From melasma to moustaches: Every single question you've ever had about your pigmentation, answered.

Perhaps second only to clogged pores, pigmentation is one of the most frequently discussed topics in Mamamia's You Beauty Facebook group.

How to get rid of pigmentation. What to do about pregnancy melasma moustaches. The best serums for treating pigmentation. Are there different types of pigmentation? Why does it look like I've had an espresso thrown in my face?


It's for this reason we asked some skin experts to give us the rundown on pigmentation, from melasma and post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, to which pigmentation treatments are good and which ones will make it worse.

So, settle in and keep scrolling for every single question you’ve ever had about your pigmentation, answered.

What is pigmentation?

Dr David Sharp, Specialist Plastic Surgeon at The Sharp Clinics says, "The word 'pigmentation' refers to any pigment, or colour, in the skin; essentially we all have varying levels of pigmentation, based on how dark or light our complexion is. The pigment that gives our skin colour is called melanin."

WATCH: Here are seven ways to improve your skin while you sleep, post continues after video.

Video via Mamamia

What is hyperpigmentation?

Technically, hyperpigmentation is the term for the uneven, mottled appearance on the skin we usually refer to as 'pigmentation'.

"Hyperpigmentation is the overproduction of melanin. This results in dark spots on our face or body."

What is post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation?

"Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation is commonly caused by a trauma like acne, skin infections or insect bites. Dark spots are often left behind where irritation was present."

In other words, it's the coloured spot that forms in a pimple's place once you've popped it. Fun. 

Are freckles and age spots the same as pigmentation?

Short answer, yes.

"All of these are caused by over-production of melanin. Sun or age spots are often caused by UV exposure or trauma to the skin. Most of these spots are harmless, but in some cases, they can develop into skin cancer."

Freckles, on the other hand, are what happens when the skin cells produce too much melanin in response to sun exposure.

Side note - Mia Freedman shares photos of her pigmentation, and tips for living with it, on her Instagram.


What causes skin pigmentation?

Dr Sharp says the two biggest risk factors are: sun exposure and inflammation. And the most enjoyable part? How pigmentation lurks beneath the skin's surface for years until BAM, it's on your face.

"Sun spots and photo ageing are caused by long-term exposure to UV light. This usually presents as an uneven skin tone in our late thirties or early forties."

What is melasma?

Melasma = pregnancy pigmentation that pops up when you're trying to grow a small human in your belly.

"Melasma presents as flat, brown or grey patches on the face - cheeks, upper lip and forehead are the most common areas."

What causes melasma?

Sun exposure, certain medications and thyroid issues can cause melasma, but it's most commonly known as 'the pregnancy mask' because it often forms on the cheeks and forehead during pregnancy thanks to all the hormonal changes.

View this post on Instagram

[MELASMA] When I was pregnant I posted a fair bit about my melasma. I’ve always had pigmentation, but pregnancy really set that baby a light (the pigmentation I mean, not the baby...the baby was cooked just right) since having Marlie-Mae I’ve had so many mums message me to ask me how I got rid of it. Well, I didn’t! I hadn’t gotten around to giving an update on it - not because it had miraculously vanished, it just feels a lot less important now that Marlie-Mae is here in the world. I’ve made peace with the fact that these are the markings of making an incredible tiny human. This is just a little reminder that most of the people you follow on Instagram don’t actually have perfect skin, or perfect butts or perfect boobs that defy gravity. If you or someone you love has melasma - I just want you to know you look amazing girlfriend 🤘🏻🌟 #melasma

A post shared by  Laura Byrne 🌹 (@ladyandacat) on


Why do some people get pigmentation and others don't?

Basically, it's a mixture of how much time you spend in the sun unprotected, past or present skin conditions, and good old genetics.

Can you prevent pigmentation?

Prevention is the most powerful tool against pigmentation, but this only helps if you get onto it earlier in life. (Yep, hindsight's a b*tch.)

Any dermatologist or skin specialist will tell you diligent sun protection is the best defence against hyperpigmentation.

Dr Sharp added, "High-quality pigment inhibiting products can also reduce and regulate the production of melanin by inhibiting tyrosinase, an enzyme responsible for melanin production." (We'll talk a bit more about these later on.)

Are there any preventative pigmentation treatments?

"Using sun protection and calming down skin irritations are the two best ways to prevent hyperpigmentation, but exfoliation treatments and peels can also help."


Can you prevent pregnancy pigmentation? Or are there certain skin types that are more prone to it?

Not really.

"Olive or darker skin types are more prone to melasma, but it can occur in light to medium skin types, too."

Can you prevent post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation?

Yes, but again, you've got to get onto that sunscreen early.

Also, try not to squeeze your own pimples, unless you know how and can do so in a hygienic environment. A poorly popped pimple is more likely to result in a scar.

Can skincare really make a difference in treating pigmentation, or are treatments your most effective option?

Diane Lehto, a Skin Therapist at The Sharp Clinics, says, "Skincare and treatments work synergistically to produce the best results. Often we prep and strengthen the skin prior to laser treatments using strategically chosen skincare, and then after a treatment has done the heavy lifting to reduce the hyperpigmentation, we also place our patients on a pigment-inhibiting product."

LISTEN: We talk about Fraxel and pigmentation in this episode of the You Beauty podcast below! Post continues after audio.

What are the different types of pigmentation treatments?

Fraxel is one of the main pigmentation treatments you'll hear about, but sometimes, micro-needling, LED light therapy and peels are used for ongoing maintenance.

Which treatments won't work for pigmentation?

Lehto says all treatments can make the skin worse if they are administered in the wrong hands.

"Lasers are the gold standard for pigmentation treatment, but micro-needling at a strategic depth and diligently managed peels are effective as well, albeit over a longer period of time and requiring more treatments to achieve a laser-like result."


How do you know which treatment will work for you?

There are a few things your aesthetician will consider when looking at which pigmentation treatment option is best for you.

These include: the amount of hyperpigmentation the patient has, their current skin quality, how much downtime they are willing to have, and their budget. Your skin tone may also play a role. For example, darker skin tones are more likely to see increased pigmentation as a side effect of Fraxel, which is the complete opposite of what you want.

Which is the best laser to get rid of pigmentation?

Fraxel works by using light energy to create tiny micro-traumas in the skin so collagen will be produced. The intensity and depth can be adjusted depending on your skin priorities, but you should know, it's a painful procedure that requires a topical anesthetic. Fraxel can cost up to $1,000 a treatment, and you'll need three to six treatments.

"We love Fraxel laser because it addresses multiple skin concerns, including hyperpigmentation, fine lines and wrinkles, pore size and skin texture."

Are there any laser pigmentation removal side effects?

It's important to note, a laser treatment won't be effective for everybody. Some people report their pigmentation returning, and returning worse than before post-laser, so always have a consultation first and go to a reputable clinic.

The most common Fraxel side effect is that the skin looks sunburned afterwards, and will flake off over a four to six day period.


You can see before and after photos in our Fraxel road test story here.

View this post on Instagram

Have you considered laser treatments for your skin? ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ I think we’re all familiar with the brand name Fraxel, so I wanted to show you my results 5 weeks after a Fraxel 1927 treatment at @skin_renu in Sydney’s Balmain (swipe for my side by side before and after) ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ There’s a really noticeable fade in freckles and pigmentation, especially on my right side, and we used the laser on the lowest setting as just an intro to the treatment. I did daily story check-ins for a week after the treatment so you could get a feel for it. They’re saved as a highlight 🥰 ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ The thing about sun damage is it creeps up on you. I grew up in Australia only wearing sunscreen to the beach or in my SPF15 moisturiser/foundation. That wasn’t enough, and the damage from back then just keeps on turning up. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ It’s important to have a skin check before laser too, as we’re diminishing the appearance of any clues that could be pointing to something wrong. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ I’m thrilled with the results and will absolutely do it again in future (when it’s safe to go to the clinic again!) on a higher setting, for a more dramatic result. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ @fraxelaus #fraxelaus Before photos taken on March 11th, treatment was on March 18th, after photos taken on April 22nd.

A post shared by  Hannah English (@ms_hannah_e) on

What about at-home LED masks for pigmentation?

Generally, LED treatments are used to heal the skin, treat acne and fight signs of ageing. 

Clinics use clinical-grade LED and infrared light to do these things after treatments, but not so much to primarily treat pigmentation. There are some great at-home LED masks on the market, but you likely won't see results for shifting pigmentation.


What about treatments for pigmentation on the body caused by autoimmune issues?

"Autoimmune-related pigmentation issues are usually managed in conjunction with the patients' immunologist, as these conditions can necessitate specific medications or treatments such as steroids," Lehto says.

Can you treat melasma while pregnant or breastfeeding?

The general advice is to wait until after pregnancy to treat melasma, as your body is going through a lot of stuff as it is. Using Vitamin A products to treat pigmentation is also not recommended during pregnancy or while breastfeeding - always check with your medical professional before trying any new skincare or skin treatments.

Can you actually remove pigmentation permanently?

It's complicated. Pigmentation is a frustrating beast because it not only requires patience and consistency to treat it, but ongoing maintenance.

Sun exposure, skin irritations and hormone changes will continue to cause pigmentation even after you've had a treatment, so for good long-term results, you've got to keep doing all the things - staying out of the sun, wearing sunscreen, using quality skincare and having treatments when needed.

Best skincare ingredients and products to treat pigmentation?

Now, onto some ingredients and products to look out for.

That said, none of these products will help get rid of your pigmentation if you're not also wearing sunscreen.

And that is everything you need to know about pigmentation. What a ride.

Feature Image: Getty.

Do you have any pigmentation products or tips? Tell us about them in the comments below!