Skin pigmentation is the result of abnormal production and deposition of melanin by the melanocytes (pigment cells). The number of melanocytes present in our skin will determine our skin colour. Production of melanin is also dependent on UV or sun exposure, and is a natural protective mechanism of the skin.
Hyperpigmentation, or areas that are darker than the rest of the skin, result from excess and disordered melanin production and deposition.
What causes skin pigmentation?
Excess skin pigmentation or hyperpigmentation is usually caused by an overwhelmed melanin-protective system. This leads to excess production and clumping of melanin, and the appearance of brown or darker spots of pigmentation in the skin.
Common causes of skin pigmentation problems are:
- Excessive UV or sun exposure. Especially in an area of high UV levels like Singapore, or with frequent outdoor activities due to occupation requirements or lifestyle (most common).
- Hormonal changes. As seen in melasma, a type of pigmentation that is often triggered by pregnancy or the Pill (common).
- Trauma to the skin. This can be a result of physical injury to the skin (eg. burns and cuts), acne, insect bites, or overly harsh treatments (eg. aggressive extractions). This is known as post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (common).
- Birthmarks and other acquired pigmentation. Abnormal pigmentation can be present at birth (birthmarks), or appear in childhood and adulthood. Examples include – congenital melanocytic naevus, cafe au lait spots, spilus naevus, hori’s macules, and naevus of ota. (common)
- Some drugs and medical conditions, such as liver diseases and haemochromatosis (much less common)
What are my options for treating skin pigmentation?
Essentially, pigmentation can be treated with lightening creams or lasers. The main difference between the two is that lasers can produce a faster and more effective result in most cases.
However, with laser treatment there is always a period of skin recovery post-treatment. Even though the surface skin is not broken by the pigment laser, you need to be gentle and avoid excessive sun exposure while your skin is recovering to avoid repigmentation. Also, finding a trained and reputable doctor to perform your laser procedure is very important to maximise safety.
Pigmentation can be treated on any part of the body including the face; neck; hands; back; chest; arms; legs; and shoulders.
What type of laser is used to treat pigmentation?
At SW1 Clinic, we use the Pico Discovery Plus, known for being the most powerful laser in the market, and equipped with 3 different laser wavelengths, as well as an IPL. The Pico Discovery Plus has been studied in many clinical trials and has been very successful in the treatment of pigmentation disorders and tattoo removal.
Are all types of lasers the same?
No. Different types of lasers are used to treat different skin conditions. Even lasers of a similar category but manufactured by different laser companies can give you different results. This is true for equipment from computers to cars, and it certainly holds true for lasers. At SW1 Clinic, we use reliable and high grade lasers for all our procedures.
Is the procedure painful?
Most of our patients’ feedback is that the procedure is very comfortable. To enhance your comfort, a numbing cream is applied on the skin prior to the laser treatment. The laser feels like a gentle “warm prickling” sensation on the skin.
Is there any downtime?
There is mild flushing of the treated area which usually resolves after a few hours. More obvious localized redness lasting a few days may occur with intensive spot treatments for more resistant pigmentation. You should speak with your doctor to discuss your tolerance for downtime, and they will adjust your treatment level accordingly.
How many sessions will I need?
Depending on the extent of your pigmentation and the treatment level of your sessions, you may need anywhere from 2 to 6 sessions. The treatment may be repeated every 1 to 4 weeks, depending on the type, extent and severity of your pigmentation. It is best combined with PDRN for effective skin healing and regeneration.
Any special care before and after the treatment?
You skin should not be tanned prior to treatment. After the treatment, you should be gentle with your skin, wear a sunscreen of SPF 30 or higher daily and minimise your UV exposure. Sun protective clothing and other physical shields are also recommended to ensure your skin heals in the shortest possible time.