clinically proven to improve the evenness of hyperpigmented skin, and after eight weeks of use, you should see a noticeable difference.

Treating hyperpigmentation can be a time-consuming process, so you will probably want to use some concealer in the first couple of weeks while the marks are still visible. For good cover, we recommend NYX HD Photogenic Concealer. If you’re looking for a make-up product that treats the skin while it conceals, try Almay Smart Shade CC Concealer + Brightener – it contains colour-correcting properties that help to even out skin tone.

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