Hyperpigmentation: Causes, Types, and Tips
What Is Hyperpigmentation?
Hyperpigmentation is characterized by a darkening of an area of skin caused by the overproduction of a pigment in the skin known as melanin. It is relatively common and usually harmless, but for cosmetic reasons, it is a nuisance to those who have it.
Hyperpigmentation is the result of either of two occurrences: (1) an abnormally high concentration of melanocytes produce melanin or (2) when melanocytes are hyperactive. For instance, sun exposure stimulates the production of melanin. Although it can affect anyone, 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
- Picking at the skin
- Hormonal changes
- Certain medications such as antibiotics, hormone treatments, and anti-seizure drugs
- Inflammation and skin injuries such as acne vulgaris
Frequently asked questions about hyperpigmentation
Is there a cure for Hyperpigmentation?
There is no ‘cure’ for hyperpigmentation. There are, however, options to treat this condition by lightening the appearance of it.
I have dark spots on my skin. Is this Hyperpigmentation?
Possibly. Any area of the skin that is darker than the rest is potentially 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.
What is the difference between acne scars and 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
1) Wearing a sunscreen of at least SPF 15 daily and avoiding sun exposure is crucial in preventing hyperpigmentation.
2) 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.
3) 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.
Other ingredients that are excellent for treating hyperpigmentation include Kojic Acid (found in the Whitening Mask) and Vitamin C (the Vitamin C Serum).