An Explanation of Skin Pigmentation

Skin pigmentation is also known as Hyperpigmentation and Hypopigmentation. These conditions cause skin discolouration as a result of increased local skin pigment (melanin) production. Melanin protects us from the effects of strong sunlight. A person’s melanin level depends on the amount of sun exposure and their race. Often due to a variety of different influences such as UV or trauma, it leads to inflammation at a cellular level which causes the skin to produce more melanin. Internal bodily controls can resist over production but with continued exposure and with ageing, over exposed skin can lose its ability to restrict over production and lead to long term hyper pigmentation marks. During times of hormonal variation such as being pregnant, the control of pigment production can be diminished and this also can lead to hyper pigmentation. This results in darker skin spots or areas, such as age, liver and sun spots, after local damage from acne or burns, or pregnancy mask (often seen post pregnancy on the jaw line and other facial areas). The amount of pigmentation varies from person to person; some disorders can affect your entire body, others just patches of skin.


– The body producing either too little or too much melanin causes skin pigmentation disorders

– Emotional stress

– Reaction to drugs

– Medications

– Sun Exposure: the body produces more melanin in areas exposed to the sun. It does this as the UV instructs the cells to release the melanin.

– Genetic factors

– Hormonal changes such as birth control pills and childbirth

Different Pigmentation Disorder Types

– Hypo-Pigmentation is more commonly known as a loss of skin pigmentation. It occurs because the body does produce enough melanin. Common causes of this are burns, blisters, ulcers or infection that leaves a lack of pigmentation in that area.

– Hyper-Pigmentation happens when the body produces an excess of melanin that forms deposits in the skin, causing dark patches. The main cause of hyper-pigmentation is sun damage; age and liver spots are a good example. Melasma is also a form of hyper-pigmentation that is often due to hormonal changes. A good of example of melasma is the pregnancy mask.

– Albinism is typically an inherited trait. The main characteristics of someone with Albinism are pale-light skin, white or pale yellow hair and pale blue eyes; occasionally a person with Albinism may have red or violet eyes. Unfortunately there is no cause for Albinism and individuals have to wear sunscreen at all times; sufferers are more prone to skin cancer and sun damage.

– Lichen Simplex Chronicus is a skin disorder that is characterised by dark patches of skin that are also extremely itchy. If the infection is left untreated, permanent scarring can occur.

– Vitiligo is another type of hypo-pigmentation, which is caused by the loss of melanocytes; pigment producing cells. This causes white patches on the skin, which are extremely sensitive to the sun. Again, there is no cure for vitiligo. Treatments for vitiligo fall under the following four categories:

  1. Skin camouflage – helps in disguising white patches using coloured creams and lotions.
  2. Treatments that aim to reverse the changes in the skin.
  3. Treatment to completely de-pigment the skin (skin bleaching).
  4. Sunblock and other means to protect the de-pigmented skin.

– Naevus flammeus, also known as port-wine stains are red or purple marks that appear on the body. Abnormal development of capillaries is the cause of this.

– Birthmarks appear at birth or in the following weeks and generally do not pose any health risks.


While there is no cure for pigmentation skin disorders, there are ways of reducing the effects. This can be doing through certain operative techniques but more commonly by the application of medicines to the problem skin area. The form of pigmentation determines the treatment suitability.

  • People suffering with Albinism are advised to avoid excess sunlight, to cover up and to always apply sunscreen, to avoid the high risk of skin cancer. As Albinism also affects the eyes, surgery can be necessary to correct visual impairments.
  • People suffering with vitiligo may be prescribed a combination of medications that are photo-sensitive; for example trimethylpsoralen and ultraviolet light therapy to darken the spots.
  • People suffering with hyper-pigmentation disorders are again advised to stay out of the sun and often use skin-lightening creams. Poor nutrition can also be causal factor of hyper-pigmentation so a session with a dietician may be beneficial.

To prevent skin cancer, suspicious birthmarks and moles can be surgically removed.

Thiospot® effectively slows down melanin manufacture to help with pigment problems ranging from pregnancy mask, age spots, liver spots and sun spots and general pigment discolouration including Melasma and Chloasma.

Thiospot® is as effective as 2% hydroquinone cream but without any of the associated complications and current carcinogenic concerns regarding hydroquinone and its derivatives. Products containing arbutin and bearberry, which are still legally available in cosmetics, both release hydroquinone as the active agent and when applied act in the same way as hydroquinone with the same potential risk.

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