Cryotherapy Deep Dive – Pigmentation
A new series of posts diving into the science behind treating skin lesions with Cryotherapy. This week we cover Hyperpigmentation!
Pigmentation occurs when skin increases the production of melanin, the chemical which gives colour to the skin. When this occurs naturally due to sun exposure or deliberate exposure to artificial UV light the skin will colour all over in tanning.
This may occur in spots (macules) or patches, then appear darker than the surrounding skin, when some melanitic cells overproduce pigment, compared to the surrounding skin cells. This is a very common condition and affects all skin types.
How skin pigment is formed
Melanogenisis is the technical name for this process, and we tend to refer to this as skin tanning.
Melanin is the pigment in the skin, which is produced in response to sunlight, specifically UV light. The melanin absorbs the harmful UV light to prevent it from passing into the deep layers of the epidermis and causing mutation in the skin stem cells which would lead to malignant cells being produced.
Melanin is produced by specialised cells in the basal layers of the epidermis, called melanocytes.
There are 2 types of cells EUMELANIN which are the coloured cells and are brown/black in colour and are the cells that cause hyperpigmentation by producing more melanosome organelles into the skin cells. PHEOMELANIN is reddish in colour and provides very little protection as they do not produce melanosomes. They both have a tentacle-like structure, whereby the long dendritic protrusions pass melanin into 30+ keratinocyte cells, which then bring the pigment to the skin layers and eventually to the surface of the skin. When the melanocyte cells come under high levels of exposure to skin light (UV) they become more active due to energy excitation and produce more pigment which then colours the cells darker.
Hyperpigmentation of the skin is a key sign of photodamage and can lead to signs of aging.
The darker the cells become the less light (UV) energy passes through to the deeper layers of the skin to cause damage.
This pigmentation may also be caused by other types of trauma to the skin:
• Post inflammatory hyper/hypo pigment
• Postprocedural (medical procedure)
• Hormonal (melasma)
• Underlying disease (Addisons)
Superficial pigmentation such as minor sun damage, (‘age’ spots or solar lentigo) are amongst the most easily treated pigment to be treated. They are very easy and safe to treat with cryotherapy, and the results will usually be permanent as long as the client avoids further sun damage by using high factor sunblock or by covering up.
Large patches will need several sessions of treatment, which may take a long time to achieve results overall, due to the time taken for the skin to return to normal after each treatment session. (4-6 weeks).
The treatment is straightforward with freezing of the cells to cause superficial Cryonecrosis of the affected pigmented cells. This kills those cells containing the additional melanosomes and the healing process replaces them with new cells with normal amounts of melanosomes, thereby removing the hyperpigmented area.
Some hyperpigmentation is unsuitable for Cryotherapy treatment, such as when due to underlying disease or disorder (e.g. Addisons). Or when due to hormonal conditions (e.g. melasma,) may recur.
Found out more about our Cryotherapy courses here