Hyperpigmentation is often not a sign of any serious medical condition, but can be a cosmetic nuisance. While very visible among light-skinned individuals, uneven skin pigmentation occurs across all skin types, skin tones and ethnicities. Removing pigmentation – whether by a single therapy or a combination of one or two therapies – depends on its underlying causes.
What Causes and How to Remove Pigmentation
The most common cause of hyperpigmentation is an overproduction of melanin, which in turn can be triggered either by exposure to sunlight, hormonal changes, genetic conditions, or skin damage of inflammation.
Because treatment varies depending on the underlying causes of hyperpigmentation, it’s crucial to have a skin care specialist look at your skin. The treatment for hyperpigmentation you can expect depends on the kind of pigmentation you have.
Hormonal changes (melasma)
Excess production of melanin can occur in response to hormonal changes in the woman’s body. These hormonal surges or dips are either brought about by use of birth control pills, thyroid dysfunction, changes in estrogen/progesterone levels (as in the case of menopause or pregnancy), or to some lesser extent, unusually high stress.
The usual course of treatment for melasma is the use of prescription-strength hydroquinone, chemical peels using AHA (alpha hydroxyl acid), salicylic, lactic or glycolic acid, or IPL facial (using intense pulsed light, a laser-like therapy that uses different wavelengths of light).
Melasma removal by using laser for pigmentation can be done as an outpatient treatment in a medical aesthetic clinic. But because melasma is hormonally-induced, it has a potential to recur unless its underlying cause resolves by itself or is appropriately treated.
Sun spots are caused by (usually prolonged) overexposure to sunlight. Among light-skinned individuals, early damage from sun exposure tend to affect only the top layer of the skin, so sun spot removal can be done by use of hydroquinone or retinol.
Dr. Sylvia’s Skin Lightener 3 contains 4% hydroquinone indicated to correct unwanted pigmentation such as sun spots, liver spots and freckles. It can be used individually after cleansing and toning, or as part of Dr. Sylvia’s Advanced Clear Skin Program. Developed by Dr. Sylvia Ramirez, a Harvard-trained skin care specialist in Scotts Road, Singapore, the Advanced Clear Skin Program also includes Exfoliator 4 and Balancer 5.
IPL facial also has high safety and efficacy profile on light skin types, while Fitzpatrick V and VI skin types better respond to LHE (light and heat energy) because of reduced risk of scarring or burning from stronger light-based therapies. This is because dark skin types have higher levels of melanin, the same melanin that absorbs light and heat energies that eventually break them down.
Post inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH)
Inflammation that results from trauma occurring at the dermal or epidermal layers of the skin – either from acne, infection, dermatitis, or skin injury – can increase melanin production, and the result is unwanted pigmentation. Hydroquinone and chemical peels using salicylic acid and AHAs can be used safely on PIH.
Excess melanin of this type can also be corrected by Dr. Sylvia’s Skin Lightener 3, followed with a treatment of Exfoliator Forte 4. This contains 14% AHA buffered to 10%. Similarly, Exfoliator Forte 4 can be used individually, or as a fourth step after cleansing, toning and using the Skin Lightener 3.
Freckles can become more pronounced with exposure to sunlight, or is altogether genetic. While not a health threat, many light-skinned individuals don’t feel happy with how their freckles make them look, especially come summer when the contrast between their skin color and their freckles become more prominent.
In Dr. Sylvia’s laser clinic in Scotts Road, IPL is used for freckles removal among light-skinned individuals because the melanin in freckles (as opposed to low melanin on the skin of the patient) makes it easier for the light to target it and break it down.
Dr. Sylvia’s Advanced Clear Skin Program can also be used on freckles, with Balancer 5 (containing 4% hydroquinone) working in the deeper layer of the skin. Balancer 5 works best after cleansing, toning, and using Skin Lightener 3 and Exfoliator Forte 4.