hyperpigmentation: causes,effects and remedies

What is hyperpigmentation

Hyperpigmentation is a common phenomena. It refers to patches of skin that become darker than the surrounding areas of skin. This is created by higher amounts of melanin (the natural pigment which dictates the skin color) found in these spots. There are a few different types of hyperpigmentation, namely: Melasma, Age Spots, Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. 

Melasma 

This condition is also known as Chloasma. Melasma is presented as large dark patches that are primarily found on the face. The condition is not exclusive to women, however it is far less common in men. One theory is that this is caused by hormonal changes. 

Age Spots

Age spots are also frequently called Sunspots as they are caused by overexposure to the sun. It presents itself as dark spots on the skin that is most frequently exposed to the sun. Often this appears on older individuals as they have had more long term exposure to the sun, however it can happen after any extended period of time exposed to the sun with no protection. 

Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation

This phenomenon is presented at dark spots or patches. This occurs after acne, eczema or other skin injuries or trauma heals. 

Hyperpigmentation appears as brown, tan or black spots on the skin. These spots or patches can vary in size and location on the body. Hyperpigmentation is occasionally confused with Freckles. While freckles might have some physical similarities to hyperpigmentation, the cause is entirely different as freckles are a genetic inherited characteristic. 

Causes of hyperpigmentation

There are several factors that increase the likelihood of hyperpigmentation. Sun exposure for extended periods of time leaves one at risk for age spots or sun spots. Drastic hormonal changes such as pregnancy or using oral contraceptives can lead to Melasma. Certain other medications and medical conditions, such as Addison’s Disease (a rare endocrine disease). Chemotherapy drugs are another cause of hyperpigmentation. Darker skin is naturally more prone to pigmentation changes. Medications and drugs that make one more sensitive to sunlight also increases the risk of hyperpigmentation. The final risk factor is trauma on the skin such as a superficial burn, acne or wounds. 

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How to treat and get rid of hyperpigmentation

Here are a few options for you to take control over your skin: (This article is not meant to be taken as medical advice. If you have any questions about your skin care, contact a dermatologist.)

Sunscreen is the most important skin care product you will own. Make sure to have a sunscreen of SPF 30 or higher to protect your skin and keep it healthy. 

Topical prescription medication – this is specific creams and serums formulated to treat hyperpigmentation, This is used by rubbing the topical medication on the affected areas. Topical retinoids such as Tretinoin are commonly used in topical prescription medications. 

Over-the-counter medications are also an option to explore. This would be used the same as a topical prescription medication, however it will be with a slightly weaker formula. This is definitely recommended as the place to start. 

Skin‐lightening agents are another option to explore in treating the dark patches of hyperpigmentation. This works to target dark patches and eliminate them. 

Chemical peeling agents work to remove the top affected layers of skin to reveal the clear layer underneath. This will help hyperpigmentation if it is still new and surface level, however if used unsafely it can exacerbate the symptoms by causing additional trauma to the skin. 

Microdermabrasion is particularly helpful for people with lighter skin. It is a treatment that needs to be performed by a dermatologist where they use an abrasive tool to remove the topmost layer of skin allowing for a rejuvenation of fresh unaffected skin. 

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Laser treatments work similarly to Microdermabrasion however instead it uses laser light beams to achieve results. 

A few ingredients to look for: 

  • Azelaic acid has been found to be effective in treating hyperpigmentation, and specifically hyperpigmentation caused by acne. This will help lighten the skin where the over production of melanin occurred. 
  • Corticosteroids are generally used to lower inflammation in the body. 
  • Kojic acid can help lighten the appearance of hyperpigmentation and after extended use can potentially even eliminate the darkened patches if treatment begins soon after the hyperpigmentation appears. 
  • Vitamin C can limit the production of melanin, and over time can lighten the appearance of hyperpigmentation affected skin. 

Methods to prevent hyperpigmentation

There are a few ways to lower the risk of hyperpigmentation. The first technique is to avoid exposure to the midday sun. Making sure to best avoid sun exposure between 10am and 4pm, when the sun is at the hottest, is the best way to protect your skin. Along these same lines, Sunblock of SPF 30 or higher can protect the skin and prevent darkening of existing spots. Hats and protective clothing can also aid in protecting your skin from the sun. 

Additionally there are a few steps you can take within your skin care regimen to prevent hyperpigmentation. Firstly you can choose gentle skin care products that are not abrasive to the skin. Avoid using waxing as a hair removal method as the heat from the wax and quick motion of removing the hair can cause trauma to the skin and lead to hyperpigmentation. When looking for which skin care products to use, a combination of products is recommended. Use a combination of alpha hydroxy acids such as lactic, mandelic or glycolic acid to exfoliate and cleanse old, pigmented cells. Vitamin A is used to optimize the skin and improve cell function.  Tyrosinase-inhibiting ingredients such as vitamin C, alpha arbutin and liquorice extract can quell excessive melanin production which occurs when skin suffers inflammation from skin traumas. 

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Hyperpigmentation is a common skin condition, however there are numerous ways to prevent it, as well as methods to treat it should the condition arise. Check out this list of suggested products to help you treat your hyperpigmentation

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