What is Hyperpigmentation, its causes & treatment
What is Hyperpigmentation? What are its causes and How to Prevent and Get Rid of it?
What you think is a bug bite reaction, acne scar, or a vitamin deficiency could actually be the onset of pigmentation. While every one of us wants clear uniform skin, there are certain factors like breakouts, prolonged daily sun exposure, allergic reactions, or unsuitable skin care products that lead to inflammation, redness, itching, or persistent acne resulting in dark spots, also called hyperpigmentation. This blog discusses everything about hyperpigmentation, its types, causes, symptoms, and treatment.
Melanin is a brown pigment that gives hair, eyes, and skin its color. Hyperpigmentation is the result of overproduction of melanin leading to darker patches of skin. It often occurs in small patches and covers larger areas of skin. It can affect the whole body or only the arms, face, and body parts that are regularly exposed to sunlight. Hyperpigmentation is usually harmless but, but an aggravated pigmentation could be the effect of an underlying medical condition. It can affect people of every ethnicity, irrespective of their skin tone.
Types of Hyperpigmentation
Hyperpigmentation is an umbrella term that covers every type of skin discoloration or a skin condition that makes visibly darker spots on the skin. There are many types of hyperpigmentation. Let us discuss them in detail.
Melasma is the darkening of skin in patches often caused due to hormonal changes, heat or sun exposure. Birth control pills and hormone therapy could also cause melasma. It is more common in women than men and majorly occurs during pregnancy and postnatal. These darker patches can be seen on the cheeks, forehead, nose, chin, and also on the neck and forearms.
Harmful UV rays from the sun stimulate the production of melanin-producing cells called melanocytes. This disrupts the process of melanin production, resulting in its overproduction or under-production. Overproduction of melanin causes sunspots, resulting from the prolonged exposure to the sun. Sunspots appear like flat brown spots on the face or other exposed areas of the skin. Also called 'liver spots' or 'age spots,' they are usually harmless and non-cancerous.
Also called acquired melanosis, this type of hyperpigmentation occurs after a skin injury or as acne scars. Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation is visible as dark and flat spots on the skin. For some people, they might go on their own but for some people, it stays for a much longer time and needs care. Dermabrasion, laser treatment, and chemical peels are a few other reasons for post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation.
Also called periorbital melanosis or periocular hyperpigmentation, Periorbital hyperpigmentation is generally benign and commonly known as 'dark circles' around the lower eyelid. It usually occurs because of the same reasons as other forms of hyperpigmentation like UV rays affecting the production of melanocytes leading to the overproduction of melanin. Periorbital Hyperpigmentation can also occur because of rubbing delicate skin around the eyes that leads to inflammation in those areas.
Causes of Hyperpigmentation
The major cause of hyperpigmentation is melanin overproduction, a brown-colored pigment that gives color to our skin, hair, and eyes. Let us discuss the causes why our body starts to overproduce melanin.
- Sun Exposure. Melanin is the skin's natural defense against harmful sun rays and it is produced by skin cells known as melanocytes. But, prolonged sun exposure can disrupt the production of melanocytes, resulting in the over-production or under-production of melanin. Mostly, melanin is overproduced, leading to hyperpigmentation. The dark spots from hyperpigmentation usually cover the face, neck, and arms because these areas of skin are usually exposed to the sun.
- Hormonal Changes. Hormonal imbalances during pregnancy, hormone therapy, or with birth control pills trigger the worst form of hyperpigmentation, known as melasma. It could also occur due to heat or overexposure to the sun. This kind of hyperpigmentation is more common in females as female sex hormones estrogen and progesterone increase melanin production when they go through a hormonal change.
- Aging. Aging skin, if not taken care of well, could lead to hyperpigmentation due to years of exposure to the sun. Hyperpigmentation due to sun rays on aged skin is also known as 'age spots.'
- Skin Injury or Inflammation. Acne creates inflammation and leaves behind acne scars. Any other skin injury like cuts or burns and skin rubbing also creates inflammation and later leads to dark spots or darker patches of skin, also known as post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation.
- Underlying Disease or Medicine Side-Effect. Underlying medical conditions like Addison's disease, vitamin deficiency, or metabolic disorders and certain medications like chemotherapy drugs and antibiotics can also cause hyperpigmentation.
Symptoms of Hyperpigmentation
Hyperpigmentation starts with small, light brown patches on the skin and if untreated, spreads to larger areas with a darker color. Look out for any form of discoloration or uneven appearance on cheeks, nose, forehead, or chin. It could also appear on the arms and neck. We suggest visiting a dermatologist when you see such signs of skin pigmentation.
How to Prevent Hyperpigmentation
As they say, 'Prevention is better than cure.' It is always better to take measures before pigmentation becomes an aggravated issue. But, not all reasons that cause hyperpigmentation can be prevented, like hormonal or pregnancy changes. Still, there are many ways you can help prevent other causes of hyperpigmentation.
Follow a proper Daily Skincare Routine
Caring for your skin with a daily skincare routine keeps it clean, exfoliated, hydrated, and moisturized. A well-hydrated and moisturized skin heals and keeps itself protected from any unwanted skin problems. Using skincare products with hyaluronic acid helps hydrate the skin and vitamin C helps fight harmful effects of the sun, ultimately helping in the prevention of hyperpigmentation. Face masks and under-eye patches from Ansaligy have hyaluronic acid, vitamin C, and niacinamide to help hydrate the skin and keep hyperpigmentation away while keeping signs of aging away and maintaining a youthful and radiant glow.
- Try to stay away from sunlight as possible
- Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF 30 when outdoors in the sun
- Always use a hat or umbrella under the sun
Avoid Skin Picking and Rubbing and Protect from Acne
Picking or rubbing your skin can lead to inflammation, which can later result in dark spots of pigmentation. Acne scars can also lead to hyperpigmentation, which is why it is necessary to keep your skin protected against acne.
How to Treat Hyperpigmentation?
There are many ways to treat hyperpigmentation with topical ointments and cosmetic procedures. However, make sure to visit your dermatologist before going for any kind of treatment.
Topical Treatments and Cosmetic Procedures
Topical treatments for hyperpigmentation include over-the-counter medications like creams, gels, serums, and face acids.
The ingredients effective on hyperpigmentation also come in the form of gels or serums and can be used twice daily. The ingredients that lighten the skin and reduce dark spots are
- Licorice extract
Face acids work by exfoliating the dead skin cells on the surface of the skin and shedding them off. Exfoliation is a process that cannot be done every day, which is why these acids should be used twice or thrice a week. Do not go for a higher concentration of these exfoliating acids. Ask your dermatologist for the best concentration as per your skin pigmentation. Some of the face acids are
- Alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) like glycolic and lactic acid
- Kojic acid
- Salicylic acid
- Vitamin C (in the form of l-ascorbic acid)
Also called vitamin A, retinoids come in the form of creams, moisturizers, and serums. They seep deep inside the skin layers because of their smaller molecular structure. Retinoids work extremely well for aging skin as well, to treat wrinkles and other signs of aging.
A chemical peel is a skin-resurfacing procedure that uses chemical solutions to remove top layers of the skin and in the process, lightening every types of hyperpigmentation. There are three depths of chemical peels
- Light Chemical Peel. It uses light solutions and removes only the top-most layer of the skin called the epidermis, preventing wrinkles, dryness, acne, and uneven skin tone. This type of peel can also be done at home.
- Medium Chemical Peel. This type of peel is done at a dermatologist's clinic because it uses a little strong solution to treat wrinkles, acne scars, and uneven skin tone. This treatment works at the 'dermis' layer of the skin.
- Deep Chemical Peel. This uses even harsher solutions to work on deeper layers of skin to remove scars, wrinkles, and hyperpigmentation.
There are certain side-effects involved with peels which is why it is advised to go for lighter peels at home. If you go for a chemical peel at the clinic, make sure to do thorough research beforehand.
Laser therapy works with cosmetic laser light targeting hyperpigmented skin. There are two types of laser therapies. 'Ablative' therapy is harsh and works by removing layers of skin. It could lead to certain side effects. On the other hand, 'Non-Ablative' therapy works on the 'dermis' layer of the skin and helps boost collagen production. Laser therapies work by stimulating the reproduction of skin cells.
Dermabrasion and Microdermabrasion
Both these procedures work on removing the 'epidermis' layer of your skin but the effects of dermabrasion can go till the 'dermis' layer. These procedures help reduce acne scars, uneven skin tone, age spots, injury scars, and sun damage.
Hyperpigmentation is a skin condition that affects women as well as men, but it is more prevalent in women. Although it's not a health threat, it could lower the confidence of some people. It is best to start caring for your skin right from an early age to prevent hyperpigmentation and other skin issues. Cleanse, tone, hydrate, and moisturize your skin to make it look flawless, and never forget sunscreen in your morning skincare routine.