By Tiffani Luong
All of us wish to have that skin-perfect complexion with ever-lasting youth and no matter how sure you are that laugh lines represent a well-lived life, it is hard to say the same about those not-so-subtle brown-coloured patches on your face. This skin discoloration, commonly known as skin pigmentation is often a result of sun exposure (UV rays), hormonal changes, genetics, medications (such as birth control pills), pregnancy, skin aging or the wrong use of skin care products, just to name a few.
What happens when you have skin pigmentation?
You look into the mirror and notice immediately that:
- Your face looks dull with an uneven skin tone, and/or
- Your dark spots are due to acne marks and scars.
Or, worse yet, your family or friends mentioned that
- You look tired all the time, and/or
- You look OLDER than your age?!
Many think that pigmentation simply refers to the dark spots on the face. However, there is, in fact, more than one type of skin pigmentation and depending on its type, its appearance differs. For example:
Sun Burn Pigmentation (Solar Lentigines )
Commonly known as sunspots, solar lentigines are usually brown in colour and they do not cause a change in skin texture. They are darker and more irregular in appearance as compared to freckles. People with a lighter skin tone are said to be more prone to sunspots. Without treatment, exposure to UV rays for a prolonged period of time may cause more sunspots to develop and existing ones to become darker in colour.
Where do they appear?
Areas of the face with higher sun exposure are more likely to develop sunspots. These areas include but are not limited to the cheeks, cheekbones and the nose.
- Overexposure to sun: When our faces are exposed to the sun, melanin, a dark pigment found on the skin’s surface, clumps together. Thus, prolonged exposure may accelerate this process, causing the sunspots on our skin to darken or increase in number. Though it is known to be the most common type among various pigmentation problems, prevention of sunspots can be effortless. Especially in Singapore, where it is hot and sunny all year round, it is crucial to apply sunblock regularly and in adequate amount. As a general guide, one should apply the equivalent of a shot glass (two tablespoons) of sunblock to the exposed areas of the face and body to achieve the Sun Protection Factor (SPF) reflected on the packaging of the sunblock.
Found in the size of matchstick heads, freckles do not cause a change in skin texture. They are flat circular spots which are usually tan or light brown in colour. While freckles are an extremely common type of hyperpigmentation, they are more often seen among people with a lighter skin tone.
Where do they appear?
Unlike other types of hyperpigmentation, freckles may develop randomly on the skin especially on areas that are repeatedly exposed to the sun.
- Genetics: Freckles usually occur to one when he/she is young; it may even start appearing as early as one reaches two years old. With age, its appearance may become increasingly obvious. Though freckles removal is not necessary since it is not cancerous, freckles can make one look older than he/she is.
- Overexposure to sun: In a tropical country like Singapore, freckles can easily become a concern if one does not practice adequate sun protection. Long-term exposure to the UV rays from the sun can cause the surfacing of new freckles and the darkening of existing ones. Therefore, the best prevention is to make sure that you are applying an adequate amount of sunblock regularly.
Usually tan, brown or black in colour, age spots are oval in shape and the size varies from freckle size to more than 13mm. It is also known as liver spots and they tend to develop on the face after the age of 40, indicating that the skin has entered its aging period.
Where do they appear?
Age spots on the face are commonly found on the sun-exposed areas, especially on the cheeks and cheekbones.
- Aging: When skin ages and it is further exposed to environmental damages, melanin is consistently produced to protect the skin. Hence, age spots are very common in adults over the age of 50. Nevertheless, it may develop on younger people too, especially those who spend a lot of time in the sun.
- Overexposure to sun: On areas of the skin that have been exposed to frequent and prolonged sun exposure, melanin is produced in high concentrations and builds up in these areas, resulting in age spots. Apart from that, frequent trips to tanning salons can also contribute to the development of age spots. The highly sought after sun-kissed look is actually the result of our skin’s natural defense mechanism to protect deeper layers of the skin from harmful UV rays, which are known to accelerate the production of melanin and skin aging.
Developed from healed acne wounds, there are two types of post-acne pigmentation. Marks which are reddish in colour are caused by broken blood capillaries that have yet to heal at the site of acne lesion. On the other hand, marks which are dark in colour result from an overproduction of melanin in reaction to skin inflammation at the affected area. Without proper treatment, post-acne pigmentation may take months or even years to fade off.
Where does it appear?
Post-acne pigmentation, as suggested by its name, typically appears on areas of the face that are prone to pimple outbreaks.
- Squeezing of pimples: When extraction is not carried out professionally, instead of pushing the pus out, one may be pushing it further down. This can lead to more redness and swelling. The skin and the tissue beneath it may also get damaged in the process, increasing the chances of inflammation and the risk of scarring.
- Usage of unsuitable skin care products: Acne may worsen with the usage of overdrying facial cleaners and alcohol-based products as they can be irritating to your skin. Besides that, skin care products for acne-prone skin could be harsh on the skin and when overused, the skin may become drier, causing the skin to produce even more sebum to keep our skin moisturised. This in turn, may cause even more pimples to form.
My Favorite Products for Addressing These Concerns: