What is Pigmentation?

Medically reviewed by The Harley Medical Group Clinical Governance Board on 4th March 2020.

Pigmentation means colouring. Uneven pigmentation of the skin, where a patch of skin that appears darker than the surounding area, is called hyperpigmentation. Hyperpigmentation occurs when the cells that create  melanin, a natural pigment in the body that give colour to hair, skin and eyes, is activated either from being damaged or because they are unhealthy.

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Pigmentation is known by many names, though the official term is hyperpigmentation.

  • Sun spots, brown spots and sun damage 

Most often seen as uneven skin tone, and characterised by uneven brown and tan patches on the face, hands, décolletage and shoulders. It's caused by overexposure to the sun over a period of years and can be identifed in the lower layers of the skin before it's seen on the epidermis. Sun damages is one of the easiest forms of pigmentation to treat.

  • Freckles 

Very small melanin patches, medically termed 'ephelis / ephelides', found on all ages groups, though rarely on infants. They are thought to develop as a result of a combination of genetic tendency (inheritance) and sun exposure. Freckles often fade during the winter months but become more prominent during the summer with increased exposure to the sun. They can be found all over the body but most commonly appear on the face, upper back and shoulders, particularly on people with light skin and hair colouring.

  • Melasma

Tan, brown or grey-brown patches most commonly found on the face, normally in a symmetrical pattern, most notably on the forehead, nose and cheeks. A common skin condition, also called 'chloasma', that affects adults, particularly females, with darker skin tones. Melasma often fades during the winter months but becomes more noticeable during the summer with increased exposure to the sun, but it is not caused by the sun.

  • Lentigo and age spots

A pigmented flat or slightly raised lesion with a clearly defined edge. Lentigines can affect males and females of all ages and races, but are most commonly found on the elderly and often called age spots or liver spots. They are caused by sun damage (including sunburn) indoor tanning and phototherapy. Unlike an ephilis (freckle), it does not fade in the winter months.

There are many reasons for the occurrence of skin pigmentation including hormonal changes in the body, overexposure to the sun, genetic factors and injury or trauma.

  • Hormonal

Melasma is a very common hormonal pigmentation. Most frequently found in women, the exact cause is not known but several factors have been identified as a contributing factor including hormonal changes e.g. pregnancy or medication; cosmetics e.g. perfume and even some foods e.g. soy milk.

  • Sun damage

Prolonged exposure to the sun with little to no protection to the UVA and UVB infrared rays activates melanocytes in the skin. Melanocytes  are melanin-producing cells located in the bottom layer (the stratum basale) of the skin's epidermis which cause pigmentation.

  • Genetic factors

Some, though not all, forms of pigmentation are hereditary either as a result of inherited skin tone or from a genetic disorder.

  • Injury / trauma

Known as Postinflammatory Hyperpigmentation, PIH, it is a pigmentation caused by an injury or inflammation of the skin being exposed to sunlight. Though normally temporary, often fading after 18 months, PIH as a result of a sever injury may be permanent without treatment.  Acne and Rosacea can cause Postinflammatory Hyperpigmentation.

It is difficult to prevent pigmentation, particularly if it’s the result of pregnancy or having a genetic condition. But pigmentation caused by the sun’s harmful rays can be prevented and reduced simply by wearing SPF (sun protection factor) every day, avoiding being in direct sunlight for long periods of time and not using sun beds. Remember, a single day of heavy sun can undo months of skin brightening treatments.​

How The Harley Medical Group can help

Effective treatments for Hyperpigmentation

Pigmentation and uneven skin tone is not something you have to live with, they can often be treated to reduce the appearance. At The Harley Medical Group, we offer several of the best treatments available to reverse the effects of pigmentation on the skin.

Skinbrite Pigmentation Peel

Our pigmentation peel is clinically designed to treat pigmentation in all layers of the skin and prevent it from returning. The many benefits include:

  • Brighten and evens skin tone
  • Helps prevent UV rays from damaging the skin
  • Promotes epidermal regeneration
  • Calms and protects the skin with botanical extracts


Obagi Nu Derm Skin Care and Blue Skin Peels

A leading deep rejuvenation treatment which helps eliminate blemishes, acne scars, wrinkles, uneven pigmentation and sun damage whilst increasing overall texture and tightness.

  • Stimulates the creation of new cells
  • Supports the body’s natural regeneration and rejuvenation processes
  • Tones and balances the skin
  • Protect the surface of skin from the penetrating and harmful rays of the sun


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