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Do you notice unusual dark spots on your face and small areas of discolouration on your body? These signs may indicate skin pigmentation. Also known as hyper-pigmentation, it occurs due to an increase in the production of melanin. Melanin is a pigment that gives skin its colour. This can mainly be caused by sun exposure, hormonal imbalance and some medications. From causes, preventions to treatments here’s everything you need to know about pigmentation.

What is skin pigmentation?

In simple terms, pigmentation is a condition which makes the skin darker. It causes changes to the colour of your skin tone. ‘It usually occurs on the cheeks, nose, forehead. Any form of discolouration, uneven appearance of the skin can be signs of pigmentation, explains Dr Jamuna Pai.

What causes pigmentation?

There are many factors that can lead to discolouration of the skin. “One of the main causes of pigmentation is sun exposure,” Dr Kiran Sethi points out. “Usually, 70 to 80% pigmentation is caused by the sun. You can get UV rays sitting indoors or outdoors and in any season, which can lead to pigmentation,” she further explains.

Along with sun exposure, certain medications, hormonal imbalances and conditions like Addison’s Disease can also lead to pigmentation.

Is it preventable?

“A lot of pigmentation is preventable,” says Dr Kiran. Wearing a good amount of sunblock can help prevent sun exposure.” She suggests applying at least two tablespoons of a good sunscreen instead of a tiny portion of the lotion. This can help create a strong shield and a barrier against the harmful sun rays.

“Exposure to UV rays triggers the production of melanin as a protective mechanism and overexposure can cause dark patches on the areas of skin that are more exposed to the sun,” says Dr Jamuna.

How can one take care?

“In India, we are so depleted of antioxidants and many factors like pollution, stress, dust and even pesticides can lead to oxidative stress,” feels Dr Kiran.

Oxidative stress happens due to imbalance of free radicals and antioxidants in our body. These free radicals can damage healthy skin cells and also other cells.

Here, antioxidants can help the skin to repair itself as they neutralize the free radicals and prevent the skin cells from damage. Dr Kiran suggests using antioxidants orally and topically to prevent hyperpigmentation.

Orally: Prescribed supplements like Vitamin C and Glutathione can help neutralize free radicals and prevent oxidative stress. A good diet with antioxidants can also help boost healthy skin.

Topically: Look for skincare products with antioxidant ingredients like Vitamin C, Retinol and Ferulic Acid, which can prevent pigmentation.

“A number of creams are available in the market, which can claim to treat pigmentation. They include active topical agents with berry extracts, arbutin, Vitamin C and glycolic acid, which is an extract of sugarcane juice, kojic acid, arbutin and azelaic acid. These are definitely very good but need to be used in the correct concentration to yield the best results,” says Dr Jamuna.

“These creams work by hampering the production of melanin while simultaneously increasing cell turnover by sloughing the top layer of dead skin so that the existing pigmentation is flushed out. You can treat your skin while you sleep by overnight applications of these agents, but needless to say under medical supervision,” concludes the skin expert.

Clinical treatments
While topical agents and sunscreen protection may

prevent further damage, there are many clinical treatments that can treat already occurred pigmentation. “Peels with alpha-hydroxy acid, goji acid and micro-needling with Vitamin C can be done under pi the care of a doctor. Also, many lasers and peels can help many skin types,” says Dr Kiran.

Laser treatments
Many of the laser treatment can help to treat dark spots. Melanin pigment absorbs the laser light and can help to achieve smoother and even out skin tone.

The heat generated by the laser helps target and destroy darker cells. Depending on the skin type, it can require multiple sessions for better results.

Skin brightening peels
“It is one of the most efficient and fastest ways to reduce pigmentation, says Dr Jamuna Pai. “The peels usually contain Kojic Acid, Phytic Acid, Ascorbic Acid, Arbutine, Titanium Dioxide and Retinyl Palmitate which block the formations of melanin (pigment) by inhibiting the tyrosinase – an essential enzyme involved in the formation of pigment,” she further explains.

Chemical peels use acids with higher concentration to treat the concerned area by removing the epidermis layer. As there can be possible risks, one should consider getting a professional peel by a recognised clinic and avoid at-home peels, which can be dangerous.

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