Compared to other skin concerns like acne and eczema, hyperpigmentation is easier to live with especially when it’s usually harmless and causes less physical discomfort. Hyperpigmentation – the name itself is a dead giveaway – is usually more common for people with more melanin.
Basically, hyperpigmentation is a condition where one area or portion of your skin looks darker as compared to the rest of your face or body.
Causes of Hyperpigmentation
Hyperpigmentation is caused by an overproduction of melanin in our skin. Melanin, to put it plainly, is responsible for the “coloring” of your skin and pigmentation of your eyes, skin and hair.
The more melanin produced by your body, the darker the pigment and the color of your eyes, skin and hair. For example, a dark-skinned woman with dark eyes has much more melanin in her skin and eyes than a pale blonde woman with blue eyes.
Melanin is crucial in protecting your skin cells from powerful and harmful UV rays that cause sun damage to your skin. Without melanin, your skin would burn A LOT more easily, leading to less skin elasticity and provoking premature aging.
Excessive exposure to sources of UV light can result in an overproduction of melanin, leading to hyperpigmentation. It isn’t just natural sunlight – those excessive and repeated bouts in tanning beds can also lead to hyperpigmentation, and undoubtedly worsen the condition overall.
Although exposure to UV light is the top cause of hyperpigmentation, there are also other causes:
Trauma – Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation is caused by irritation and some form of injury or breakage to the skin. These scenarios can include eczema, acne, allergic reactions, burn marks and even bug bites
The skin cells deal with the damage by producing excessive melanin, forming discolourations across your skin.
Pregnancy – The excessive production of hormones like estrogen and progesterone cause hyperpigmentation during your pregnancy. It’s also possible that your hyperpigmentation may be caused by a hormonal imbalance that was already present pre-pregnancy and then worsened after.
Usually, the type of hyperpigmentation that occurs during pregnancy won’t worsen after childbirth and there’s a chance that the darkened areas may fade away in the months after.
Medication/Drugs – There are certain substances that induce hyperpigmentation when taken orally for medical purposes. These include contraceptive pills, anti-seizure medication and even estrogen pills.
Types of Hyperpigmentation
There are many types of hyperpigmentation but the most common examples are sunspots and melasma.
Sunspots: These occur when hyperpigmentation appears as uneven darkened spots on the skin. Sunspots are usually caused by skin being regularly exposed to the sun without proper protection and consequently, those uneven patches of darkened skin form in those areas due to sun damage.
You may also wonder at the difference between freckles and sunspots: Freckles are not caused by sun damage unlike sunspots. In general, the latter tend to be smaller in size compared to freckles and are usually lighter and less defined in shape.
Sunspots are also more commonly associated with signs of aging – which is why they are also known as liver spots or age spots whereas freckles can actually fade with age.
The main difference is that freckles are usually harmless and a sign that you’ve spent too much time in the sun while sunspots, while also being harmless, is a signal that your skin is being damaged by an over-exposure to the sun.
In any event, it’s best to protect your skin with a good broad spectrum SPF consistently throughout the day – choose a sunscreen that is at least SPF30, and is easy to apply and carry around so that you can touch up your protection anytime anywhere!
Melasma: Melasma usually shows up as hyperpigmentation in the form of large and uneven patches on your face but can also occur on other areas of your body.
Melasma also differs from sunspots in one aspect – sunspots are usually caused solely by an excessive exposure to UV rays while melasma can also be caused by the same but also by hormonal changes or imbalances in your body.
The more common locations of melasma on your face are your cheeks, forehead, chin and bridge of your nose.
Melasma isn’t usually dangerous just like sunspots but can have a psychological impact on you. Melasma may not affect your health but it certainly affects your appearance which can in turn knock down your self-esteem considering that melasma can last for years if left untreated.
How Do You Treat Hyperpigmentation?
- The most fundamental step to treating hyperpigmentation is to limit excessive sun exposure. By doing so, you’d avoid causing even more hyperpigmentation while not negatively affecting the process of your skin trying to recover from the sun damage.
- There are also plenty of serums and creams that can help to fade the appearance of sunspots. The most common active ingredients used are Vitamin C, Vitamin E and glycolic acid. A common theme among these active ingredients is that they disrupt the production of melanin in our skin, leading to a more even skin tone. It’s also worth mentioning an ingredient that’s steadily gaining in popularity over the years: Kojic Acid which has proven to be effective in disrupting the excessive over production of melanin.
- Getting a chemical peel – For those with a little more melanin in their complexion, a chemical peel can do wonders in improving the appearance of sunspots and melasma while preventing the accumulation of melanin in the affected region. The chemical peel helps to strip away the top layer of the skin, accelerating cell turnover rate so that healthy and young skin cells can surface and visibly replace the previous discolourations on your face.
- Receiving laser treatment – There are several different types of laser treatments to target various forms of pigmentations according to your skin type and concerns. It’s best to approach a trained professional for an expert opinion on which type of treatment to pursue.
It’s best to approach a dermatologist on the best way to treat your hyperpigmentation lest you choose the wrong process and end up doing even more damage to your skin.
What You Need To Remember:
Although hyperpigmentation manifests itself as a harmless condition most of the time, the visible difference that it makes to our appearance is enough to give us enough cause to try and find a solution. The most crucial piece of information in tackling hyperpigmentation is that prevention is always better than finding a cure and applying or spraying on sunscreen can go a long way in saving us a lot of trouble and worry down the road.