pigmentation

Pigmentation is the third greatest skin concern among Australian women and can age your appearance as much as lines and wrinkles. If “soft” options haven’t worked, it might be time to bring out the big guns. 

As your summer glow begins to fade over the next couple of months, you might find yourself left with some stubborn hangers-on, in the form of dark spots or other patchy discolouration.

In fact, you may be among 62 percent of Australian women who suffer from pigmentation to some degree all year round, a statistic revealed in a survey conducted by skincare giant Clinique in 2011. The survey concluded that pigmentation was our third greatest skin concern.

If “soft” options such as topical lightening/brightening products or exfoliation treatments performed at a salon or medi-clinic haven’t achieved the desired results, it might be time to bring out the big guns.

These treatments are, however, better left until summer is over as they can make the skin far more sensitive to the sun and its effects.

Laser
Fractionated laser therapy is currently considered the gold standard for the treatment of pigmentation.

It works by targeting both the epidermis (upper skin layer) and dermis (second of the skin’s three layers). It does this by delivering a laser beam that is divided into thousands of tiny but deep columns of treatment into the skin. These are called microthermal treatment zones (MTZs).

Within each MTZ old epidermal pigmented cells are expelled and penetration of collagen in the dermis causes a reaction that leads to collagen re-modelling and new collagen formation – ie. younger-looking and firmer as well as with reduced pigmentation.

By using MTZs, the laser targets and treats intensively within the zone while surrounding healthy tissue remain intact and unaffected. This “fractional” treatment results in a faster healing process than if all tissue in the treatment area was exposed to the laser.

Not everyone, however, will be a suitable candidate and the intensity of the wavelength(s) used will depend on the type and severity of the pigmentation. Downtime depends on the intensity of treatment and several sessions may also be involved.

Before going down the laser route, it is important to ensure you are in the care of a properly trained and experienced operator. It is an unregulated practice in Australia and can be offered by anyone from beauty therapists to plastic surgeons. The quality of devices used also vary wildly and “cheap” treatments may cost a patient dearly – by doing nothing at all, worsening the condition or actually burning and scarring the skin.

A good starting point in your search for a qualified practitioner is with the Cosmetic Physicians Society of Australasia (CPSA). Visit http://www.cosmeticphysicians.org.au/findadoctor.asp?pageid=4

Any dark spots should also be checked by a doctor before having a treatment. If they are actually pre-cancerous or cancerous lesions, laser and light therapies can accelerate their growth.

Chemical peels
More intensive chemical peels than can be offered at a beauty salon or spa – usually involving TriChloroAcetic Acid (TCA) – can be carried out in a doctor’s office, or medi-clinic under a doctor’s authority. These medical-strength acids help remove outer damaged layers of skin.

“The chemical solution is applied to the skin for a set period of time and helps the skin renew itself and, so when new skin grows, any discolorations are less noticeable,” says Sydney cosmetic surgeon Dr Mark Kohout.

Depending on the intensity of the peel, downtime may be anything from a few days to two weeks or more.

IPL
Intense Pulsed Light was once the go-to for treating pigmentation. It is still extremely popular and effective in the right candidates.

IPL systems work on the same principles as lasers in that light energy is absorbed into particular target cells with chromophores (skin components that absorb light). The light energy is converted to heat energy, which causes damage to the specific target area.

IPL systems are different to lasers in that they deliver many wavelengths (or colours) in each pulse of light instead of just one wavelength.

This enhances penetration without using excessive energy levels and enables the targeting of specific chromophores.

Not being as intense as a laser treatment may mean it is not as effective and multiple sessions are usually required to see results.

What skin treatments have you tried to treat skin pigmentation?