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Join the dots

What are those spots on your face and what can you do about them? Plenty, if you know your skin and act in time. By Pragya Priyali
None | By Pragya Priyali
UPDATED ON MAR 05, 2012 05:51 PM IST

Loss of lustre and visible pigmentation are concerns that hit you hard in your 30s. You look at old high school pictures and wonder what happened to that radiant, blemish-free face. But much before you start seeing wrinkles, there are tiny demons in the form of spots and marks that start appearing and settle so deep beneath the outer layer of your skin that you don’t notice them. In no time, these dots form an army and conquer the territory around your eyes, cheeks and lips! The right thing to do is to fight them before they settle down. Dr Swati Srivastava, head dermatologist, VLCC, answers all pigmentation queries that ever crossed your mind.

What are the factors that decide the colour of our skin?
Indian skin type is generally darker compared to most races, because of the higher levels of melanin in the skin. Melanin is the pigment in your skin that determines your complexion. While it colours your skin, the larger purpose of this pigment is to protect your skin from sunlight and sun damage, which in turn aggravates the process of ageing.

What are the first signs of ageing?
The early signs of ageing are light spots on the skin, fine lines and wrinkles. They generally show on the skin after you hit 30. With the skin losing its natural shine and glow, it becomes dry. Excessive exposure to the sun leads to freckles and age spots. One should look out for these signs and take immediate and utmost care of them.

How common is pigmentation among Indian women?
It is a common phenomenon. The reason is that we Indians have dark, wheatish complexion. About 40 per cent women suffer from pigmentation between the age of 20 and 50. Hormonal fluctuations after pregnancy bring a lot of changes in women and almost 30 per cent chances are that these signs show up after childbirth.

Why are some people more prone to pigmentation than others?
Pigmentation is directly proportional to hormonal imbalance and also depends on genetics. If one’s body produces more melanin, it would lead to darkening. It can also be a side effect of some medicines.

What are the different types of skin pigmentation?
Pigmentation is divided into two categories, hyper-pigmentation and hypo-pigmentation. They are both common and usually harmless, but can often be embarrassing.

Hyper-pigmentation is where patches of skin become darker compared to normal, healthy skin. The causes include melasma, chloasma, sun damage and freckles. They are usually identified by spot-like appearances. Hypo-pigmentation is the result of a reduction in melanin production, causing patches of skin to become lighter than the surrounding skin.

What is melasma?
Melasma is a dark skin discolouration that appears on sun-exposed areas of the face. It is a common skin disorder and can affect anyone, though young women with brownish skin are at greatest risk. It is often associated with the female hormones oestrogen and progesterone. It is especially common in women who are pregnant, on birth control pills or on hormone replacement therapy during menopause. It is difficult to treat since it is not a temporary dysfunction, but a condition of sorts – like diabetes. It can only be controlled, not cured.

What are the lesser known reasons of pigmentation?
Besides sun exposure and genetics, scratching and scarring, contraceptive pills or pregnancy can cause pigmentation. Spots formed on older skin are a result of hyper-pigmentation from sun damage. Scarring due to abrasions, burns, acne, and other things can lead to hyper-pigmentation as well. Genetics play an important role. The obvious signs are freckles. People of Indian descent are prone to hyperpigmentation under their eyes. For hyper-pigmentation that occurs during pregnancy, the symptoms are darkening of the skin on the face or abdomen. It usually disappears after childbirth. Pill discontinuity can help, too.

Are dark circles also a form of pigmentation?
That’s partially true. There are many reasons for dark circles; some include lack of sleep, too much stress and lack of iron in the body. These can be reversed. However, some dark circles are stubborn and never seem to go away, no matter how much rest or supplements you take. In that case, it may be due to hyper-pigmentation.

Why does pigmentation among Indians usually occur in a ‘W’ shape around the eyes and cheek bones?
That’s because the eyes and cheek areas come directly under the influence of the sun. The harmful rays damage the skin and leave it red and dry.

Which products will help control or combat pigmentation?
Avoiding the sun and using sun protection can lessen the appearance of both spots and freckles. Skin lightening and hydroquinone creams are recommended. Rubbing fresh aloe vera juice or gel on the spots helps to fade them. Use it twice a day for a month or two. Juice from the aloe plant is excellent for healing the skin, especially burns.

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