Why do the pigment spots remain on my face despite sun protection?

During my consultation I saw an Asian patient who was concerned about the spots on her face. A skin biopsy showed melasma, also known as the pregnancy mask. She took excellent care of her skin, with a high SPF factor, minimal sun exposure, and she worked long hours indoors in a fluorescent-lit room. In addition, she meticulously followed the prescribed dermatological pigment treatment. However, despite all these efforts, the spots on her skin remained.

It is disappointing when pigment spots remain on your face, despite careful application of sun protection and treatment. Let’s take a deeper look at this problem and find out why this can happen.

Pigment spots, also known as hyperpigmentation, are a complex issue in dermatology. The appearance of these spots is directly related to melanin, the pigment that determines our skin color. The process starts in the melanocytes, the pigment cells located at the bottom of the epidermis. When these melanocytes (image below point 1), which are responsible for the production of melanin, become overactive, a release of pigment ( image below point 2) occurs to the skin cells, resulting in an accumulation of pigment in the skin ( image point 3).

Spots Pigment Production In The Skin Iconic Elements

Sun exposure is one of the main culprits in the development of pigment spots. Ultraviolet radiation stimulates melanocytes to produce more melanin as a protective response against the harmful effects of the sun. This often results in the formation of dark spots on the skin.

Hormonal fluctuations can also play a significant role. For example, during pregnancy (melasma) or as a result of hormonal treatments, melanocytes can become overactive and lead to the appearance of pigment spots.

Interestingly enough, scars can also contribute to hyperpigmentation. This is due to the skin’s healing process, where melanocytes sometimes produce irregular pigment during the healing process, resulting in discolored areas.

It is important to understand that the more intense and longer the stimulation of pigment occurs, the more challenging it can be to treat effectively. For example, prolonged sun exposure, especially without protection, can lead to intense pigment stimulation. The use of certain medications (contraception, antibiotics, anti-malarial medications) can also result in pigment stimulation. Examples of both of these cases can complicate the prognosis for reducing pigment spots.

Read more on Skin advice: pigment spots

While SPF is crucial for protection against harmful UV rays, it primarily targets ultraviolet light. Protecting against harmful radiation requires more than just understanding SPF (Sun Protection Factor). While SPF is essential for filtering out harmful UVB rays, we also need to look at UVA rays and even visible light to get the full picture.

SPF, or sun protection factor, is a measure of the extent to which a product protects against the harmful effects of ultraviolet B (UVB) rays. UVB rays are responsible for sunburn and contribute to the risk of skin cancer. SPF indicates how much longer you can stay in the sun without burning, compared to no sun protection.

SPF = UVB protection only

In addition to UVB, there are also UVA rays, which penetrate deeper into the skin and cause aging. While SPF primarily targets UVB, it is important to use broad-spectrum sun protection that also covers UVA. This helps prevent premature aging and protects against long-term skin damage.

Check your SPF product to see if it also contains UVA protection!

Visible light is part of the electromagnetic spectrum and includes the colors we can see with the human eye, ranging from violet to red. The spectrum starts with short-wave light, such as violet and blue, and continues to long-wave light, such as yellow and red.

  • Harmful part of visible light: Although visible light is generally considered safe, more attention has recently been paid to the harmful effect of specific parts of visible light. The blue light in the shorter wavelength range of the visible light spectrum is known to be potentially harmful.
    • Blue light: Has shorter wavelengths and higher energy compared to other colors. It is associated with possible skin damage, oxidative stress and can penetrate deeper into the skin than some other wavelengths of light.

Sunlight vs. Screenlight:

  • Sunlight: Natural sunlight contains a broad spectrum of wavelengths, including UV radiation, visible light and infrared. Sunlight can be harmful through overexposure, especially in the case of unprotected exposure to UV radiation.
  • Screen light: Think of computers and smartphones, also produce blue light, but in much smaller amounts than direct sunlight. Staring at screens for long periods of time can lead to eye strain and sleep disorders due to the influence of blue light on the circadian rhythm. Effect on the skin is minimal.

An intriguing aspect is the interaction of visible light with the skin, especially in Fitzpatrick skin types 3 and above. The Fitzpatrick skin types, ranging from 1 to 6, classify the skin’s response to sun exposure. Skin type 3 is an intermediate type characterized by a light to light brown skin color. People with this skin type usually have blonde to dark blonde hair and can sometimes burn with intense sun exposure, but they can also tan.

Opsin-3, present in melanocytes, also known as pigment cells, makes the skin sensitive to visible light. Opsin-3 is a protein found in melanocytes, the pigment-producing cells of the skin. It plays a role in detecting visible light. Opsin-3 is mainly found in the skin cells of people with skin type 3 and higher.

This protein has the ability to respond to specific wavelengths of visible light, and it is associated with the skin’s ability to respond to lighting conditions. For people with skin type 3 and above, opsin-3 can lead to hyperpigmentation or discoloration of the skin, even when exposed to visible light, despite the use of SPF protection against UV rays. It emphasizes the importance of broad-spectrum sun protection to block not only UV rays but also visible light to keep skin healthy and clear.

Protection from visible light, here are some measures you can take:

  1. Broad-spectrum sun protection: Use a sunscreen with a broad-spectrum formula that blocks both UVB and UVA rays. Check whether the product also provides protection against visible light.
  2. Physical barrier: Wear hats and clothing that provide a physical barrier against visible light. Clothing with a dense weave structure can help protect the skin.
  3. Seek shade: Avoid prolonged exposure to direct sunlight, especially during peak summer hours between 1000-1500 hours. Find shady places to protect your skin.

Although some ingredients may provide protection against visible light, it is mainly those with antioxidant properties that protect against certain effects of visible light. Here are some of these ingredients:

  1. Vitamin C (ascorbic acid): A powerful antioxidant that protects the skin against damage caused by free radicals, including those generated by visible light.
  2. Vitamin E (tocopherol): Another antioxidant that can help protect skin cells against oxidative stress.
  3. Ferulic Acid: Often present in combination with vitamins C and E, ferulic acid helps boost the effectiveness of these antioxidants.
  4. Niacinamide (vitamin B3): May help reduce hyperpigmentation and has anti-inflammatory properties.
  5. Zinc Oxide and Titanium Dioxide: These physical sunscreen ingredients protect against both UV and some parts of visible light.
  6. Idebenone: A powerful antioxidant similar to coenzyme Q10, which can help neutralize free radicals.
  7. Coenzyme Q10 (ubiquinone): Helps neutralize free radicals and supports energy production in cells.
  8. Resveratrol: Found in grapes and red wine, it has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.
  9. Green tea extract: Contains polyphenols that protect against free radicals.
  10. Astaxanthin: A carotenoid that has stronger antioxidant properties than vitamins C, E and beta-carotene.

Visible light protection

Antioxidants combined with zinc oxide and titanium dioxide can help

It is important to note that scientific evidence regarding specific protection against visible light may not be as extensive as that for UV rays.

For optimal protection against sunlight and the prevention of pigment spots, it is recommended to reapply sun protection every two hours, especially after sweating or swimming.

While wearing a hat or using a parasol does indeed provide additional protection against direct UV rays, it is also important to consider indirect UV rays that can reflect off surfaces such as water, sand, snow and even buildings. These indirect rays can still reach the skin and contribute to the development of pigment spots. Therefore, in addition to using physical barriers, it is also essential to use a broad-spectrum sunscreen for more comprehensive protection.

Foods rich in antioxidants, such as berries, nuts and green leafy vegetables, can help protect the skin from UV damage and help reduce pigment spots.

Diets or supplements rich in antioxidants and carotenoids can help strengthen the skin from within and protect it from UV damage, but they do not replace the need for topical sun protection.

Ingredients such as Aloe Vera, Arbutin, Azeleic Acid, Vitamin C, Emblica, Hydroquinone, Niacinamide (Vitamin B3), Resveratrol and Licorice Root Extract are known for their skin lightening properties and can help reduce the appearance of pigment spots.

The story of the patient with facial spots illustrates the complexity of skin conditions and the role of antioxidants in their treatment. It emphasizes that effective treatment involves more than just sun protection with SPF. Specific explanations about which products to use, including those with antioxidants, can be crucial. In addition, it is suggested that diet may also play a role in overall skin health, although this aspect requires further research.

This highlights the importance of a broad approach to dermatological treatments, considering factors such as diet, specific product choices and possibly other lifestyle elements. The story also emphasizes that dermatologists should not only provide general advice, but also specific, personalized recommendations that take into account the complexity of individual skin problems.

  • Pigment reduction: Niacinamide in both the Targeted Pigment Serum and the Spotreducer Cream helps reduce pigmentation and achieve a more even skin tone.
  • Anti-aging cream – Antioxidant boost: The combination of vitamin C, E and ferulic acid in the Anti-Aging Cream provides a powerful blend of antioxidants, which help fight free radicals and reduce signs of aging.
  • Intensive treatment: The Targeted Pigment Serum offers more intensive pigment reduction, making it ideal for specific problem areas.
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Iconic Elements combines scientifically proven ingredients to provide targeted and effective solutions for pigmentation and skin aging. The range is designed to work together for overall healthy and radiant skin.

Picture of Dr. Francis Wu

Dr. Francis Wu

Dr. Francis Wu, een vooraanstaande dermatoloog, is de drijvende kracht achter Iconic Elements. Hij heeft sinds 2004 zijn expertise ingezet om een veilige en effectieve huidverzorgingslijn te creëren, geschikt voor zowel gezonde huid als huidproblemen. Iconic Elements, opgericht in 2016, is de eerste brede skincare lijn in Nederland ontwikkeld door een dermatoloog. Als medisch specialist streeft Dr. Wu naar het bevorderen van het welzijn van mensen door hoogwaardige en effectieve huidverzorgingsproducten te bieden. De proefdiervrije en vegan producten vermijden schadelijke chemicaliën en bevatten natuurlijke ingrediënten.
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