What is hyperpigmentation?
Hyperpigmentation occurs when melanin is overproduced in certain areas of the skin. This results in flat, darkened patches of skin that are light brown to black in colour, and can vary in size and shape.
Types of hyperpigmentation
There are many types of hyperpigmentation, but the following are the most common:
– Pigment spots such as age spots are caused by sun exposure. For this reason, they appear mainly on body parts that are frequently exposed, such as the face, hands and arms. They tend to be small, darkened patches of skin.
–Melasma or chloasma is often referred to as “the mask of pregnancy”, as it affects 50 – 70% of pregnant women. It occurs as a result of hormonal influences such as pregnancy and birth control pills, and causes dark and irregularly shaped areas on the face or arms that can be quite large.
– Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation occurs when a skin injury or trauma heals and leaves a flat area of discolouration behind. It’s commonly found among acne sufferers, and can also be caused by cosmetic procedures such as dermabrasion, laser treatment and chemical peels.
There are other factors that can cause patches of skin to become darker such as scarring, birthmarks, and skin cancers. However, these aren’t considered to be forms of hyperpigmentation.
What makes hyperpigmentation appear?
Hyperpigmentation is caused by a localized overproduction of melanin, the pigment that gives our skin, hair and eyes its natural colour. This overproduction is triggered by a variety of factors, but the main ones can be linked back to sun exposure, genetic factors, age, hormonal influences, and skin injuries or inflammation. It may be due to uneven distribution of the melanin producing cells (melanocytes) or by the unregulated production of the pigment.
Sun exposure is the number one cause of hyperpigmentation, as it’s sunlight that triggers the production of melanin in the first place. Melanin acts as your skin’s natural sunscreen by reducing the impact of harmful UV rays, which is why people tan in the sun, but excessive sun exposure can disrupt this process, leading to hyperpigmentation.
Continued sun exposure can further darken existing freckles, age spots, melasma and post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation spots. Limiting the time you spend in the sun, wearing protective clothing, and using a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a high SPF can help reduce your risk of developing hyperpigmentation, and stop existing dark spots from getting worse.
Hormonal influences are the main cause of a particular kind of hyperpigmentation known as melasma or chloasma. It’s particularly common among women, as it’s thought to occur when the female sex hormones estrogen and progesterone stimulate the overproduction of melanin when skin is exposed to the sun. Melasma is primarily due to female hormones. It affects so many pregnant women that it is also known as “the mask of pregnancy”. It’s more prevalent among people with darker skin.
Hyperpigmentation also develops from certain illnesses, such as some autoimmune and gastrointestinal diseases, metabolic disorders and vitamin deficiencies. Hyperpigmentation can be a side effect of certain hormone treatments, chemotherapy drugs, antibiotics, antimalarials, anti-seizure drugs, and other medications.
What can you do about hyperpigmentation?
There are a few different treatments that are known to help with hyperpigmentation. Chemical peels involve applying an acidic solution to the face, hands or feet to remove the surface layers of the skin. This process reveals new and evenly pigmented skin beneath.
Laser therapies are another treatment option. They have much the same effect as a chemical peel, but tend to be more precise, as the dermatologist has more control over the intensity of the treatment. They involve exposing the affected areas to high-energy light. The mildest treatments work just on the skin’s epidermis, or surface layer of the skin, while more intense treatments can penetrate to a deeper layer of the skin.
These dermatological treatments can be very effective against hyperpigmentation but they are expensive and relatively intense. They are also able to irritate, inflame or even blister skin, and can actually cause post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, especially in people with darker skin.
Other treatment options
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