Melasma is a pigmentation disorder that affects about 45 million people globally.
To better deal with melasma and other closely related skin pigmentation disorders, we have to understand them better. Let’s take a closer look at what causes skin pigmentation and treatment options available in Singapore.
Types and causes of pigmentation
Pigmentation refers to the colour of a person’s skin, hair, and eyes, which is determined by melanin, a type of pigment produced by cells called melanocytes. Colloquially, the term tends to refer to the abnormal colouration or discolouration of the skin.
There are a few types of pigmentation disorders, most of them forming as a result of conditions that affect melanin production. The different types of pigmentation disorders are:
Hyperpigmentation: This is when parts of the skin turn darker compared to the surrounding areas. It is usually a harmless condition and can occur in many forms, such as:
Melasma: Often associated with hormonal changes and sun exposure, melasma results in brown to gray-brown patches that usually show up on the face.
Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH): This can occur after a skin injury or inflammation, such as acne, eczema, or psoriasis. Fortunately, dark spots that arise from PIH tend to fade over time.
Solar lentigines (AKA “age spots” or “liver spots”): These small, dark patches are common in adults older than 50 years and can be caused by sun exposure.
Hypopigmentation: This condition occurs when parts of the skin become lighter than the surrounding areas. Some examples are:
Vitiligo: This is a long-term disorder where pale white patches start to develop on the skin. This is caused by a lack of melanin and usually affects areas exposed to the sun.
Albinism: This is a genetic condition characterised by a deficiency or absence of melanin, which leads to white skin and hair, as well as pinkish eyes in some cases.
Pityriasis alba: This is a common skin disorder observed in children and adolescents, characterised by the presence of well-circumscribed, scaly, white patches, mainly on the face.
Mixed pigmentation: This refers to a combination of hyperpigmented and hypopigmented areas on the skin.
Pigment disorders can be caused by a variety of reasons. Most people know at least a little bit about how sun exposure can increase their chances of hyperpigmentation, but it is not the only reason for pigment disorders. Causes of pigmentation disorders can be genetic, metabolic, nutritional, or due to other environmental factors.
Hormonal changes: Conditions like pregnancy and menopause, or the use of hormonal medications, can trigger changes in skin pigmentation. This is often the cause of conditions like melasma.
Skin inflammation: Any form of skin injury or inflammation can lead to post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. This can result from conditions like acne, eczema, or psoriasis.
Ageing: The body’s natural ageing process can lead to changes in skin pigmentation, and can lead to the appearance of age spots.
Genetic factors: Certain pigmentation disorders are genetic, such as albinism and some cases of vitiligo.
Certain medications and chemicals: Some drugs, including certain antibiotics, antimalarials, and anti-seizure drugs, can cause hyperpigmentation. Certain chemicals can also cause skin discoloration.
Diseases and conditions: Diseases such as Addison’s disease, Hemochromatosis, or other systemic diseases can cause hyperpigmentation.
Nutritional deficiencies: Certain vitamin deficiencies, particularly vitamin B12, can also lead to hyperpigmentation.
Lifestyle factors affecting pigmentation
Several lifestyle factors can affect skin pigmentation by influencing melanin production and distribution.
Smoking: Tobacco smoke contains numerous toxins that can lead to premature skin ageing and changes in skin pigmentation. Smoking can cause the skin to become discoloured or yellowish, and it can also exacerbate conditions like melasma.
Diet: Nutrients, especially antioxidants, play a significant role in skin health. A diet deficient in these nutrients can lead to changes in skin pigmentation. Vitamin C, for example, helps in the normal development and function of melanocytes, so a deficiency could impact skin tone.
Stress: Chronic stress can influence various skin conditions, potentially including pigmentation disorders. While the relationship between stress and skin pigmentation is not fully researched, research suggests that cortisol may influence melanin production.
Alcohol consumption: Chronically heavy alcohol consumption affects the pigmentation as well. Alcohol’s inflammatory effects could potentially trigger or worsen conditions like melasma or post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation.
Sun exposure: UV rays stimulate melanocytes, which are the cells that produce melanin. As a response to sun exposure, melanocytes work to produce more melanin. The result is a darkening of the skin — a process we know as tanning.
What is the best procedure to remove pigmentation?
Various professional treatments have been developed for different pigmentation disorders. Some common treatment options include:
Topical Treatments: These are usually the first line of treatment for most pigmentation disorders. They include prescription-strength lightening agents such as hydroquinone, retinoids, and other substances like azelaic acid, kojic acid, vitamin C, niacinamide, and licorice extract.
Chemical Peels: This treatment uses a chemical solution to exfoliate the surface layer of the skin, which can help reduce hyperpigmentation. Depending on the severity of the pigmentation and the specific chemical used, peels can be light, medium, or deep.
Laser Therapy: Focused light energy is used to remove or fade pigmentation. There are various types of lasers, such as Q-switched lasers and fractional lasers, which work at different depths and can be used for different types of pigmentation.
Intense Pulsed Light (IPL): IPL is a type of light therapy that can treat a range of skin conditions including hyperpigmentation. Unlike lasers, which use a single wavelength of light, IPL uses multiple wavelengths to target and break down melanin.
Microneedling: Also known as collagen induction therapy, microneedling uses tiny needles to puncture the skin, stimulating collagen and elastin production. When used in combination with topical treatments, it can help to lighten hyperpigmentation.
Before you decide to embark on any training, you should consider consulting a trained professional to discuss the most suitable form of treatment for your specific concerns and unique skin type. Not all procedures will be appropriate for your skin, so it is important to seek professional advice before committing to any treatment.
Combination approaches and maintenance strategies
Combination treatments and maintenance strategies can be highly effective for managing pigmentation disorders. Depending on the advice of your dermatologist, your skin type and overall health, the exact approach will vary. Here are some possible combination treatments you might encounter:
Topical Treatments and Laser Therapy: A common strategy is to use topical treatments (like hydroquinone or retinoids) in combination with laser therapy. The topical treatment can help to lighten the skin, while the laser therapy can target and break down excess melanin.
Topical Treatments and Chemical Peels: Similarly, chemical peels can be used in conjunction with topical treatments. The peel can help to remove the top layer of pigmented skin, while the topical treatment can work to inhibit melanin production.
Topical Treatments and Microneedling: The process of microneedling can enhance the absorption of topical treatments, making them more effective. This can be particularly useful for treating conditions like melasma.
Laser Therapy and IPL: For more extensive or stubborn pigmentation, a combination of different types of light-based therapies may be recommended. The different wavelengths target different layers of the skin for a more complete treatment.
While skin pigment treatments are important, maintenance strategies play a big part in the reduction of pigmentation.
The best way to do this is by limiting as many lifestyle-causing factors as described above, i.e. limiting sun exposure, reducing stress, avoiding smoking and drinking.
Of all the factors, sun exposure is the biggest culprit and is the most prevalent, considering Singapore is sunny year round.
Scheduling regular check-ups with your skin doctor should also be part of your overall maintenance plan.
Why should I see a professional for pigmentation treatment in Singapore?
Professional guidance is essential in diagnosing and managing skin conditions for several reasons:
Accurate Diagnosis: Many skin conditions can look similar but require different treatments. A professional has the training and experience to accurately diagnose skin conditions based on their appearance, location, and other factors. They can also perform procedures like biopsies when needed to confirm a diagnosis.
Effective Treatment: Trained professionals understand the wide range of treatments available for different skin conditions and can recommend the most effective options based on the specific condition, its severity, and other factors. If your pigmentation is too severe, our therapists may refer you to our doctors at SL Aesthetic Clinic.
Personalised Care: Every person’s skin is unique, and personal factors like lifestyle, overall health, and treatment preferences can greatly influence the management of skin conditions. Professionals can provide personalised advice and treatment plans tailored to each individual’s circumstances.
Comprehensive Care: Skin health is closely tied to overall health. For better overall outcomes, trained professionals can competently coordinate care with other healthcare providers when a skin condition is related to another health issue, such as an autoimmune disease, hormonal imbalance, or nutritional deficiency.
How much is pigmentation removal in Singapore?
The price of pigmentation removal depends on the type of treatment and the number of treatment sessions. The cost of off-the-counter medications begins from $80, the cost of peels from $170, the cost of light therapy from $119, the cost of microneedling from $199 and the cost of a laser session from $500.
Pigmentation treatment with SkinLab
Don’t let dark spots cast a shadow on your day. Skin pigmentation treatment requires the expertise of experienced, well-trained professionals who have access to the best tools and treatment options in Singapore.
At SkinLab, Singapore’s largest medical spa chain, our team will give you the smooth, even toned and radiant skin you desire and deserve.
Make an appointment with us now.