Hyperpigmentation: What Causes It and How Do You Treat It?
Hyperpigmentation can be challenging to treat even though it’s one of the most common types of skin conditions. Along with acne and skin aging, uneven pigmentation is one of the top complaints skincare specialists receive from patients. Though considered to be a benign skin condition, some patients wish to undergo hyperpigmentation treatment to raise their self-confidence, improve their physical appearance, and promote good skin health.
What is Hyperpigmentation and What Causes it?
Hyperpigmentation is a condition in which certain areas of the skin become darker in color compared to the skin around it. The discoloration is caused by the overproduction of melanin, the substance in the body that produces the color of the skin. This condition results in dark patches, usually ranging from light brown to black, and vary in shape and size.
Hyperpigmentation is mainly harmless and affects any type of skin color. However, many people find these dark patches concerning since they tend to appear on the hands, face, and other exposed body parts, making them difficult to conceal.
The most common cause of hyperpigmentation is overexposure to the sun. The role of melanin is to protect the skin from ultraviolet (UV) rays, so when the skin is overexposed to sunlight, melanin production is disrupted, leading to hyperpigmentation.
The condition gets worse when overexposure is combined with hormonal changes during pregnancy or the use of birth control pills. When the skin is overexposed to sunlight, the female hormones estrogen and progesterone influence melanin production. As a result, hyperpigmentation occurs more often in women than men.
There are also other causes of hyperpigmentation, including incisions, exposure to certain chemicals, burns, inflammation, and other types of trauma to the skin. All of these may trigger different types of hyperpigmentation, such as the three listed below.
Types of Hyperpigmentation
- Melasma: These are brown patches that mainly discolor sun-exposed parts of the face but may also affect the neck, forearms, and abdomen. It affects people with darker skin tones more often and is mainly a product of hormonal changes. Melasma is commonly experienced by pregnant women and women who take birth control pills since both undergo the same type of hormonal changes. However, this type of hyperpigmentation can affect anyone.
- Pigment Spots/Age Spots: These are small, dark patches that appear on the face, arms, and hands as a result of excessive sun exposure. Age spots are common in elderly people but may also develop during childhood.
- Freckles: This form of pigmentation can appear on any part of the body but mostly appears on the face and arms. Freckles are an inherited skin trait, and like age spots, the discoloration becomes more prevalent when the skin is overexposed to sunlight.
- Post-Inflammatory Hyperpigmentation: This type of hyperpigmentation is caused by injuries or inflammation to the skin due to eczema, acne, or psoriasis. Pigment production increases in affected areas, resulting in dark spots. Though post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation can happen to anyone, it occurs more often in people with darker skin.
How to Treat Hyperpigmentation
Skincare Products & Topical Treatments for Hyperpigmentation
Topical treatments and skincare products with active ingredients can fade or remove the dark spots associated with hyperpigmentation. Many of the prescribed creams for this condition contain hydroquinone, a topical bleaching agent that has been the standard ingredient for treating the skin condition. Since hyperpigmentation is such a widespread skin problem, newer ingredients have been used in developing skincare products to lighten the dark patches.
Some of these newer ingredients include:
- Soy: Soybean extract contains pigment-reducing and anti-aging properties. This ingredient also inhibits the transfer of melanosome, which are organelles responsible for the transportation of melanin, to the topmost layer of the skin. Soy can also be found in many skin-lightening moisturizers.
- Ellagic Acid: Derived from strawberries and pomegranates, ellagic acid functions as an antioxidant and suppresses melanin production. This ingredient is also considered to be effective for skin lightening when combined with hydroquinone.
- Kojic Acid: A type of metabolic antioxidant, kojic acid is found in different fungal species such as Acetobacter, Aspergillus, and Penicillium. Kojic acid is able to inhibit melanin production in the skin and can also break it apart. One percent of kojic acid combined with two percent hydroquinone has been proven by research to be effective in depigmenting melasma.
- Niacinamide: As an active form of vitamin B3, niacinamide is found in root vegetables and yeast. This ingredient is able to fight hyperpigmentation by preventing melanosome transfer from reaching the skin’s topmost layer. Niacinamide is also used in many skincare products due to its skin-lightening properties.
- Arbutin: Found in bearberry and blueberry, arbutin is a derivative of hydroquinone that’s commonly used in over-the-counter cosmeceuticals. According to research, three percent concentrations of Arbutin can notably lighten the skin.
Hyperpigmentation as a result of acne blemishes and scars can be effectively treated with a light chemical peel. This type of chemical peel uses alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs) or glycolic acid in lower concentrations to gently exfoliate the surface layer of the skin. By triggering excessive peeling on the outer layers of the dermis, a fresh new layer of skin is revealed. Uneven skin tone and pigmentation are also addressed.
Other ingredients, such as TCA and salicylic acid, are also used in chemical peels. While these non-surgical procedures are adept at removing deeper pigmentation, not every skin color is suitable for such peels. Also, if the patient has a history of scarring, another procedure may be more appropriate.
Laser Treatment for Hyperpigmentation
Though hyperpigmentation may be removed using topical treatments, laser treatment is the quickest way to eliminate this type of skin discoloration. Patients can expect to see an improvement in their skin texture, as well as a decrease in dark spots and redness, after undergoing laser treatments.
Expect the following from your doctor during the first consultation:
- Skin test and physical assessment
- Discussion about one’s medical history and lifestyle
- Discussion about the treatment and how it works
- Breakdown of the number of sessions
The Fraxis Duo Fractional CO2 Laser can effectively treat hyperpigmentation and other skin issues. This dual multi-functional system combines the CO2 fractional laser with micro-needle RF fractional technology for the optimal treatment of acne scars, age spots, hyperpigmentation, and other skin issues. The system also allows professionals to treat various skin conditions on all skin types without damaging the tissue around the affected areas.
Note that this laser treatment is an outpatient procedure. Once the treatment is over, patients may feel swelling or redness which should be gone in a few days. As previously mentioned, hyperpigmentation is mostly caused by excessive sun exposure, so your doctor will advise you to stay indoors during the recovery period. You will also be prescribed medications and must adhere to all the aftercare instructions to ensure proper healing.