What Is a Pigmented Skin Type?
Everyone’s skin creates a pigment called melanin, which gives your skin its color. While all humans have the same number of melanocytes, the amount of melanin that each cell produces varies from person to person. Larger amounts of melanin equate to a darker skin tone.
For some people — such as the eight pigmented Baumann skin types — melanocytes are overactive, producing more melanin than they should. Genetics and external factors like sun exposure contribute to overactive melanocytes, leading to pigmentation issues like dark spots and uneven skin tone.
How Does the Skin Make Pigment?
Melanocytes are specialized skin cells located in the basal layer of the epidermis, which is the deepest layer of the epidermis, right before the middle layer of skin — the dermis — begins. Smaller organelles called melanosomes are located inside each melanocyte. Inside the melanosomes, a copper-containing enzyme called tyrosinase produces melanin through a series of chemical reactions.
Once the melanin is made, the melanosomes migrate to the dendrite tips of the melanocytes, where they can pass the melanin off to other skin cells called keratinocytes. Because these cells are closer to the surface of the skin, the pigment that they receive is visible on your skin.
What Affects Skin Pigmentation?
Genetic factors do play a role in the amount of melanin that your skin naturally produces. However, exposure to UV light is one of the largest external factors that contribute to skin pigmentation. When exposed to the sun, your skin ramps up its melanin production in order to gain additional protection against free radical damage that can lead to skin cancer. This overproduction of melanin is what causes “sun spots” or “age spots,” which oftentimes do not fade away like a tan.
Note that people with naturally dark complexions still need to wear sunscreen! The sun’s UV rays are still able to penetrate the skin and cause free radical damage, which can lead to melanoma. In fact, if your skin does not tend to burn when exposed to the sun, you may be at a greater risk of skin cancer, as you don’t have that immediate outward sign that your skin has been damaged.
Hormonal changes are another common cause of overactive melanocytes. Melasma, often called the “pregnancy mask,” is a type of hyperpigmentation commonly seen in pregnant women. For some women, these dark patches of skin fade away after pregnancy when hormone levels have normalized. For others, melasma is caused or worsened by sun exposure and is more difficult to treat.
How Are Pigmentation Issues Treated?
Following the right skincare regimen for your skin type and practicing good sun protection habits are two of the most important ways to treat and prevent pigmentation problems. Always wear sunscreen, even if you are not planning to be outside that day — UVA rays can penetrate glass and can therefore damage your skin when driving in your car or sitting near a window in your office.
Skin-lightening ingredients such as vitamin C, kojic acid, and hydroquinone can help to reduce dark patches of skin and improve uneven skin tone. Talk to your dermatologist about in-office treatments like chemical peels and laser skin treatments to help enhance the effects of your skincare routine.
If you struggle with uneven skin tone or dark spots, you are a pigmented Baumann skin type. The proper skincare regimen, combined with healthy lifestyle habits and in-office treatments, can help you achieve a more even skin tone and a healthy-looking complexion.
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