Melanin is a pigment that gives your skin, hair and eyes, color. Melanocytes are the skin cells that produce melanin through a process known as melanogenesis.
The enzyme tyrosinase is responsible for the first step in melanogenesis. It converts an amino acid called tyrosine to dopaquinone which is then converted to melanin.After the melanocytes produce the melanin, it’s distributed in the skin by capsule-like vessels called melanosomes.
When excess melanin is produced, it results in hyperpigmentation; a condition where an area of the skin is darker than the rest. Examples of hyperpigmentation include freckles, age spots, sun spots, melasma, tinea versicolor and post inflammatory hyperpigmentation (aka PIH) like acne scars.
What are the Causes of Hyperpigmentation?
As long as excess melanin is produced, the result will be hyperpigmentation. There are two ways excess melanin is produced.
- Melantotic hyperpigmentation where the melanocytes increase the amount of melanin they produce.
- Melanocytic hyperpigmentation where the number of melanocytes increase in number but continue to produce the same (normal) amount of melanin.
What are Some of the Reasons for Excess Melanin Production?
- Sun damage. When parts of your skin like the face, chest, arms and legs are constantly exposed to the sun, the harmful free radicals formed can result in an uneven skin tone. Melanin, being part of the skin’s natural defense, will increase in order to protect the exposed skin from sun damage; making these areas darker.
- Skin inflammation and injury. When the skin is injured/damaged as a result of acne, eczema, bruising etc it can result in Post Inflammatory Hyperpigmentation, PIH in short. When the skin is healing, the melanocytes produce more melanin. Sun damage can make these areas even darker. The Beauty Brains highlight a common area which is prone to PIH, the armpits! “Shaving your pits causes some micro trauma which triggers melanin production. A lot of people complain about dark armpits. Even rubbing of clothing against armpits can cause this.”
- Hormonal changes. Certain medications, sun exposure or pregnancy bring changes in hormones. This can result in a well known type of hyperpigmentation – melasma, also known as ‘the mask of pregnancy’
How to Treat Hyperpigmentation
In order to choose an effective treatment you should know that there are two ways hyperpigmentation is classified:
- Epidermal Hyperpigmentation which is in the outer layer of the skin e.g. freckles, PIH – acne ‘scarring’. This can be dealt with by topical treatments like creams, abrasive methods like chemical peels, microdermabrasion and surgical methods like lasers, dermabrasion etc
- Dermal Hyperpigmentation which is in the middle layer of the skin. (See Here). This is extremely difficult to treat, usually only certain lasers can be used.
When it comes to Epidermal HP, an ideal treatment should have ingredients that both inhibits tyrosinase and the transfer of excess melanin.
Some common ingredients used to treat Epidermal HP include: Glycolic acid, Salicylic acid, Vitamin C, Retinoids, Niacinamide, Licorice, Kojic acid, Hydroquinone, Alpha Arbutin, Mulberry Extract and Bearberry Extract.
Like with almost all skin care, patience is key. The consistent use of high quality, dermatologist approved products will eventually clear up hyperpigmentation. What have you been using to address hyperpigmentation?
Follow my blog with Bloglovin