Truth matters, but pigment smatters…
Some species communicate their moods by changing the hue, tone and intensity of their facial coloration. Humans do so to a limited extent (e.g. we might get red-faced when angry or excited). Chameleons are masters of the facial pigment manipulation. Supposedly they do so to blend into the environment, but then they seem also to have a certain artistic flair even in the absence of predators and threats.
It may just be they are really into face painting. Someone should name a sports team after them. Go chameleons!
Back to homo sapiens – it seems that our mainstream cultural standard of beauty tends to place high value on uniformity of coloration. Whether light or dark skinned, we seem to be attracted to clear, smooth and even distribution of pigment. We give accolades to those whose skin can be described as creamy or smooth, and disdain that which is variegated or blotchy or uneven. We fight against both dark spots or patches and white spots or patches. We want it all smoothly blended into a uniform coloration pattern. Stir the pigment well.
Ageing however has its own agenda. Melanocytes (pigment cells) often forget to paint within the lines. We may start with islands of hyperpigmentation (freckles) but may end up with entire continents (e.g. melasma) of non-uniform skin tones. Melanocytes gone wild? Of course, there are some dyspigmentations that are culturally associated with youth and health and vitality, like normal healthy freckles. Remember, BFT likes freckles. A little asymmetry provides visual interest!
Just like the chameleon, we may be trying to impart some important socio-biologic information (e.g. chloasma … “I’m already pregnant – reproductively unavailable for now”). But sometimes the information is not the kind we really want to advertise (e.g. “I’m at that age where you might consider me permanently reproductively retired”). So, we do things to disguise these variations, or seek remedies that will return us to a younger, nicely blended pigment distribution of youth.
Cosmetic cover ups work, obviously. Then there are lasers, peels, chemicals that poison melanocytes permanently, and other less onerous biochemical solutions. Which work, and for what types of pigmentation problems? Turns out it’s a complex problem. Rather than give a simple minded solution, we at BFT have decided that you want to know “the whole truth, and nothing but the truth”. So we are going to give it to you. Rather than overwhelm you (and exhaust us) we will break it into small chunks – a series of posts on pigmentation problems and solutions.
Dr. George opens this series with an overview of melasma.