Shedding Some Light on Pigmentation


Pigmentary disorders are among the most common complaints of clients seeking skin care. Hyperpig­mentation is an important condition that requires the expertise and understanding of an esthetician. It affects many Caucasians, African-Americans, Hispanics and Asians. The goal of an esthetic pigment treatment is to correct and further prevent hyperpig­mentation.

Melanin and Melanocytes

Melanin is a complex molecule responsible for the pigment in the skin, hair and eyes. The content of melanin within keratinocytes determines skin color, with deeply pigmented skin having the highest content of epidermal melanin. This molecule protects by reducing the penetration of UV rays into the skin and subsequently into the nuclei of cells where DNA resides. It is important to note that both dark and light skins have the same number of melanocytes (the cells responsible for melanoge­nesis); however, the ways these cells respond differ greatly.

To fully understand melanin and its influence in skin, you have to acknowledge the biological differences in melanocytes. Melanocytes are dendritic cells (cells with extended arms) located in the basal layer of the epidermis. Approximately 36 keratinocytes interface with one melanocyte, forming what is identified as the epidermal-melanin unit. Distribution of these cells can vary and when isolating the facial regions, as more numerous melanocytes are found on the head and neck.

Treating Pigmentation

How many times has a client exhibiting pigmentation morbidity had the misimpression that you can magically make it disappear with a treatment or two or one product? We have to always remember pigmentation is a permanent injury of the skin and require the due diligence and continued compliance of both the esthetician and client for the rest of their lives. These disorders do not fade or go away overnight and must be managed daily. Clinical treatments, continuance of skin lighteners and daily protection of SPF must become a lifestyle to manage these challenging pigmentation conditions.

Pigmentation detective work can baffle even the most experienced clinical esthetician. Even after a thorough analysis, sometimes the most seemingly innocent factor can be responsible for pigmentation. Scented body lotions or fragrances sprayed on or applied in areas that come in contact with ultraviolet light may penetrate stubborn or suspicious pigmentary discolor­ations on the jaw, neck, décolleté, arm or leg.

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