Hyperpigmentation is a condition of the skin that causes dark spots or patches on your face, hands, or other parts that are frequently exposed to the sun. It’s a common condition that usually affects adults and is usually not a cause for alarm as long as it doesn’t have other accompanying symptoms. Most people who are out in the sun frequently without wearing sunscreen or using another form of protection from sunlight will often experience hyperpigmentation.
You could be affected by one of the three types of hyperpigmentation that we will discuss further in this article. But regardless of the type of hyperpigmentation you suffer from, remember that it’s treatable. While you may not see instant results from any form of treatment, the color will lighten over time if you take care of your skin and follow your treatment plan.
In this article, we will understand hyperpigmentation and its types, what causes it, and how to identify it. Then we’ll look at how to treat hyperpigmentation and all the options available including cosmetic procedures and home remedies. We’ll conclude it with an expert tip on how to treat hyperpigmentation!
When the skin generates excess melanin, the substance that gives your skin its color, it results in hyperpigmentation. This can cause spots or portions of skin to seem darker than the rest of the body. It's a prevalent skin ailment that impacts people of all ethnicities and skin types.
Extra pigmentation in some parts of the skin is normally benign, although it might occasionally suggest a medical issue.
Moreover, hyperpigmentation is classified into three types and people can be affected by any of these regardless of their gender, age, ethnicity, or color.
Melasma and sunspots, for example, are more prone to affect parts of the skin that are exposed to the sun, such as the face, hands, and legs. Cuts, burns, acne, and lupus are examples of hyperpigmentation that occurs after an injury or skin inflammation. These can appear on any part of the body.
Let’s discuss these types in more detail next.
Types of hyperpigmentation
There are three common types of hyperpigmentation that can affect anyone. If your symptoms don’t fall under one of these categories or if you experience additional symptoms, it may be best to get checked by your healthcare provider.
Sunspots are commonly known as age or liver spots and are medically known as solar lentigines. They affect older individuals more commonly although they can affect younger individuals after significant exposure to the sun. They’re patches that usually appear on the face, hands, legs or any other areas that are exposed to the sun.
Melasma or chloasma patches are bigger portions of darker skin that arise as a consequence of hormonal changes and resemble age spots in appearance. Pregnancy, for example, can lead to a rise in melanin production, resulting in a "mask of pregnancy" on the face as well as darker skin on the belly and other regions.
This type of hyperpigmentation often results from inflammation of the skin or an injury. For example, if you suffer from acne, it could lead to dark spots on your skin. Or you may experience dark spots or patches if you’ve had an injury to your skin. This type of hyperpigmentation usually occurs on the face and neck.
Is hyperpigmentation associated with underlying health conditions?
Hyperpigmentation is not associated with underlying health conditions by itself but it may lead to more severe conditions such as Addison’s disease. It may be triggered by pregnancy or other hormonal fluctuations which could indicate an underlying cause, but it’s usually not something to be concerned about without accompanying symptoms.
Causes of hyperpigmentation
The root cause of hyperpigmentation is an upsurge in the production of melanin in your skin. While this can be triggered by hormonal changes, as mentioned above, it can also be induced by a variety of other factors. Let’s take a look at some of the most common factors that cause hyperpigmentation.
However, it’s still best to always wear a protective, broad-spectrum sunscreen to protect your skin from harmful UV rays. They can cause not only hyperpigmentation but also more severe conditions such as skin cancer.
Hormonal changes during pregnancy can cause the skin on the face to darken in large patches (which is why it’s often dubbed the “mask of pregnancy”). It can also be caused by birth control pills that have a similar effect on the hormones as pregnancy. This type of pigmentation may resolve on its own over a few years post-pregnancy or after birth control pills are stopped.
Inflammation of the skin
If your dead skin doesn’t shed regularly, it can irritate your hair follicles, causing your sebaceous glands to go into overdrive. This, in turn, leads to excess oil secretion, making your skin oily and clogging your pores with oil, dirt, and dead skin.
Reaction to medicines
Some types of medication such as tricyclic anti-depressants or antimalarial medicines can cause hyperpigmentation. However, this type of hyperpigmentation may create gray patches of skin rather than darker shades of your skin tone.
You may also develop hyperpigmentation as a reaction to the chemicals in some topical ointments.
While hyperpigmentation itself does not indicate a more serious condition, it may sometimes be caused by Addison’s disease or hemochromatosis.
Your adrenal glands are affected by Addison’s disease and it can lead to hyperpigmentation in the following parts of your body:
Insides of the cheeks
Knees and elbows
Fold of the skin
If you suffer from any of these other symptoms of Addison’s disease, you must visit your doctor immediately:
Weakness in the muscles
Diarrhea and vomiting
In hemochromatosis, your body contains too much iron which leads your skin to appear tanned or darker. It’s usually hereditary and exhibits the following symptoms:
Hyperpigmentation can be easily identified because it presents as spots and small or large patches of skin that are darker than the rest of your body. However, if you suspect you might have hyperpigmentation, it’s best to consult a dermatologist or your family physician before you choose a self-treatment plan.
How to treat hyperpigmentation
There are several medical and non-medical options to treat hyperpigmentation. Most of the remedies listed here are things you can do on your own. But it’s best to consult a professional if you wish to do any of the medical treatments listed to avoid complications and damage to the skin.
These come in a cream or gel form and can generally be found over-the-counter in milder forms. You may need a prescription to get a stronger version of these ointments. They can be applied once or twice a day to lighten your skin tone over several months. Some common ingredients in these creams include niacinamide (a form of vitamin B3) and licorice extract.
Sunscreen is the most important part of your skincare regime if you suffer from hyperpigmentation. If you already have dark patches on your skin, exposure to sunlight without sunscreen will make it worse. If you don’t have dark spots on your skin, using sunscreen will help prevent them from occurring.
Avoid touching the skin
Scratching or picking at the skin when you have a pimple, blackhead, or even a mosquito bite can be very tempting but will lead to hyperpigmentation. When touched, these spots that are already inflamed will be further aggravated and your body will release more melanin to soothe them, causing dark spots to appear.
You may choose to get rid of pigmentation by doing medical procedures such as dermabrasion or microdermabrasion that remove the topmost layer of your skin. These procedures will give you results much faster than topical creams or other remedies. However, they must be done by a qualified professional as they can cause long-term damage to the skin if done improperly.
Can hyperpigmentation go away on its own?
Some types of hyperpigmentation such as Melasma may go away on their own over several months or years, but most hyperpigmentation usually requires some form of treatment.
Home remedies for hyperpigmentation
Apart from the remedies mentioned above, the following are some other expert-approved ingredients you can use in home remedies to get rid of hyperpigmentation.
Aloe vera, along with its numerous skin benefits, also has depigmenting properties that can help lighten the effects of hyperpigmentation. You can simply apply aloe vera gel to the affected areas before bed and wash it off with warm water the next day.
Apple cider vinegar has benefits that range from skincare to hair care and it can be commonly found in your kitchen cabinet. The acetic acid in it helps lighten your skin color and may help with hyperpigmentation with prolonged use.
Experts say that applying green tea extracts to the skin can help lighten hyperpigmentation. For this, you can place green tea bags on the affected area but this method is not backed by research.
A better alternative would be using a green tea face wash or face mask. You can try the WOW Skin Science Green Tea Foaming Face Wash with Brush. It not only comes with a gentle silicone exfoliator but also contains aloe vera extracts and pro-vitamin B5 that help repair skin damage!
Moisturizing your skin is equally important as using products to lighten your skin tone. Harvard noted that a good quality moisturizer can restore your skin’s fat barrier that protects you from sun damage.
Doris Day, MD, says "A good product will feature moisturizing ingredients like glycerin or hyaluronic acid, and maybe even retinol to stimulate cell turnover". She is a clinical assistant professor of dermatology at New York University Medical School in New York City.