Hyperpigmentation: Causes, Types, and Tips
What Is Hyperpigmentation?
Hyperpigmentation is characterized by a darkening of an area of skin caused by the overproduction of pigment or melanin. It is relatively common and harmless, but for cosmetic reasons, it is a nuisance to those who have it. Either one of two things occur when hyperpigmentation results: an abnormally high concentration of melanocytes produce melanin or when melanocytes are hyperactive. For instance, sun exposure stimulates the production of melanin. Although it can affect anyone- regardless of their race- this condition is more prevalent among certain ethnicities such as Asian, Mediterranean, African or Latin. Hyperpigmentation can affect any part of the body including the face, hands and neck. The following are examples of hyperpigmentation: lentigo/lentigenes, pregnancy-induced melasma, stain, nevus, a tan, freckles, solar lentigos (i.e. sun spots, age spots) and under-eye dark circles.
Lentigo/Lentigenes - Lentigo simply means one freckle; lentigenes are multiple freckles.
Solar Lentigenes - widely known as ‘sun spots,’ ‘age spots’ and ‘liver spots,’ solar lentigenes are freckles caused by sun exposure.
Melasma - Often known as the ‘pregnancy mask,’ melasma is caused by hormonal changes due to pregnancy and is characterized by splotchy, pigmented areas usually on the face (except the eye area). See our page on Pregnancy Skin Care.
What Are the Causes of Hyperpigmentation?
There are various causes of hyperpigmentation, including overexposure to the sun; sun damage; heredity; picking at the skin; hormonal changes; certain medications such as antibiotics, hormone treatments and antiseizure drugs; and inflammation and skin injuries such as acne vulgaris.
Is There a Cure for Hyperpigmentation?
Unfortunately there is no ‘cure’ for hyperpigmentation as in there is no magic pill or cure in a jar that can make it completely disappear. The good news is there are options to treat this condition by lightening the appearance of it.
I Have Dark Spots On My Skin. Is This Hyperpigmentation?
Absolutely. Any discoloration on the skin that is darker than the rest of your skin is considered hyperpigmentation. It can occur on any area of your body- even the feet- but hyperpigmentation usually tends to appear on the face or hands.
What Is Post Inflammatory Hyperpigmentation?
Post Inflammatory Hyperpigmentation or PIH occurs after a pimple, burn, cut, abrasion or a minor injury, leaving a mark on the surface of the skin (epidermis) that is darker than the rest of the skin.
Acne Scars vs. Hyperpigmentation
Sometimes it can be difficult to clearly distinguish between an acne scar and hyperpigmentation. However, some ‘acne scars’ are actually not true acne scars but rather a type of Post Inflammatory Hyperpigmentation. If a mark that has developed from an acne lesion does not heal and go away after 6-12 months, then chances are that particular mark is a true scar. In other words, if it’s a permanent mark, it’s a scar, but if it eventually fades away, it is only a type of Post Inflammatory Hyperpigmentation.
How to Prevent Hyperpigmentation
Wearing a sunscreen of at least SPF 15 daily and avoiding sun exposure is crucial in preventing hyperpigmentation. Be mindful that discoloration is also in dead surface cells so it is imperative to exfoliate regularly to slough off the build-up, which will help minimize hyperpigmentation. However, stick with mild exfoliants and light peels as opposed to their stronger, more abrasive counterparts since overdoing it can actually aggravate hyperpigmentation and defeat the purpose of exfoliation.
If you have dry, sensitive or mature skin, it is best to exfoliate 1-2 times a week. If you have combination to oily skin, exfoliating 2-3 times a week is recommended. However, facial scrubs should not be used on acne erupted skin as they are too abrasive and can worsen the condition. Rather, a mild exfoliant should be used such as the Glycolic Foaming Cleanser.
Treatment for Hyperpigmentation
With a customized skin care regimen, you can minimize the appearance of hyperpigmentation. In addition to using sunscreen with at least an SPF of 15, there are key ingredients to look for in skincare products that can help treat hyperpigmentation such as alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs). Examples of AHAs are glycolic and lactic acid. AHAs help remove the buildup of dead surface cells that are already stained with pigment, thus lessening discoloration. A series of mild AHA chemical peels will also help lighten hyperpigmentation. For more severe cases, especially larger patches of affected skin, consult with a dermatologist to determine the best treatments.