The Three Stages of Pigmentation

The Three Stages of Pigmentation: A detailed blog about pigmentation and how to help clear it up.

Pigmentation is the darkening of the skin caused by an overproduction of melanin (the pigment that gives your skin its colour). Melanin is produced in response to UV light, so it’s often referred to as a sun tan. However, pigmentation can also occur without sun exposure, caused by age and hormonal factors such as pregnancy or menopause.

If you have pigmentation, you should know that there are 3 stages – latent, active and post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH) – and each stage requires different treatments. A professional treatment plan will depend on the stage your pigmentation is at, so it is important to seek advice from a skin care professional who can assess your skin type, condition and needs.

1. Latent Pigmentation

Latent pigmentation is when you have visible patches of uneven brown pigment on your skin from past sun damage. You may not have any new spots forming but you do have old ones that are still quite visible.

What causes latent pigmentation?

Sun exposure causes 90% of melanin production in our lifetime, so if you’ve had sun

If you’re anything like me, you’ve struggled to figure out the best methods to use for clearing up your skin. I’ve tried countless products and ways of living but nothing seemed to help my skin – I was beginning to think I was destined to have bad skin for the rest of my life.

Until I discovered a blog called “The Three Stages of Pigmentation.” Written by a dermatologist, this blog offers an in-depth look at how your skin produces pigmentation as well as three steps you can take to fight it. In just three months I saw significant improvements in my skin and now after a year of following his advice my skin is the clearest it’s ever been.

The Three Stages of Pigmentation

Pigmentation can be a tricky thing to manage in the best of times, but for those who have experienced hormonal changes such as pregnancy, pigmentation can become a serious concern. To help you understand what is happening with your skin, here is an overview of the different types of pigmentation and a brief explanation about each stage.


Melasma is usually triggered by hormonal changes such as pregnancy or contraceptive pill use, and it presents itself as large patches of brownish-grey pigment on the cheeks, nose, upper lip and forehead. It typically affects women who are fair or olive skinned. Most commonly referred to as “the mask of pregnancy”, melasma is typically seen during pregnancy (though it can occur at other times) and can increase in severity until after childbirth. Whilst there are treatments available for melasma, it is not always possible to clear it up completely. For example, if you are taking oral contraceptives these should be discontinued in order for treatment to be effective. If you suffer from melasma and you wish to become pregnant the best solution may be to postpone treatment until after childbirth.

Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation

This type of pigmentation occurs when the skin has been damaged by trauma such as

The 3 Stages of Pigmentation

Pigmentation is a common skin concern for many people for a number of reasons. It can be caused by sun exposure, hormones, certain medications and after an inflammatory event like acne or eczema. Pigmentation looks different in everyone and can range from mild to severe. Understanding what causes pigmentation will help you treat it and prevent it in the future. There are 3 stages of pigmentation:

1st Stage: The Inflammatory Pigment

This is when pigmentation first appears on your skin as dark spots or patches and is most commonly associated with acne scars or post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH). These dark marks are caused by melanocytes that have reacted to inflammation by producing more pigment than usual. These dark marks will fade over time but can take several months to do so. You may notice that they seem darker to begin with as they are still healing and then will gradually lighten during this stage of healing.

2nd Stage: The Melanin Deposit

This second stage is when we first notice our skin has a yellowish tone to it. This is usually very hard to see with the naked eye but a trained eye will easily detect this change in colour. The yellowish tone

The Three Stages of Pigmentation

Pigmentation appears in many different forms and the severity can vary from person to person. This can make it difficult to treat, however the first step to treating pigmentation is understanding how it occurs. Pigmentation progresses through three stages: Inflammation, Oxidation and Melanin Production.


When inflammation occurs in the skin, a number of events occur simultaneously:

Fibroblasts are activated and respond by synthesising collagen and other extracellular matrix components.

A cascade of cytokines, interleukins, chemokines and enzymes are released into the dermis. These activate melanocytes and fibroblasts which then produce an excess amount of melanin.

The inflammatory mediators released into the skin also increase the number of ‘free radicals’ produced in the dermis. Free radicals are unstable molecules that damage cells and contribute to ageing.

What is pigmentation? Pigmentation is a process whereby cells called melanocytes produce an excess of melanin (the pigment that gives skin its colour) in patches on the surface of the skin. Melanin is what determines the depth and tone of your skin colour, so when too much of it accumulates in one area, we observe areas of discolouration.

With age, as we come into contact with environmental aggressors such as pollution, UV radiation, and chemicals (e.g. in our skincare products), our melanocytes go into overdrive to protect our skin by producing excess melanin. This can result in areas of pigmentation becoming darker.

Stage 1: Melanocyte Activation

Melanocytes are the cells in our skin that produce melanin, which is the pigment that gives our skin its colour. When these cells become activated, they start producing more melanin. Pigmentation occurs when this extra melanin is produced in excess and causes areas of darker skin (hyper-pigmentation). The new and unexpectedly dark areas of skin cannot be rubbed or scrubbed away with a facecloth; they are permanent.

Melanocytes can be activated by many things, including sun exposure, injury to the skin, hormonal changes and inflammation. Of course all these things can be caused by a number of different reasons and we will go through them in detail below.

Stage 2: Post-Inflammatory Hyperpigmentation (PIH)

Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation is exactly what it sounds like: pigmentation that occurs after there has been some sort of inflammation on the surface of your skin. This could be from acne lesions, from a cut or scratch, from a burn or even from a reaction to a product you’re using on your skin. Inflammation stimulates your melanocytes to produce more pigment so when the inflammation subsides, it often leaves behind discolouration on

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