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Skincare 101: What Is Hyperpigmentation?

Skincare 101: What Is Hyperpigmentation

Most of us don’t have a perfectly evenskin tone, but if you suffer fromhyperpigmentation, you may feel like the differences in your skin are more noticeable. Hyperpigmentationhas many different causes and avoiding them isn’t always possible.

Let’s talk about what hyperpigmentation is, including the different types of hyperpigmentation. We’ll cover what it looks like, what causes it, and what treatment options are available to deal with these areas of unevenness. 

We’ll also talk about the outlook for hyperpigmentation and whether or not it will go away on its own or worsen over time. 

What Is Hyperpigmentation?

Hyperpigmentationis askin conditionthat causespatches of skinto appear darker than others. These patches can happen in clusters or as single spots on the skin. Hyperpigmentationcan appear on your face and other parts of your body, like your chest, back, arms, and legs.

Hyperpigmentation is typically harmless and doesn’t always mean that your skin is damaged, but in rare cases, it can be a symptom of an underlying health concern. 

It’s important to differentiate between hyperpigmentation and a precancerous spot on your skin. The only way to determine whether you have discoloration, or a precancerous spot is to have it checked by a healthcare provider like a dermatologist

What Does Hyperpigmentation Look Like?

You might use different terms to describe hyperpigmentation. Areas of darker skin are often referred to as sunspots, age spots, liver spots, or dark spots of skin pigmentation. There are several forms of hyperpigmentation

Melasma

If you’ve been pregnant or know someone who has been pregnant, you might have heard them refer to the mask of pregnancy or melasma. These areas of darker skin are thought to be caused by hormonal changes the body undergoes during pregnancy. 

Another cause of melasma is thought to be ultraviolet radiation. If you already have melasma from hormonal changes, sun exposure could worsen it. 

Solar Lentigines

The sun is a source of skin damage and can darken skin, forming a suntan. Melanin, the compound in our skin that gives us ourskin color, also helps protect our skin fromsun damage.

The sun accelerates the production of melanin in our skin, which can result in sunburn or a suntan. Over time, sun exposure can cause melanin to clump together in areas. These areas of highly concentrated melanin form sunspots

Post-Inflammatory Hyperpigmentation  

Another cause of hyperpigmentation is skin damage and injury. Acne, an inflammation of the skin and pores, can lead to post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation in the form of acne scars. 

You may also develop post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation from skin treatments that aren’t performed correctly or from surgery to remove spots. 

What Does Hyperpigmentation Look Like?

It can be difficult to decide whether or not the dark areas on your skin are areas of hyperpigmentation or something else. Although skin injuries can result in post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, the spots often go away and short periods of time with little or no other treatment. If you suspect you have hyperpigmentation of any kind, you can look for signs.

Symptoms of hyperpigmentation can include:

These patches or spots on your skin are rarely raised and don’t itch, peel, or flake. If you experience any of these side effects, you should see your dermatologist

Small spots that are darker than your natural skin tone
Patches that are irregular in size and shape and are darker than natural skin tone

Areas of skin that get darker over time.

What Are Some Causes of Hyperpigmentation?

Everyone is capable of developing hyperpigmentation. However, certain lifestyle habits or changes can cause your risk of developing these dark spots to become higher. 

Medications

Certain medications can cause your skin to become more sensitive to changes inmelanin. These medications carry aside effectthat causes the skin to be more sensitive to the sun. Excessive sun exposurewhile taking these medications may lead to increasedhyperpigmentationor darkening ofdiscolorationsthat already exist on the skin.

The most common medications responsible for these side effects include oral contraceptives, over the counter, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, and some antibiotics. 

Sun Exposure

Exposure to the sun can increase your risk of developing hyperpigmentation, but it can also worsen existing hyperpigmentation. No matter your skin type, your skin needs sun protection when exposed to UV rays. Both UVA and UVB rays can damage your skin, but it is thought that UVB rays are responsible for deeper, darker hyperpigmentation

Usingsunscreenwith anSPF 30or higher will be most beneficial in keeping your skin protected from the sun. Zinc oxideis a natural skin protector that is available in protectiveSPFs.

Underlying Medical Conditions

Certain diseases may make you more susceptible to developinghyperpigmentation. Addison’s disease, a disease that affects the adrenal glands, can cause the skin to darken and formhyperpigmentationpatches.

If you begin to develop areas of hyperpigmentation without sun exposure or a change in your daily medications, it’s a good idea to contact your doctor. 

Will Hyperpigmentation Go Away?

Most of the time, areas of hyperpigmentation are small and insignificant. They can often be covered up with makeup if they make you uncomfortable. However, for larger areas, you may wonder if they’ll go away on their own or if treatment options are available to help them fade. 

In some cases, hyperpigmentation spots will naturally fade or go away on their own. In these cases, time, along with proper protection from the sun, will help the skin repair. In other cases, hyperpigmentation may become worse. If you already have areas of hyperpigmentation and actively expose them to the sun, or if you begin taking a phototoxic medication, the spots can worsen. 

If you have dark spots that just won’t budge, you should be aware of treatment options available for removing them or feeding them so they are less noticeable.

What Can I Do About Hyperpigmentation?

It’s natural to want an even skin tone. Thankfully, numerous options are available to help you naturally fade dark spots and permanently eradicate them. 

Laser Treatments

Two specific types of laser treatment can help eliminate spots of hyperpigmentation. They are ablative lasers and non-ablative lasers. 

Ablative laser treatments are designed to safely remove the uppermost layers of your skin to reveal skin that is not damaged by melanocytes. Non-ablative laser treatment focuses on resurfacing the uppermost layer of skin, which requires less downtime but may not completely erase the hyperpigmentation

Chemical Peels

Peels are a type of skincare treatment available in your dermatologist’s office and over the counter. Peels use specific types of acid (like glycolic acid and kojic acid) to remove the top layer of skin. 

Because some chemical peels are more highly concentrated, they are best performed in a dermatologist’s office. Applying them incorrectly could result in skin damage, worsening hyperpigmentation, and even post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation

Anytime you get a peel, it’s important to remember never to pick or peel the dead skin that results from the process. The skin that is removed from a peel will naturally slough away in a few days. Removing it too soon can cause damage to your skin, including irritation, redness, itching, and scarring. 

Microdermabrasion

Exfoliation is a method that helps remove the top layer of deadskin cellson the surface of the skin. Topicalforms of exfoliation can include scrubs or acids, like alpha hydroxy acids.

For more intense hyperpigmentation, microdermabrasion may be used. You can use microdermabrasion tools at home, but professional microdermabrasion tools are generally more effective for darker, deeper spots. 

Professional microdermabrasion therapies usually result in red skin that requires a few days of downtime before you can return to normal activities. 

Over-the-Counter Lightening Creams 

If you’d prefer a less invasive method of dealing with dark spots, over-the-counter creams that include lightening ingredients can help gradually fade spots and make hyperpigmentation less noticeable. 

While vitamin C may be the most popular skin brightening ingredient, numerous other ingredients can help reduce dark spots and help correct an uneven skin tone

Retinoids

Normally given to people to help fight early signs of aging, like fine lines and wrinkles,retinoidscan also help fadedark spots. Retinoidswork by stimulating cell turnover.

Skin is constantly renewing, creating new skin cells below the surface of the skin and pushing older cells to the surface. As we get older, the time it takes for skin cells to renew takes longer. When you have hyperpigmentation, the spot may stay on the skin's surface longer. 

Retinoidscan stimulate cell turnover, causing your skin to renew more quickly than it would on its own. Retinoidsdo carryside effects, however. Continued use can result in irritation like redness, peeling, and burning of the skin.

Intense Pulse Light Therapy

Intense pulse light therapy, or IPL, is a type of laser treatment that uses focused light to stimulate collagen growth in the skin. Collagen is the main protein that is foundational in your skin. Stimulating collagen production can help the skin renew faster and help break up concentrations of melanin to help fade dark spots

Living With Hyperpigmentation 

Unlike skin conditions like eczema or psoriasis, hyperpigmentation is a condition that can affect anyone and may or may not go away on its own with time. You’re more at risk of developing hyperpigmentation if you spend time in the sun without protection, take certain medications, or become pregnant. 

Having a spot of hyperpigmentation can make some people feel uncomfortable. If your skin tone concerns you, it’s a good idea to talk to your dermatologist or skin care provider about your options. While you can’t always remove every instance of hyperpigmentation, some treatments can help them become less noticeable. 

Healthy Skin

For more information on keeping your skin healthy and to learn about different skin issues, you can check out the Furtuna Skin blog. There, you’ll learn about natural ingredients that can help support your skin health and address certain skin conditions

Sources:

Melasma: Treatment, Causes & Prevention | My Cleveland Clinic.org 

Drug-induced skin pigmentation. Epidemiology, diagnosis and treatment | PubMed 

Shining Light on Skin Pigmentation: The Darker and the Brighter Side of Effects of UV Radiation | PMC 

Addison's disease - Symptoms and causes | Mayo Clinic

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