Hyperpigmentation isn’t a specific condition or disease — it’s the term used to describe areas of the skin that appear darker. Hyperpigmented skin usually presents itself in the form of dark patches, age spots, or even freckles. If you’re noticing hyperpigmented areas on your face or body (like your shoulders and hands), you’re not alone. This condition is very common, although it doesn’t make it any less frustrating. Here’s a breakdown of all things hyperpigmentation, from types to treatment.
What is Hyperpigmentation, Anyway?
Whether you’ve spent too much time in the sun or you’re having a flare-up of some kind, those spots of hyperpigmented skin all boil down to one thing: too much melanin. Melanin, the pigment that gives skin its color, is created by melanocyte cells which live in the outer layers of our epidermis. One of the most common causes of hyperpigmentation is large amounts of sun exposure, which triggers a melanin response to protect the skin. This darker pigment may look like a tan at first but as time goes on and the skin continues to get exposed, the pigment becomes uneven, turning into age spots, freckles, or even melasma, a condition linked to hormone-related hyperpigmentation.
But it isn’t the sun alone that can cause this overproduction of melanin. Any type of inflammation or trauma to the skin can trigger a melanin response. Something as simple as a breakout or a rash can create discoloration that doesn’t go away.
Types of Hyperpigmentation
Skin discoloration can show itself in a variety of ways. We’ve mentioned a few already, but here’s a quick summary to help you get a better idea of the specifics.
- Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation – This is the discoloration that happens as a result of injury or inflammation to the skin, such as acne, eczema, or a rash.
- Age spots – When the skin begins to age, the areas that are most exposed to the sun over time, such as the face, neck, shoulders, hands, develop hyperpigmentation.
- Freckles – While freckle production is linked to your genes, an overexposure to sun could cause freckles to appear darker and more prominent.
- Melasma – This type of discoloration is more common in women, appearing on the nose, cheeks, and upper lip. Melasma often appears during the hormonal changes in pregnancy.
How to Treat Hyperpigmentation
The best way to treat any sun-related skin concerns is to prevent it. If you already have hyperpigmented spots, it’s never too late to prevent those spots from getting darker over time. As skin experts who want what’s best for you and your skin, we can’t emphasize enough the importance of daily sun protection. We recommend applying an SPF 30 or more to your face every single day, whether it’s winter or fall, rainy or sunny. If you plan to be outside for the day, make sure to reapply sunscreen every two to three hours and wear a hat. There’s an endless range of cute and affordable hats these days, and your skin will look better in the long run if you can avoid heavy sun exposure.
It’s also important to avoid picking or scratching your skin, as popping a pimple or scratching a mosquito bite could result in a dark spot. When in doubt, it’s best to leave it and let your skin and any skincare regimen take care of it.
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s talk about treatment! Although there are many causes of hyperpigmentation, we have a variety of treatments we can recommend to help you get to the bottom of it. (Or in this case, the top of it, since it involves the outer layers of your skin.)
If you’re practicing a solid sunscreen routine, you’re already ahead of the game. The next step is to talk with a dermatologist and get a treatment plan of action. We provide a variety of treatments that can improve the appearance of your skin including hyperpigmentation, and there’s a bonus: these treatments can also improve scarring, wrinkles, and more.
Professional Chemical Peels
Chemical peels are cosmetic treatments that can be applied to the face, neck, and hands. How it works is this: one of our trained professionals applies a highly concentrated acid to your skin, creating an exfoliation process over several weeks that removes the dull, damaged skin and allows new skin to grow.
The advantage of a professional chemical peel is that it provides quicker, more dramatic results than topical treatments. Peels are most efficient on fairer skin types, but can also improve medium to dark skin depending on the severity of the pigmentation.
Microdermabrasion is an in-office procedure that treats hyperpigmentation and other skin concerns with a small attachment or handheld tool. Like chemical peels, microdermabrasion exfoliates the skin, removing the epidermis layer of the skin to encourage new skin to grow.
We may recommend one or several topical treatments you can apply to your skin to improve the appearance of dark spots over time. Patience is key with this treatment, but results should happen over time. Depending on your skin type and severity of the hyperpigmentation, we can offer a variety of over the counter or prescription-strength products to help lighten the skin. We recommend these products for treating pigmented skin:
- Kojic acid
- Licorice or mushroom extract
- Glycolic acid or lactic acids
- Antioxidants like vitamin C
- Prescription hydroquinone
- Other over-the-counter lightening creams
As many of these products can be irritating or interact with other ingredients in your skincare routine, we always recommend consulting with a dermatologist before starting a new lightening product.
So, there you have it. Hyperpigmentation is a common concern that happens to most people at some point in their lives. Make sunscreen a consistent habit for healthy skin over time. And if you’d like to improve the appearance of dark spots, come see our skincare experts at Revivology. We’ll help you keep your discoloration to a minimum so you can feel more confident and in control.