Pigmentation is your skin’s colouring. Everyday we meet people with a huge variety of different skin tones. What colour your skin is depends on how much melanin you produce. Melanin colours your skin, hair, and the iris of your eyes. Your race and the amount of sunlight you’re exposed to both affect how much melanin you make.
The more sun you’re exposed to, the more melanin your body produces to protect your skin against harmful ultraviolet rays. This is what ‘tans’ your skin.
Hormonal changes, like with pregnancy or the contraceptive pill, can also affect how much melanin you make. When your body produces too much or too little melanin you can get pigmentation problems.
Got pigmentation problems?
As we’ve just mentioned, sun damage and hormonal imbalance are two things that can cause pigmentation problems. Others include skin trauma (like cuts or wounds) and disease. But, of them all, sun damage is definitely the most common cause of pigmentation problems. And it’s the most easily prevented!
As soon as your skin is exposed to the sun, melanocytes, your skin's pigmentproducing cells, start to make melanin. In the early stages of sun damage, the melanocytes lose their ability to distribute pigment evenly. This is when you start seeing signs of the damage - freckles and areas of darker pigmentation.
All skin types are susceptible to this damage from the sun. Just one bad sunburn when you’re young can give you seriously damaged skin later in life. Any damage your skin suffers doesn’t go away either, it keeps accumulating throughout your life.
Uneven pigmentation from hormonal imbalance usually affects women. It can happen at any time when the body’s natural hormones are disturbed. It’s caused by the oestrogen and progesterone levels stimulating the production of more pigment. This can happen with the menopause, serious stress, when taking birth control pills or during pregnancy.
One of the most common pigmentation problems with pregnant women is what’s known as the ‘mask of pregnancy’. It’s an appropriate name, because the mask of pregnancy usually looks just like a brown mask, with dark brown, symmetric patches of discolouration covering the cheeks and nose.
The mask usually disappears after giving birth.