Complementary Medicine / Alternative MedicineDermatology

Pigmentation: What to know

Skin pigmentation with it can be unsightly for some individuals, or psychologically disturbing for others it affects. For those looking to reduce the appearance of various colored skin patches, there are many home pigmentation remedies that can help.

Pigmentation is skin colouration. Melanin is one type of skin pigment. The skin cells produce melanin which protects against damage caused by UV light.

People have different skin levels of melanin which accounts for the overall color of their skin. However, in a specific area, the skin can create too much melanin, causing darkening of the skin. This is because of hyperpigmentation.

Hyperpigmentation often appears to affect skin patches, but in some cases it can affect the entire body.

In any case, home remedies can not work and there are also occasions when a person should see a doctor for a complete diagnosis and medical care.

Types of pigmentation

Age spots may appear on skin frequently exposed to the sun
Age spots may appear on skin frequently exposed to the sun.

Common forms of hyperpigmentation include what people often refer to as age spots, typically occurring on areas of the body with frequent sun exposure.

Many forms of hyperpigmentation are harmless, and are no more than melanin overproduction.

Hyperpigmentation may however be a sign of an underlying condition in some cases.

Might contain the following conditions:

  • direct trauma from an accident or skin condition
  • hormonal imbalances
  • insulin resistance
  • issues with the endocrine system, which produces hormones
  • hormonal changes due to pregnancy
  • cancer and cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy drugs

Hyperpigmentation itself is not a problem in all cases, and poses no risk to the body. An underlying condition may need to be treated properly though.

Home remedies for pigmentation

Hyperpigmentation can well, in many cases, respond to simple home remedies.

Home remedies are either intended to replenish and protect the cells, or to replace hyperpigmented cells with new fresh cells.

In some household products most home remedies contain acids and antioxidants, which can protect and balance the skin.

One study states that dermatologists use many acids to assist with skin disorders, such as acne and pigmentation, as chemical peels. These chemicals involve:

  • lactic acid
  • citric acid
  • glycolic acid
  • salicylic acid

Household products in the dermatologist ‘s office do not expose the skin to as much of these acids as a chemical peel. However, they can also have moderate effects and help to reduce the hyperpigmentation appearance.

Apple cider vinegar

Apple cider vinegar contains polyphenols, which may protect skin cells.
Apple cider vinegar contains polyphenols, which may protect skin cells.

Apple cider vinegar is used by many on the skin to try to lighten unwanted pigmentation. Apple cider vinegar contains acetic acid, which can in some cases serve as a mild chemical peel.

Apple cider vinegar also contains polyphenols, as a study in the journal Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine notes. These act as antioxidants, and can protect cells of the skin.

There is little direct evidence, however, regarding the use of apple cider vinegar for hyperpigmentation. Some people may find it helpful, but they need to be sure they are using the product properly.

For this remedy, add 1 part of apple cider vinegar and 1 part of water for a few minutes, twice daily, to the pigmented region. Then thoroughly rinse the area afterwards. Keep an eye out for any signs of irritation, and stop using the vinegar when there is irritation in the area.

Yogurt or milk

Yogurt and milk both contain lactic acid, an ingredient common to the skin in chemical peels. The small amounts in those foods can also help with mild hyperpigmentation.

Applying yogurt or milk directly to the pigmented area or soaking a ball of cotton in milk and applying it to the area can be useful home remedies both.

People should let the yogurt or milk sit for a few minutes, and then thoroughly rinse the area and add a moisturizer. Repeating this process twice a day can help some individuals improve their skin spots.

Green tea

Green tea and its principal active ingredient, epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG), may in some cases help to alter skin pigmentation.

As a summary in the notes of the Journal of Cutaneous and Esthetic Surgery, EGCG is an antioxidant compound that may help inhibit cell processes leading to overpigmentation. There is also gallic acid and ellagic acid in the green tea leaves themselves, which may help improve the skin.

The authors, however, note that more human research is needed to support these theories.

For people who want to use this remedy, it may be helpful to take an oral EGCG supplement or apply a wet green tea bag to the pigmented area for a few minutes each day.

Vitamin C

The review in the Journal of Cutaneous and Esthetic Surgery highlights potential home remedies, including vitamin C, for hyperpigmentation. Vitamin C can aid in forms such as ascorbic acid or citric acid to alter the skin’s appearance.

However, the analysis also states that the varying amounts of vitamin C in foods make quantification of their effects very difficult. However, the researchers also observed that vitamin C has virtually no side effects, and that its effectiveness may be increased by combining it with other options.

Applying accessible vitamin C sources such as grapefruit, lemon, or papaya to the skin can help to increase the surface antioxidants and lighten the cells over time.

Together with other home remedies, people can use those sources for pigmentation to achieve better results. However, it is worth noting that vitamin C does not penetrate very well into the skin.

Red onion

For some people, red onions, or Allium cepa, can also be a helpful skin whitening agent.

A 2011 study in the journal Natural Product Research notes that red onion isolates have blocked the actions of cells that lead to excess pigmentation.

Importantly, researchers looked at isolated compounds, not at the onion itself. More human research is needed to see if onion itself is effective but many people still use the onion as a home pigmentation remedy.

A easy way to use red onion is to grind the onion and then apply it to an empty tea bag. Apply the bag to the hyperpigmentation area, if necessary, using medical tape to hold it onto the skin.

Aloe vera

Another good way to reduce pigmentation over time is to apply aloe vera gel directly to the pigmented skin.

A study in the journal Planta Medica, involving tadpole cells, notes that the active ingredient of aloe vera, called aloesin or aloin, may help to reduce skin pigmentation.

While more human skin studies may help to provide better support for these results, the initial evidence in animal models looks promising.

Licorice extract

Licorice extract can also help to reduce the natural pigmentation.

The Journal of Cutaneous and Esthetic Surgery analysis states that glabridin, the main active ingredient in licorice, protects the skin against pigmentation due to UVB rays. The authors are again calling for more human studies to prove that action.

Many topical creams may be available over the counter containing licorice or its extract and will have their own directions for use.

Mulberry

Mulberry leaves and extracts of these may also be natural pigmentation treatments.

As reviewed in the Clinical and Esthetic Dermatology Journal reports, the active ingredient in mulberry leaf blocks pigmentation-causing factors and disperses melanin.

Research around the plant uses extract types which are highly purified. However, soaking dried mulberry leaves and applying them onto the skin every day can also expose the body to smaller quantities of these same ingredients, which may produce mild effects over time.

When to see a doctor

Doctor and his patient
A person may want to speak to a doctor if hyperpigmentation does not respond to home remedies.

If hyperpigmentation does not respond to these home remedies, people may want to see a full diagnosis and treatment with a doctor.

Treatment will depend on the underlying medical cause if any. Doctors can refer the person to a dermatologist who can treat, including:

  • laser resurfacing
  • chemical peels
  • microdermabrasion
  • cryotherapy

Such processes help resurface the skin and replace the cells that have been damaged, which can reduce hyperpigmentation.

Takeaway

Most of the time, hyperpigmentation is a cosmetic issue that poses no real health danger, other than maybe feeling unseen to the individual.

Various home remedies or therapies can help reduce the signs of skin hyperpigmentation. There isn’t much research in humans, however, studying the effects of many of these products.

If pigmentation home remedies aren’t working, people can consult a doctor to discuss medical options. Anyone who has concerns about their skin problems or suspects that there is an underlying issue should also make an appointment to be sure.

A complete diagnosis and the appropriate medical care will help to relieve the mind and avoid complications.

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