You see, our skin gets its colour from a pigment called melanin, which is specially produced in our skin. When the melanin production is affected either by internal or external factors, it affects the colour of our skin, which is also known as skin pigmentation disorder.
It’s a common skin condition that affects every one of us, regardless of age, gender, and skin type. It may appear as dark spots or large patches on the skin, especially on the face, neck, and hands. Even so, some people may experience it differently with spots or patches of discoloured skin appearing on certain parts of their body.
In general, there are two types of pigmentation – hyperpigmentation and hypopigmentation, with the former being more common among Malaysians. That’s because we live in a tropical region which receives a considerable amount of sun and rain throughout the year.
Ahead, we’ll be sharing the types of pigmentation, ways to treat pigmentation in Malaysia and some preventive measures. Before that, you should understand what is hyperpigmentation.
What is hyperpigmentation?
Hyperpigmentation refers to a darkened skin condition which often appears as dark spots or patches on the skin, making your skin tone look uneven. Usually caused by high levels of melanin content, there are several types of hyperpigmentation – age spots, melasma, freckles, and post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation.
While there’s no known evidence to prove that people with dark skin tone may develop hyperpigmentation, experts believe that there’s a high chance for such occurrence due to higher levels of melanin content.
Types of hyperpigmentation
1. Age spots
Often known as sunspots, liver spots or solar lentigines, this type of hyperpigmentation is common among older adults or after an extended period of sun exposure. It generally appears as brown, tan, or black spots on areas that are overexposed to the sun such as the face, and hands.
As Malaysia is located at the earth’s equator, daily exposure to the sun is unavoidable. This makes age spots a common condition among Malaysians. When the UVA rays penetrate the deeper layers of our skin, it triggers the melanocytes to produce more melanin as a defence mechanism. Thus, the appearance of age spots.
Also known as chloasma or ‘the mask of pregnancy’, melasma is common among women who are pregnant and those taking hormonal pills. It typically appears as large, darkened patches of skin on the forehead, face, and stomach. People with dark skin tone may also develop melasma.
It’s believed that changes in female hormones such as oestrogen and progesterone can trigger the overproduction of melanin once the skin is exposed to the sun. Melasma can also be a side effect or reaction to certain treatments or medications.
Generally influenced by genetics, freckles are the most common type of pigmentation. It’s also the very first sign of sun damage, especially if you have a fair complexion as prolonged sun exposure can trigger melanin production. Given Malaysia’s weather condition, the little dots can be more prominent during the sunnier months.
4. Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation
As the name suggests, post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation is a result of inflammation or injury to the skin. This includes cuts, burns, chemical exposure, and acne. As the skin gradually heals itself, it may leave behind a flat area of discolouration.
It’s usually common among teenagers and adults as their body copes with hormonal changes and external factors, which may result in acne or breakouts on their face, neck, and body.
What are the types of pigmentation treatment available in Malaysia?
While hyperpigmentation is harmless, it’s normal to yearn for a clear, smooth skin and even skin tone. There is a range of pigmentation treatment that you can try in Malaysia.
1. Chemical peels
This treatment uses high concentrations of acids to treat hyperpigmentation on the desired area of your skin. It involves applying an acidic solution to a targeted area to remove the outer layers of the skin, eventually causing your skin to blister and peel off. The result: new and evenly pigmented skin underneath.
Depending on the severity of your hyperpigmentation, chemical peels can be applied at a deeper level to produce dramatic results. As with other facial treatments, you may experience some redness, irritation, and blistering on your skin after the treatment.
2. Laser therapies
Laser treatments have a similar effect as chemical peels but tend to be more precise as skin specialists have more control over the treatment’s intensity. It involves the use of targeted beams of light to reduce hyperpigmentation by removing layers of your skin.
Generally, there are two types of lasers – ablative and non-ablative, with the former being the most intense. Non-ablative lasers, on the other hand, target the inner layer of your skin to stimulate collagen production and tightening effects.
3. PRP treatment
Often dubbed as the vampire facial, the Platelet-Rich Plasma (PRP) treatment involves making use of the body’s reformative and regenerative aspect to stimulate natural healing and collagen production.
This type of treatment usually follows after a session of microdermabrasion which works to treat hyperpigmentation. Researchers believe that PRP treatment may be effective to treat melasma. However, it’s best to consult your dermatologists to fully understand your skin pigmentation.
Aside from prolonged sun exposure, environmental stressors such as pollution can also cause hyperpigmentation due to the generation of free radicals. One way to neutralise that effect is to include antioxidants such as vitamin C, niacinamide and retinoids into your skincare routine.
A well-structured skincare routine that contains sunscreen and some antioxidants can help prevent hyperpigmentation from developing on your skin.
5. Crystal Tomato
This oral supplement works to brighten your skin from within and even outs your skin tone to reduce existing melanin content in your skin. Made from 100% non-genetically modified tomatoes known for high carotenoid content, Crystal Tomato is one pigmentation treatment that you can try in Malaysia.
Besides, it also works to boost your liver’s production of glutathione, which helps lighten your skin pigmentation.
Can we prevent pigmentation in Malaysia?
Considering the amount of sunlight Malaysia receives every month, which is 200 hours per month, total prevention of pigmentation is far from possible. However, there are ways for you to reduce the effects of pigmentation on your skin.
Apply an adequate amount of sunscreen
Much like your skin moisturiser, sunscreen plays a role to protect your skin from the sun’s harmful rays. Look for a sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or greater, depending on how much you’re exposed to the sun. Regardless, make it a habit to wear sunscreen daily to prevent skin pigmentation.
Avoid picking on your skin
As much as you’d like to pick at some of the spots on your skin, it’s best to leave them be. That’s because scratching and picking at the spot will only increase the inflammation that’s responsible for your skin’s discolouration. The more you pick at a spot, the darker it can be, or worse, it’ll be harder to treat.
Avoid direct sun exposure
Surely there are days when you enjoy being exposed to the sun (think a trip to the beach) or simply can’t help it (if your work requires your presence at the site). Instead, you should use a hat or umbrella to minimise your exposure to the sun. You can also apply some sunscreen before exposing yourself to the sun. That way, you get to prevent hyperpigmentation and enjoy the warmth at the same time.
While we can’t prevent pigmentation from occurring over time, most of the aforementioned pigmentation treatment has proven to be satisfactory among Malaysians. Additionally, it’s also important that you seek professional assessment for an effective treatment.