Hyperpigmentation, your skin is your largest organ, weighing in at about eight pounds and spanning more than twenty-two square feet.
It is responsible for protecting the rest of your body against harmful chemicals, too much sunlight, extreme temperatures and much more.
Of course, since it also the largest visible organ, most people want their skin to have an aesthetic appeal as well.
Fine lines and Wrinkles
Fine lines and wrinkles come with age but what many don't realize is that hyperpigmentation may occur with age as well.
Skin discoloration can make you feel unhappy with your appearance and may even lead to more serious health issues down the line.
Check out this guide to learn what hyperpigmentation is, what causes it, how you can prevent it and what you can do to treat spots that already have discoloration.
What Is Hyperpigmentation?
Hyperpigmentation is the name for skin that is darker or otherwise discolored compared to the rest of your skin.
It may also occur in the nail bed. Although there are many forms and causes of hyperpigmentation, they all relate to the excess production of melanin in some way.
The discoloration affects more than 30 million people around the world, although people who have darker skin tones are more prone to the discoloration, especially if they spend a lot of time in the sun.
It may occur all over the body, or it may focus on one area, such as the face, neck, thighs or back of the hands.
The skin most often looks brown, although it can also be red, pink or even shades of purple.
The discoloration may look like spots, streaks or clusters.
Melanin produces melanocytes on the lower level of the epidermis and is responsible for creating skin color as well as hair and eye color.
As the body ages, it does not disperse melanocytes as well as it used to, which can lead to the most common form of hyperpigmentation known as age spots.
Although, it is also common in people who have healed acne scars.
Hyperpigmentation vs. Melasma
Melasma ( also known as chloasma) is one form of hyperpigmentation.
Like other forms, it creates discoloration on the skin and can worsen if you spend a lot of time in the sun.
However, melasma, which affects more women than men and more than 5 million Americans in total, has quite a few differences compared to other types of hyperpigmentation.
While UV rays are a large trigger of melasma, hormones also influence its progression, which makes it tougher to treat.
People who suffer from melasma often use oral contraceptives or other hormonal therapies to treat it.
Women are more likely to become pregnant while being treated for melasma, and the biggest issue for many sufferers is how to keep it from becoming worse.
Learn More about Melasma
Melasma is very noticeable because it appears most commonly on the face, including the bridge of the nose, cheeks, chin, upper lip and forehead.
The discoloration looks symmetric and blotchy. Although it is less common, it may appear on other parts of the body, especially areas such as the neck and forearms since they receive more sun exposure.
Causes and Risk Factors of Hyperpigmentation
The most common cause of hyperpigmentation is too much exposure to the sun. UV rays weaken the collagen fibers in skin, altering DNA and preventing stem cells from repairing the damage to your skin.
Skin discoloration may lead to skin cancer when the light creates too many free radicals that damage DNA.
For this reason, it is essential to wear sunscreen with at least an SPF 50 anytime you are outside, even in the winter.
There are many other causes of Hyperpigmentation as well
Acne, eczema, psoriasis and dermatitis can all cause skin discoloration. In addition, hormonal imbalances caused by pregnancy or menopause may also produce discoloration.
There are still other causes as well:
- Autoimmune disorders
- Metabolic disorders
- Vitamin deficiencies that increase inflammation of blood vessels
- Gastrointestinal diseases
- Smoking and tobacco use
- Medications that cause sensitivity to sunlight
- Skin damaged by waxing, burns, allergic reactions or cuts
- Poor diet that is high in sugar, sodium or chemical additives
Signs and Symptoms of Hyperpigmentation
For the most part, the signs of hyperpigmentation are dark spots on the skin. However, they vary slightly depending on the type of hyperpigmentation you have. Sun damage and post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation are the top two variations.
Sun damage is the most common cause of skin discoloration and can start as early as your teenage years.
Sunspots are small, flat and either light or dark brown. They are most common on the face, neck, chest, arms and other areas that receive a lot of exposure to sunlight.
Freckles are sunspots as well and are most common on people with light or medium skin tones.
More often referred to as PIH, post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation refers to skin trauma due to inflammation or injury connected to a variety of illnesses, including such common ones as eczema, acne, contact dermatitis and psoriasis.
These types of hyperpigmentation typically manifest as pink, red or dark brown spots. Although PIH affects all skin tones, it is most common in people with darker skin.
Tips for Preventing Hyperpigmentation
Wear Plenty of Sunscreen
The easiest way to protect your skin from discoloration is to wear sunscreen. It isn't enough to lather it on before heading to the beach or pool. You need to wear it every day of the year, whether it's sunny or rainy, warm or cold. Doing so helps to protect you against sunspots that could become more dangerous down the line. Look for a sunscreen that uses titanium dioxide or zinc oxide and has an SPF of 50 or higher.
Eat a Healthy Diet
When you eat too much sugar and salt, your skin becomes more likely to suffer hyperpigmentation. Protect it by eating a healthy and balanced diet that includes plenty of protein, healthy fats and fruits and vegetables. Vitamin C is especially helpful for helping to prevent discoloration. Don't forget to drink plenty of water as well.
Treatment for Hyperpigmentation
People have used hydroquinone to treat dark skin spots for more than five decades.
When purchased over the counter, the ingredient is available in quantities of two percent or less, although you can also ask your doctor for a prescription, which provides four percent or more.
Hydroquinone inhibits the enzyme tyrosinase so that your body produces less melanin.
Most people see results in eight to twelve weeks, although a few see them in as little as two. If you purchase it over the counter, look for fading or skin lightening creams that use it.
Kojic acid, made from fermented rice or mushrooms, is another common skin lightener and is usually used in combination with hydroquinone. This soap suppresses the activity of your pigment cells. People with sensitive skin will only want to use kojic acid under the watchful eye of a doctor because using too much of it can cause allergic dermatitis as a side effect.
Depending on how severe your hyperpigmentation is, you may want to skip the over-the-counter treatments and head to a dermatologist for a chemical peel.
These super-exfoliating procedures remove the topmost layers of dead skin.
The light will reflect better off your skin and give you a glowing complexion.
Over time, the treatments may enhance cellular turnover and reduce the appearance of skin discoloration.
Chemical peels typically require as many as six treatments over the span of four weeks.
This treatment is not for anyone afraid of needles, but it can be quite helpful.
The procedure uses a stainless steel, medical-grade roller covered in hundreds of tiny needles to create tiny injuries on the skin to rebuild collagen.
It is often used in combination with topical treatments and requires at least three treatments every six weeks.
Microdermabrasion, another dermatologist-recommended exfoliating treatment, uses tiny particles of sand to remove dead skin. It is a non-chemical procedure and does not require a lot of recovery time but only works on mild skin discoloration. It can take as many as six treatments, and treatment appointments are spaced up to four weeks apart.
While this is the most expensive treatment for hyperpigmentation, laser treatment is the most impactful.
The laser targets specific pigment to break it up and remove it from the skin.
Use a Laser
Ask your doctor to use a laser that has a focused beam and a rapid rate to avoid burns, inflammatory response or other collateral damage.
You may expect as many as six treatments with about four weeks between each one.
While there is plenty that you can do to prevent hyperpigmentation, you may still suffer some skin discoloration even with preventive measures.
Before Starting Treatment
If you do find dark spots, it is important to talk to a doctor before starting treatment so that you can be sure there are no serious underlying causes.
bove all else, remember that your worth is not tied up in your appearance.
Whether you have small spots of discoloration or many large spots, you are perfect just the way you are!