Pigmentation disorders are a cause of much turmoil for many patients. These skin conditions can have a sizable negative impact on one’s self esteem and quality of life. Fortunately, topical creams and lasers are popular options for hyperpigmentation treatment, and with advances in laser technology and pharmaceuticals, they’re now more effective than ever.
Hyperpigmentation is simply the term for any skin condition where melanocytes – the cells responsible for giving skin and hair their pigment – over-produce melanin. This causes some spots to appear darker than others. Depending on the type of hyperpigmentation, this phenomenon could be occurring in the layer of skin known as the dermis or in the epidermis.
Melasma is a very common form of hyperpigmentation, believed to be caused by hormonal changes such as those that occur during adolescence or pregnancy. In fact, melasma is often called the “pregnancy mask” since it often appears in pregnant women. But melasma can show up in patients taking certain types of hormonal contraception or simply going through hormonal changes. The condition tends to be exacerbated by exposure to the sun’s UV rays and is usually found on the face, around the nose and mouth.
Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation can often manifest in response to severe acne. And freckles and sun spots can happen to just about anyone who has had excessive exposure to the sun’s UVA and UVB rays. These spots are not cancerous, but rather another form of hyperpigmentation. On the other hand, if you see patchy areas of white skin that have seemingly lost color, you might have vitiligo. This skin condition is caused when the melanocytes die or stop functioning.
Hyperpigmentation creams and topical solutions can certainly help reduce the appearance of these dark spots. They usually contain an active ingredient of hydroquinone, which can actually harm the skin if improperly used, so it’s important to work with a knowledgeable dermatologist to prescribe this medicine. Additionally, topical retinoids have been shown to help lighten those darker areas of skin.
Laser and light therapies have also been proven to effectively reduce dark spots and treat hyperpigmentation conditions. Laser treatments can also safely destroy melanocytes (those melanin-producing cells responsible for darkening skin). During laser treatment, skin rapidly absorbs the laser’s light beam energy, vaporizing the unwanted melanin and lightening the skin’s pigment. Redness and crusting of the skin can occur after these treatments, but these side effects typically resolve within one to two weeks. Laser therapy may involve the use of multiple types of lasers, including intense pulsed light (IPL).
For melasma, a low energy fractionated laser is used on the affected area, but high energy laser treatments should be avoided when treating this specific condition. Melasma can often benefit from other treatment methods too, like chemical peels. In order to prevent hyperpigmentation, especially for those with ongoing bouts of melasma, you should avoid exposure to the sun and always wear SPF protection like sunscreen or sun-resistant clothing.
Struggling with hyperpigmentation and want to explore your treatment options? If you’re in Baton Rouge or the surrounding areas, contact Louisiana Dermatology Associates today for an appointment with one of our board-certified specialists.