All skin color from the lightest to the darkest is created by melanin. To quote Professor Nina Jablonski, melanin is “a really cool molecule.” It is a brown pigment produced by cells called melanocytes, which are found in the top layer of the skin. The majority of cells in the epidermis are skin cells, which create a protective layer, but about every eighth cell is a melanocyte cell. Melanin is always being produced in the lower levels of the skin, and the pigmentation then rises to the top of the skin. The process resembles that of an assembly line. Anthropologists have been studying melanin in regards to skin color and race in humans for years, but in the skin-care industry, we usually only think about melanin as the cause of hyperpigmentation. Hyperpigmentation also goes by the term ‘brown spots,’ ‘sun spots’ or ‘age spots.’
Brown spots happen when there is a disturbance somewhere along the ‘assembly line’ of melanin production. A trigger such as sun-exposure, inflammation, injury or a hormone spike sends a signal to the melanin-stimulating hormones. After this message is sent, the enzyme tyrosinase is activated. Once tyrosinase is signaled, the melanocyte cell receives a message to produce pigment. The melanocytes make melanin and package them into little bundles known as melanosomes. The cells then disperse pigment upward through the dermis, resulting in hyperpigmentation.
When melanin is produced by one of these triggers, the body doesn’t disperse the pigment in the same way that regular melanin production happens. Instead, it gets deposited in clumps that show up as spots and discoloration. As the skin ages, the cycle is even less controlled as the cumulative effects of sun exposure and hormonal changes continually interrupt the standard production cycle. As excess melanin is produced, hyperpigmentation forms, creating deposits of color that will stay indefinitely unless treated.
If hyperpigmentation is a concern for you, there are several treatments, such as Fraxel and Photo Genesis which provide excellent results. A product regimen such as Obagi or using a correcting serum like Skinceuticals’ Pigment Regulator may be recommended by your Aesthetician. If hyperpigmentation runs in your family, you can contact us to set up a Reveal Skin Analysis and begin a customized preventative program for your skin.