The Science of Skin Color

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Skin color is caused by a multitude of factors, the brown to tan color of skin is determined by a brown pigment called melanin, which is produced by cells in the epidermis called melanocytes. Pigmented moles or nevi arc localized areas of increased pigment produce by a different pigment producing cell called a nevus cell. These areas can be flat or elevated and can vary in color based on the quantity of pigment contained in the nevus cell.

Melanocytes produce pigment, unlike the nevus cell, can disturb the pigment to other cells of the epidermis (keratinocytes). Ultraviolet light – both UVA and UVB play a role to increase the production and distribution of melanin which is packed in structures called melanosomes. Ethnic differences in skin color is not determined by the quantity of melanocytes, since the number is equal along ethnic lines. The difference lies in the size of the melanosome and its distribution throughout the epidermis which gives variation of color to the skin. Blue colored moles or nevi represent pigment cells deep in the dermis which reflects light back through the skin with a change in wavelength. The same is true for red blood in veins which appears blue under the skin. This change in the wavelength is called the Tyndall Effect.

There are two medical conditions in which the skin has a toal absence of pigment. The most common is vitiligo. This occurs in irregular patency loss of pigment in otherwise normally pigmented skin. the cause is unknown but speculated that the immune system selects out and destroys certain melanocytes. Fortunately the pigment many return spontaneously or with medical treatment which stimulates pigment cells to migrate back into the skin. A rare absence of pigment noticed at birth is albanism. This genetic disorder produces a defective enzyme (tyrosinase) which is necessary for pigment production. Unlike vitiligo, melanosytes are present, but unable to produce melanin.

Hypomelanosis are lighter confetti-like patches usually present on the sun exposed areas of the arms and legs of older individuals with extensive sun exposure. These lighter areas most likely represent populations of worn out inefficient pigment producing melanocytes. Areas of light colored skin can be cosmetically made dark safely with the use of skin stains/self tanners.

Irregular splotchy areas of increased pigment can occur on sun exposed areas. A common condition is called melasma which occurs mostly in women and is associated with birth control pills and pregnancy (so called mask of pregnancy). There is good treatment for this using retinoids, bleaching agents such as hydroquinone and pigment targeting laser. These treatments are always accompanied by constant and frequent use of sunscreen to prevent further pigment stimulation.

If you have uneven pigmentation the experts at DermaLuxe have a solution for you. Please call (618) 397-6605 and speak with one of our Certified Aesthetic Consultants.