You go to great lengths to keep your skin looking its best by using serums, creams, and different regimens, all of which play an important part in managing your skin’s health. However, while it’s important to focus on the end result, it’s also important to understand what’s happening underneath your skin to affect its pigmentation, or color. After all, understanding what’s happening at a scientific level can provide you with one more tool to help you keep your skin as healthy as possible.
What is pigmentation?
Pigmentation is the color of a person’s skin; in some cases, pigmentation can be indicative of a person’s state of health. If someone experiences an illness or injury, their skin’s pigmentation may be affected and become lighter (hypopigmentation) or darker (hyperpigmentation).1 Hence, it’s important to keep an eye on any changes in pigmentation, as this might hint at damage being done to your skin.
What causes changes in pigmentation?
Surprisingly, 90% of what we perceive as aging is actually caused by factors that you can control, the main one being the amount of time your skin spends exposed to the sun.2 Excessive sun exposure may be responsible for structural changes in the skin that will not be seen for years, and can also cause drastic changes to your skin’s pigmentation.2
The sun’s rays actually speed up how active your skin cells, or melanocytes, are. Melanocytes produce melanin, the pigment that gives your skin its color, so more exposure to the sun’s radiation means more pigment in your skin.3
Learn more about pigmentation problems and how to treat them here.
Pigmentation changes may also take place in those who have darker skin, as dark skin tends to have more melanin, which makes one more susceptible to a condition known as melasma. Also known as “pregnancy mask,” melasma is characterized by brown or tan patches on the face and is caused by a change in hormone levels.4 It is most common in expectant mothers, although men can also develop the condition.
Additionally, changes in pigmentation may also be attributed to post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH). PIH, which is caused by trauma to the skin such as bug bites and acne, are dark spots that remain long after the initial inflammation has healed.5
Treatment and prevention
The good news is that you can manage pigmentation changes to your skin by limiting your exposure to the sun and avoiding unnecessary trauma to your skin. Some easy-to-follow recommendations include wearing sunscreen every day, bringing a hat or umbrella for further protection from the sun, and always wearing sunglasses. It’s also important to leave blemishes and acne scars alone so they heal properly.6
For years, hydroquinone** has been considered to be the gold standard for treating pigmentation issues and is a key ingredient in our Obagi Nu-Derm® System,* which is ideal for treating age spots and any type of discoloration, including hyperpigmentation. Reach out to your doctor today to learn more about hyperpigmentation and the possible ways to reduce its appearance on your skin.
* Not available in select states including MA, MT, NH, NY, and TX, due to state regulations regarding the ability of physicians to dispense prescription drug products in their offices.
**Important Safety Information for Clear, Blender, and Sunfader
People with prior history of sensitivity or allergic reaction to this product or any of its ingredients should not use it. The safety of topical hydroquinone use during pregnancy or in children (12 years and under) has not been established.
Avoid contact with eyes, nose, mouth, or lips. In case of accidental contact, patient should rinse eyes, nose, mouth, or lips with water and contact physician.
Sunscreen use is an essential aspect of hydroquinone therapy because even minimal sunlight exposure sustains melanocytic activity.
Contains sodium metabisulfite, a sulfite that may cause allergic-type reactions including anaphylactic symptoms and life-threatening or less severe asthmatic episodes in certain susceptible people. The overall prevalence of sulfite sensitivity in the general population is unknown and probably low. Sulfite sensitivity is seen more frequently in asthmatic than in nonasthmatic people.
PRECAUTIONS (ALSO SEE WARNINGS):
Treatment should be limited to relatively small areas of the body at one time since some patients experience a transient skin reddening and a mild burning sensation, which does not preclude treatment.
Pregnancy Category C: Animal reproduction studies have not been conducted with topical hydroquinone. It is also not known whether hydroquinone can cause fetal harm when used topically on a pregnant woman or affect reproductive capacity. It is not known to what degree, if any, topical hydroquinone is absorbed systemically. Topical hydroquinone should be used on pregnant women only when clearly indicated.
Nursing Mothers: It is not known whether topical hydroquinone is absorbed or excreted in human milk. Caution is advised when topical hydroquinone is used by a nursing mother.
Pediatric Usage: Safety and effectiveness in children below the age of 12 years have not been established.
Use of the product should be discontinued if hypersensitivity to any of the ingredients is noted.
1. Hyperpigmentation, hypopigmentation, and your skin. WebMD Web site. http://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/hyperpigmentation-hypo.... Reviewed July 11, 2012. Accessed May 28, 2014.
2. Pigmentation Problems [video]. Obagi Web site. http://obagi.com/patients/skin-tips. Accessed June 2, 2014.
3. Age spots (liver spots). Mayo Clinic Web site. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/age-spots/basics/causes/co.... Accessed May 28, 2014.
4. Skin conditions in pregnancy. WebMD Web site. http://www.webmd.com/baby/skin-conditions-pregnancy. Reviewed July 12, 2012. Accessed May 28, 2014.
5. Hertzig AK. Brighten up. WebMD Web site. http://www.webmd.com/beauty/face/brighten-up. Published August 20, 2007. Accessed May 28, 2014.
6. Jackson-Cannady A. Coping with acne: your care plan. WebMD Web site. http://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/acne/acne-care-11/acne.... Accessed June 12, 2014.
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