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What Is Hyperpigmentation?
The term hyperpigmentation refers to dark pockets of skin pigmentation. The skin is either darker or redder in tone than the surrounding skin.
Hyperpigmentation may happen sporadically, on large areas of the skin, or in small patches. It may appear as freckles or large dark masses.
Types of Hyperpigmentation
The most common types of hyperpigmentation include:
One of the most common types of hyperpigmentation, melasma is a condition that is categorized by dark patches of skin. These patches can be large or small. They can look like scattered freckles or large dark spots.
This type of hyperpigmentation is usually caused by dehydration, sun exposure, or hormonal imbalances and changes. It’s nicknamed the mask of pregnancy because it’s so common in pregnant women.
The good news is that most pregnant women suffering from melasma report this condition going away on its own after their hormones return to normal.
Melasma is most common in people with darker skin or those that live in sunnier climates.
Sunspots are another common type of hyperpigmentation. These spots look like patches of dark freckles or moles and are usually on the hands, arms, and chest (though they can also appear on the face, too).
These spots are most often caused by overexposure to the sun and usually appear later in life (thus, the name age spots). They are also called liver spots.
They can be exacerbated by some lifestyle choices, such as stimulant use and tanning.
While sunspots can look like moles, these spots aren’t raised from the skin. If you’ve developed spots that look like age spots, you may want to get them checked for melanoma (skin cancer). These spots are often raised from the skin or irregularly shaped.
Patches of scarred skin also fall under the category of hyperpigmentation. The most common types of darks spot scars are acne scars, though any type of scarring may result in hyperpigmentation.
The skin may turn darker after any type of trauma. When the skin is cut or burnt, the body ramps up the production of collagen, the protein in charge of cell turnover and regrowth.
As the cells grow back, sometimes too much collagen is produced. Whenever you see dark scars or spots where there was an acne spot, cut, or burn, it’s usually the result of an overproduction of collagen.
Unlike most of the hyperpigmentation on this list, rosacea is characterized by red spots — not dark brown ones.
Rosacea looks like small or large red patches on the skin. It’s also characterized by small red veins and sometimes small bumps. It’s most common on people with fair skin.
This type of hyperpigmentation is usually caused by an allergic reaction to stimulants (such as alcohol or nicotine), heat, or spicy food. It can also be caused by allergic reactions to skincare or cleaning products. In some cases, it’s caused by pollutants.
The best way to prevent rosacea is to avoid stimulants, allergens, and free radicals.
Freckles and birthmarks are also considered hyperpigmentation.
Birthmarks are marks that form naturally on the skin in the womb. The two types of birthmarks are vascular and pigmented. Vascular marks are the result of irregularly formed blood vessels, and pigmented marks are caused by an overproduction of pigment.
Similar to pigmented birthmarks, freckles are caused by an overproduction of pigmentation; though, unlike birthmarks, they’re caused by external factors. Specifically, sun exposure.
Some birthmarks may go away on their own, while others may stick with us for life. Similarly, freckles may go away on their own if we avoid sun exposure, but sometimes these spots may remain on the skin for life.
Photoaging is hyperpigmentation caused by overexposure to the sun. People that suffer from this type of dark spots often have spent too much time sunbathing or in a tanning bed.
Sun damage can happen on any part of the body that isn’t protected from the harmful UV, UVA, and UVB rays of the sun. In fact, it’s the most common cause of premature aging!
This type of hyperpigmentation may look like dark spots, crepey skin, or reddened skin. It can look rough in texture or even flaky.
Unsurprisingly, the best way to prevent photoaging is to stay out of the sun! If you’re exposed to the sun, dermatologists recommend wearing sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher, long clothes, and face coverings.
Symptoms of Hyperpigmentation
Got dark spots on your skin? You probably have hyperpigmentation! It’s usually pretty easy for most dermatologists to diagnose this condition, yet we don’t recommend self-diagnosing it.
Sometimes what looks like hyperpigmentation may actually be melanoma, a form of skin cancer. If you have dark spots, make an appointment with an online dermatologist to rule out any malignant moles or spots.
Darkened skin is one of the main symptoms of hyperpigmentation. This type of skin spot can be large or small. It can appear on the hands, arms, face, chest, neck, legs, back, or feet.
Essentially, darkened skin doesn’t discriminate where it ends up on your body.
Most darkened skin isn’t harmful and is considered a cosmetic issue; though, some types of darkened skin can lead to more serious conditions.
Some hyperpigmentation can appear as sunspots or dark, flat spots on the hands, arms, chest, and face. If you’ve developed spots on sunkissed areas of your skin, you can bet you’ve developed a form of hyperpigmentation.
Inflamed or Red Skin
Some hyperpigmentation may appear as red or inflamed. Most of the conditions on this list are caused by collagen damage, inflammation, free radicals, or irritation.
Most commonly, acne and rosacea are categorized by red or inflamed skin. If your skin looks red or puffy, you may be suffering from hyperpigmentation. Yet, you may want to check with your dermatologist first before self-diagnosing your symptoms. Somes reddened skin may be a sign of more serious conditions or allergies.
Hyperpigmentation also often looks patchy. You may develop large patches of dark or reddened areas on your skin — or these discolorations might look like patches of freckles.
Either way, patchy skin is usually a sign of hyperpigmentation. Again, it’s always best to get a professional to diagnose your skin conditions to rule out any serious issues.
Causes of Hyperpigmentation
The causes of hyperpigmentation often vary — especially since this skin condition is a catch-all phrase for any type of discoloration. Yet, the most common causes for hyperpigmentation include:
Sun damage is — hands down — the most common cause for all types of hyperpigmentation. The harmful UV rays of the sun can damage collagen, dehydrate the skin, and cause scarring.
In fact, sun damage can wreak havoc on both light-skinned and dark-skinned people. It can lead to cosmetic hyperpigmentation, including sunspots, rosacea, patchy skin, darkened skin, and melasma.
It can even lead to more serious skin conditions such as melanoma.
Though sun protection is so important, not enough people take it seriously until they start to see the damaging effects of UV and UVB rays.
To avoid further damage (and even reverse current damage), wear sunscreen, long layers, and face protection.
Acne is another common cause of hyperpigmentation. In fact, it’s one of the most common causes of facial scarring in general.
If you suffer from acne, you may want to think twice about popping or breaking the skin on a pimple. Doing so can cause inflammation and infection. If that happens, one of two types of acne scars may form.
Raised scars, caused by an excess of collagen production, may form, looking dark brown or even black in color. Or, depressed scars, caused by a lack of collagen production may form that look like pockmarks on the skin.
People with chronic breakouts also often suffer from rosacea or a reddening of the skin.
If your family members suffer from any type of hyperpigmentation, you’re more likely to develop this type of skin discoloration, too — especially if you have very light or darker skin.
Sometimes the signs of early aging (such as wrinkles, crepey skin, or fine lines) are often associated with genetics, too.
The good news is that your DNA doesn’t completely define you! If premature aging runs in your family, you can make a few simple lifestyle changes and incorporate a few products into your skincare routine to turn your aging train around.
Dehydrated or dry skin is — hands down — the singular most common cause for all of the conditions on this list.
Collagen and elastin need water to survive. If your body is dehydrated, it won’t hydrate your skin cells because it will be too focused on maintaining essential functions and organs.
The kicker? Dehydration happens from the inside out, meaning it’s just as important to drink plenty of water and eat foods high in water content as it is to use moisturizer and lotion. It’s also important to avoid any type of dehydrating lifestyle choices, such as sun exposure or stimulant use.
The most common stimulants include caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, and drugs. Using any of these stimulants (especially to excess) can lead to hyperpigmentation.
If you’re simply trying to avoid hyperpigmentation (especially if this skin condition runs in your family), avoiding stimulants may simply do the trick. Most dermatologists recommend you:
Limit alcoholic beverages to two per day
Reduce caffeine intake
Watch legal cannabis intake
Avoid street drugs
You may also want to limit your sugar intake too if you’re especially concerned about hyperpigmentation.
Any type of skin trauma may result in hyperpigmentation. Trauma may lead to scarring, which will usually darken or redden patches of the skin.
Just as with acne scars, these scars are created by an overproduction of collagen. The collagen will build up over the cut or laceration and create a dark patch of skin.
Hormonal changes can also cause a temporary darkening of the skin. Most of the time, this hyperpigmentation will go away on its own after the hormone levels return to normal.
A few examples of hormonal changes are puberty, pregnancy, and menopause. Some medications may also lead to hormone imbalances.
If your hyperpigmentation doesn’t go away after your hormones return to normal, you may want to chat with your dermatologist about topical or in-office treatments.
Certain medications may lead to hormonal imbalances or other fluctuations in the body’s systems. Talk to your doctor to see if any of your medications may be causing hyperpigmentation.
There are a few lifestyle changes you can make to prevent further hyperpigmentation. Just some of these changes include:
Wearing sunscreen/sun protection
Cleansing skin daily
Reducing stimulant use
One of the main causes of hyperpigmentation is sun exposure. To reduce the risk of this skin condition (and most other skin conditions), avoid too much sun, wear sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher, and keep your arms, legs, face, and hands covered.
Our skin picks up a lot of debris during the day and sheds dead skin cells at night. Wash away free radicals, pollution, dirt, heavy metals, dead skin cells, sebum, and sweat with a good cleanser that is specially formulated for your skin.
Reduce Stimulant Use
Reduce your intake of caffeine, sugar, cannabis, and alcohol. Stop smoking (and all nicotine use). If you’re currently taking street drugs, get help with any addictions through talk therapy and support groups.
Our bodies need water to survive. If we don’t get enough hydration, our systems don’t send any of it to the skin and end up reserving all water for our vital organs.
Drink eight glasses of water each day, eat foods with high water content, and moisturize your skin daily to ensure your dermis gets enough hydration.
Treatment: How to Get Rid of Hyperpigmentation
Already suffering from hyperpigmentation? Does hyperpigmentation run in your family? You may want to consider dermatology treatments for this skin condition. The most common types of dermatology treatments include topical skincare and in-office invasive treatments.
Prescription and OTC Skincare
One of the easiest ways to reverse the signs of aging is through topical skincare solutions. These solutions are available over the counter at drugstores and big-box stores (department stores and skincare specialty stores).
While they cost less than prescription products upfront, they aren’t specially formulated and contain lower amounts of active ingredients — making them more costly on the back-end.
Prescription skincare is specially formulated for each individual skin type and skin tone. Dermatologists can prescribe just the right amount of active ingredient to break up melanin and reverse discoloration.
These products contain the following brightening ingredients:
Niacinamide (prescription-strength retinol)
Anti-Aging Skincare Sets
Anti-aging skincare sets target the whole face. They usually contain similar skincare products, including a cleanser, daytime cream, and nighttime cream.
The cleanser removes bacteria, dead skin cells, and free radicals from the skin morning and night; the daytime cream protects the skin from pollution and sun damage throughout the day, and the nighttime cream brightens and firms the skin all night long.
Best anti-aging skincare set: Musely’s Skin Regeneration Set
Night creams are specially formulated to increase cell turnover while breaking up pigmentation. These creams should be used at night when skin turnover is already at its highest.
Best night cream: Rory’s Nightly Defense Cream
Spot treatments break up tough spots. These creams deliver a highly-concentrated dose of active ingredients to break up pigment and brighten the skin.
Best spot treatment: Musely’s Spot Cream
Neck and Chest Creams
One of the most common areas for dark spots and hyperpigmentation is the neck and chest. Neck and chest creams are specially formulated to treat the delicate skin of the neck and décolletage.
These creams usually target dark spots, wrinkles, and crepey skin.
Best neck and chest cream: Musely’s Neck and Chest Cream
In-Office Dermatology Treatments
If you’re suffering from extreme hyperpigmentation, you may need to opt for in-office dermatology treatments. These treatments are more aggressive and provide dramatic results.
The downside? They’re also costly and require some out-patient downtime to recover from.
The most common in-office treatments for hyperpigmentation include microdermabrasion, chemical peels, laser treatments, and cryotherapy.
If you’re suffering from hyperpigmentation (or know that hyperpigmentation runs in your family and want to prevent it), there are plenty of solutions to reverse this condition and prevent future breakouts.
Make an appointment with an online dermatologist for at-home prescription skincare or a consultation for in-person treatment.