Pigmentation is skin discolouration, taking the form of pink, red or brown looking marks or patches on the skins surface, most commonly appearing on the neck, face and décolletage. The root cause of pigmentation is a substance called melanin (a pigment giving skin, hair and eyes its colour), which is produced by skin cells called melanocytes.
In some cases, pigmentation can become uneven or excessive, resulting in conditions like hyperpigmentation, where patches of skin become darker than their surrounding areas. Pigmentation can also be affected by a number of factors, including genetics, sun exposure, hormonal changes, and certain medications or medical conditions.
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What causes pigmentation?
Understanding the underlying causes of pigmentation is key to treating and preventing skin discolouration. Various factors can alter melanin production in the body and cause pigmentation, including:
- Genetics – The skin colour and pigmentation can be determined by genetic makeup, and some people may be more prone to discolouration than others.
- Sun exposure – The sun’s UV rays can cause an increase in melanin production, leading to skin discolouration like freckles, age spots, and sun spots. This is especially noticeable when the damage has accumulated and the skin is less able to regenerate from sun exposure
- Hormonal changes – Hormonal imbalances, such as those experienced during pregnancy, can cause an increase in melanin production and lead to a condition called melasma.
- Medications – Certain medications, such as birth control pills and some antibiotics and chemotherapy drugs, can cause changes in skin pigmentation.
- Injuries – Skin injuries like burns and cuts can cause changes in skin pigmentation.
- Ageing – With age, the skin’s ability to regenerate decreases, leading to uneven pigmentation and age spots.
Types of pigmentation
Understanding the type of pigmentation you are experiencing and determining the correct diagnosis is essential if you’re to benefit from treatment protocols. There are several types of pigmentation that can appear on the face, including:
Sun spots – These are dark, flat spots that typically appear on areas of the face that are exposed to the sun, such as the nose, cheeks, and forehead.
Melasma – This condition results in brown or greyish-brown patches on the face, typically on the forehead, cheeks or chin. It is often caused by an increase in the production of pigment (melanin) in the skin, which can be triggered by hormonal changes, sun exposure and certain medications. Women are more likely to develop melasma, particularly during pregnancy or while taking birth control pills.
Freckles – Freckles are small, circular spots that are typically one or two shades darker than the surrounding skin. They can occur anywhere on the body, but are most commonly seen on the face and arms.
Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation – This occurs after an injury, such as a pimple, cut, or burn, and can leave behind dark spots on the skin.
Age spots – Age spots, medically known as solar lentigines are brown discrete patches that occur on the skin after prolonged exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays or light. They are most likely to develop on areas of the skin that receive the most sun exposure including the face, hands, shoulders and forearms.
There is no quick fix to treating pigmentation and treatment depends on a number of factors, including the type of pigmentation (epidermal/dermal/hormonal/UV-induced) and the skin type or ethnicity.
It is important to treat pigmentation with multi-modality treatment, including avoiding of triggers, skin care, sun protection, topical lightening agents and laser light therapy.
Regardless of the type of pigmentation you are experiencing, treatment options are available to help reduce the appearance of these spots and even out your skin tone.
Before and After Photos
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