Autumn is officially here! And with the cooler weather, lots of our patients are wanting laser and treatment for their pigmented and blotchy skin. Our laser nurse Kristie gives us an overview of pigmentation…Freckles, pigment, sunspots…
What’s the difference!?
“In my 18 years of lasering I have often been asked this very question, and frequently in general conversation the terms “freckle”, “pigment” and “age spot” get bandied around interchangeably.
Whilst as a consumer, you probably don’t need to know the ins and out of what constitutes a freckle versus a sun spot, or whether you have sun damage or melasma it is important to understand there IS a difference and this can be VERY important when it comes to treatment”.
PIGMENT essentially refers to the colour of the skin and is determined by the level of melanin, produced by melanocytes. Melanin production is determined by racial origin and sun exposure. People with dark skin produce more melanin than those who are fair skinned, and exposure to sun and UV stimulates our melanocytes to produce more melanin, resulting in a tan. Generally when people are seeking treatment for their pigmentation, we are referring to excess and uneven pigment.
MELASMA is a chronic skin disorder that results in a symmetrical, blotchy, darkening of the skin that can be both difficult to treat and distressing for sufferers. It commonly affects women more so than men, manifesting around the ages of 20-40. It results from the production of melanin by melanocytes, as with a tan, but is an overstimulation of melanin that persists long term (often despite our best efforts!) The cause of melasma can be complex and can have a genetic predisposition. Common triggers can include sun exposure, pregnancy, hormone therapy such as the oral contraceptive pill, other medications and inflammation from cosmetics such as perfumes or soaps and so strict avoidance of these is vital in treatment.
FRECKLES (medically we call them ephelides just to add another term into the mix) present as small, flat brown lesions on sun exposed areas of the body such as the face, shoulders, arms etc and are common in people with fair skin and red heads. Freckles are the result of sun exposure which again is stimulating our melanocytes to produce melanin, which then accumulates locally in the superficial skin cells (keratinocytes). They typically darken in summer (with sun exposure) and fade in winter (due the natural exfoliation and replacement of the keratinocytes).
SUN SPOTS / AGE SPOTS / LIVER SPOTS etc etc are all terms used to describe SOLAR LENTIGINES. Like freckles, solar lentigines are benign dark patches in the skin, as a result of sun induced melanin production and localised proliferation within the keratinocytes. Unlike freckles, they do not fade in winter and tend to present in people over the age of 40 and accumulate with continued sun exposure, hence the terms “sun damage” and “aged spots”. They have NOTHING to do with your liver.
So how do we treat them? Well first I would always suggest a skin check with the dermatologist to diagnose your skin condition and rule out the myriad of OTHER brown spots and skin lesions and potential skin cancers.
Prevention – with daily (rain, hail or shine) use of an SPF 50+.
Repair – with good quality, cosmeceutical skincare (think AHA, Vit A, Vit B, Vit C etc etc).
Remove – generally with laser. There are a variety of lasers available to treat various types of pigment irregularities and a consultation is a must.
Kristie Phillips, RN