Pigmentation In Asian Women: Everything You Need To Know

by Dr Juliana Latif
Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Pigmentation occurs when excess melanin is produced in spots on your skin and can be caused by a myriad of factors such as excessive sun exposure, hormone imbalances, inflammation, and injury to the skin. 

Appearing on areas of the skin where it matters most, such as the face, neck, and décolletage, pigmentation is a difficult condition to treat.  

Before attempting to treat your pigmentation, it’s important to know which type you have, and the causes. This is done through a consultation with your doctor who will examine your skin, and ask about your lifestyle and medical history. 

Causes of Pigmentation

Pigmentation can be caused by a wide variety of factors, including but not limited to sun damage, genetics, exposure to extreme heat, hormones, and inflammation. 

Here’s a quick breakdown of the contributing factors to your pigmentation: 

  • Damage from the sun: The number one cause of pigmentation, excessive exposure to the sun may trigger overproduction of melanin and lead to pigmentation. 
  • Exposure To Pollutants: Chemicals, both acid or alkaline, can irritate the skin. This irritation leads to overactivity of melanin production
  • Genetics & Ancestry: Some forms of pigmentation can be attributed to genetics 
  • Skin Injury: Trauma to the skin can cause pigmentation, such as attempting to pop a pimple, or excessively scratching your face
  • Hormones: Oestrogen and progesterone are thought to stimulate the overproduction of melanin when skin is exposed to the sun
  • Excessive Heat: Heat is known to cause pigmentation, even when not exposed directly to sunlight

Types Of Pigmentation

Melasma 

One of the most common forms of pigmentation in Asians which affects women more than men. Melasma appears as large, brown patches that appear on the forehead, cheeks, and upper lip, giving your skin an uneven skin tone. It can be triggered by a combination of factors such as ancestry and genetics, hormonal changes, exposure to the sun without sufficient sun protection and certain medications such as birth control pills. Melasma is one of the most difficult to treat and while it cannot be cured completely, it can be controlled and improved with good sun protection, use of antioxidant products and regular professional treatments.

There are three types of pigmentation patterns in melasma:

  • Epidermal melasma is identified by the presence of excess melanin in the superficial layers of skin and is usually brown with well-defined borders.
  • Dermal melasma affects the deeper dermal layers of the skin and is characterized by blue-gray patches with less well-defined borders.
  • Mixed melasma includes both the epidermal and dermal type and shows as a brown-gray pigment.

Freckles

Another very common form of pigmentation, freckles usually occur in brown or beige shades of flat small circles. Freckles often appear as a darker shade than the skin. They are sometimes caused by excessive exposure to sunlight, and especially affects women who have fairer skin. Freckles can also be hereditary. 

Post-Inflammatory Hyperpigmentation (PIH)

Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation is often seen as dark spots on the face after acne has resolved. Hence, PIH is sometimes mistaken for acne scarring. 

Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation is generally caused by trauma to the skin such as burns, excessive rubbing, rashes, or irritation to the skin caused by chemicals. Eczema is also known to cause post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. 

Seborrheic Keratosis 

Distinguished as light brown or black spots on your face, seborrheic keratosis bumps have a rough texture, look waxy, scaly and slightly raised. 

These are typically found in elder women or those who have a family history of Seborrheic Keratosis. 

Solar Lentigo (Age Spots)

A common form of pigmentation in people over the age of 40, solar lentigo happens when UV rays cause melanocytes in the skin to multiply. They not only appear on the face, but all areas of the body that have prolonged exposure to the sun. 

Treatment Options

Lightening Creams

Lightening creams are treatments that contain ingredients to help lighten pigmentation. These creams are available over the counter or through prescriptions. They’re usually applied once or twice a day to help lighten the skin over time but these will take a longer time to work.

Common Ingredients found in lightening products include:

  • Hydroquinone
  • Licorice extract
  • N-acetylglucosamine
  • Niacinamide

Retinoids

Retinoids are useful in the topical treatment of pigmentation because they curb the production of melanin and speed up cell turnover. The most commonly prescribed form of retinoid is Tretinoin. You should use retinoids only as instructed by your doctor as overusing may cause irritation, excessive dryness and discolouration of the skin.

Chemical Peel

Chemical Peels use a stronger concentration of acids to treat the skin. They reduce the appearance of hyperpigmentation by removing the epidermis. Chemical peels may not be the best option for you if you’re out in the sun on a regular basis, as they can cause your skin to be more sensitive to the sun’s rays and pigmentation may worsen if UV protection is not adequately applied.

Dermaceutic Mela Peel Forte

The Mela Peel is effective for treating epidermal pigmented lesions such as sunspots, epidermal melasma and post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation.

It has 2 combined actions: 

  • Active Peel – this step prepares and exfoliates the skin to ensure fast penetration of subsequent steps active ingredients
  • Mela Peel – Inhibits the production of pigmented cells and exfoliates the skin to decrease the appearance of pigmentation.

Laser

Fotona Starwalker®️ MAQx picosecond laser system (FDA Approved)

Using a combination of ultrashort pulse peak powers of a picosecond laser with the peak energies of a nanosecond Q-switched laser, Fotona Starwalker®️ MAQx picosecond laser system delivers higher pulse energy (1064 mm wavelength) as compared with Pico Lasers, thus has the ability to deliver faster results.

Minimally invasive, this FDA approved, patented MaQX pulse modalities produce powerful bursts of laser energy to:

  • Break apart skin pigmentations into smaller, more easily eliminated particles, after which they are naturally removed by the skin, thereby reducing pigmentation
  • Stimulate collagen production and rejuvenates the skin resulting in better-textured skin;
  • Treat Active Acne and scars
  • Treat Solar Lentigo, post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation
  • Remove Tattoos

Hyfrecator®️

The hyfrecator is used to rapidly and selectively destroy tissue by the passage of an electric current through the tip of s the hyfrecator as it touches the skin. This can be used to burn off the tissue and treat conditions like unwanted moles and seborrheic keratosis.

Skin Supplements

Skin-brightening supplements have risen to popularity as many people have started integrating supplements into their daily skincare regime to complement their topical products for enhanced results. This is especially in Asia where sun exposure is high and contributes to skin pigmentation and aging. They are usually formulated with concentrated doses of active ingredients and antioxidants that work from the inside out to provide both skin whitening and sun protection in each dose.

Some factors to consider:

  • The dosage and concentration of the active ingredients: Do they provide synergistic qualities that both protect against UV damage as well as decrease melanin production? Do they have added powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects which can improve skin texture and fight against skin ageing?
  • The country of production: Is it from a reputable country? Any certification to ensure safety in consumption?
  • The reliability of the manufacturers: Are the active ingredients used made from good quality sources and safe for consumption? Any tests run for Product Safety?

At Fusion Medical, we have LM Soelle Snow Radiance Oral Whitening supplements which fulfil all these criteria. This oral supplement uses a combination of natural ingredients that acts both as a sunblock as well as lightens pigmentation. 

Can Pigmentation Be Prevented? 

Not all pigmentation can be prevented. Measures should be taken in our lifestyle and skincare regime to minimise the onset or worsening of pigmentation as the biggest culprit is sun exposure. One should try to minimise strong sun exposure and adopt sun protection measures with both topical and oral UV protection where possible.

Final Thoughts On Pigmentation

It’s really important to consult with an experienced doctor who will be able to diagnose you correctly and recommend treatment protocols that are suitable for your skin type. 

These treatments can range from topical creams to laser treatments such as the Fotona Starwalker laser. Post-treatment regimens are equally important to prevent recurring hyperpigmentation from forming on your skin. 

We always recommend finding a clinic with experienced doctors, who are able to understand exactly which type of pigmentation you have, in order to deliver the best results possible for your skin discolouration. 

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