Pigmentation & Sun Exposure

Pigmentation occurs when the skin darkens because skin cells produce melanin, which is stimulated by the sun. Pigmentation problems caused by sun damage include freckles and age spots and the best way to avoid these patches of pigmentation is to avoid exposure to the sun.

The sun stimulates a chemical reaction involving free radicals. Free radicals are highly reactive molecules which are essential for biological functions, but when their numbers or activities get too great they can cause damage. UV radiation from the sun can increase their amount of activity. Small amounts of sun exposure are essential for the production of vitamin D in the body, but overexposure to the sun is best avoided. This is because sun exposure also causes the specialized cells deep within the skin called melanocytes to produce melanin. Melanin gives the skin its tone or color. It is thought that when free radicals damage melanocytes over time, due to sun exposure, melanin clumps occur, causing pigmentation problems such as freckles, age spots and other imperfections in the skin tone.

Age spots or lentigines refer to the brown spots that appear over time on the face and body as a result of overexposure to the sun. Such pigmentation tends to persist for long periods and doesn’t disappear in the winter. As we age we subject our skin more and more to sun damage and our skins natural ability to fend off UV rays from the sun begins to deterioriate and age spots occur. Some suggest that sun spots is a more accurate term than age spots, as this pigmentation problem also occurs in younger people.

Freckles or ephiledes are small flat brown marks that occur on the face as well as other sun exposed areas. Freckles are most often seen on people with fair skin, particular people with red hair but they are also seen on people with darker skin types. The color is due to an accumulation of pigment in the melanocyte skin cells. These cells produce more melanin during the summer months, when we are exposed to the sun, so freckles will appear during these times and fade over winter. Freckles of this type usually become less noticeable as a person ages. The best way to avoid the appearance of pigmentation such as freckles is by using sun protection.

To protect your skin from the sun, lather sunblock to areas of your skin exposed to sunlight. Dermatologists recommend UVA/UVB SPF 30 plus sunblock to be used daily. Avoid the sun between 10am and 3pm, or when the sun is at its most damaging. If you do go out, wear a hat and a shirt with long sleeves to maximize protection. Avoiding sun exposure through these precautions will lesson your chances of getting skin pigmentation.

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