The term hyperpigmentation itself suggests that it has to do with the skin color. To be more precise, it is the name given by healthcare professionals to patches of skin that become darker than surrounding areas of the skin, areas that keep a normal pigmentation.
There are different types of hyperpigmentation: post-inflammatory pigmentation, age spots, and melasma are the most common, each one of which is treated differently.
What is hyperpigmentation
If the skin produces more melanin (the pigment that gives the skin its color) than normal, then hyperpigmentation occurs. It is a condition that is very common and it does not depend on skin color or ethnicity.
There are forms of hyperpigmentation that tend to affect certain parts of the bodies more than others, for example, the face, arms, and legs when it comes to melasma and sunspots.
According to the type of hyperpigmentation, a dermatologist will be able to give a diagnosis just by looking at the patient (for example, melasma).
In other cases, however, a biopsy, or removal of a small sample of the skin, might be necessary to determine the cause of hyperpigmentation.
Another tool the dermatologist might need to use is a special light called Wood’s light. This one can be necessary to examine the patient’s skin.
Once the type of hyperpigmentation and cause are identified, the doctor or dermatologist can create a treatment plan if necessary.
What causes hyperpigmentation
The causes behind hyperpigmentation are directly related to which type of this condition occurs. For example, prolonged exposure to the sun causes the body to produce more melanin as a defense mechanism.
Hyperpigmentation can occur in the form of dark spots or patches on the skin called age spots or sunspots. Melasma is caused by hormonal changes and darker patches can form on the skin.
It is a type of hyperpigmentation common during pregnancy. Skin inflammation is another common cause of hyperpigmentation to occur. Some areas of the skin can become darker following an inflammation of the epidermis (acne, lupus, eczema, or just a skin injury).
This type of hyperpigmentation affects mainly people with darker skin color. There are other factors that can cause this skin condition. Some prescription drugs can cause hyperpigmentation.
For example, patients who take antimalarial drugs and some types of antidepressants can develop gray patches on the skin. This condition can also occur due to chemicals contained in topical treatments.
There are two medical conditions that can trigger more serious cases of hyperpigmentation: Addison’s disease and hemochromatosis.
The first one affects the adrenal glands and can result in the hyperpigmentation of certain parts of the body such as toes, knuckles, lips, elbows, and knees, etc. Hemochromatosis is an inherited condition that causes the body to contain too much iron. In this case, the skin may appear darker or as if it was tanned.
How to get rid of hyperpigmentation
Hyperpigmentation is a harmless condition that can affect many people for different reasons. However, those affected are usually looking for remedies to get rid of these unaesthetic skin patches.
There are removal techniques such as creams, cosmetic treatments, and home remedies. The best creams that people with hyperpigmentation should use to lighten the dark patches of the skin and eventually remove the condition are topical creams.
These creams contain ingredients that lighten the skin. Some of them are corticosteroids, kojic acid, vitamin C, retinoids (for example, tretinoin), azelaic acid, etc.
Among the cosmetic procedures more commonly used to remove hyperpigmentation or lighten the dark patches, laser therapy, and intense pulsed light are the most popular.
Microdermabrasion and chemical peels are other cosmetic solutions.
Regardless of the cosmetic procedure chosen, a patient with hyperpigmentation should always consult a skincare specialist or dermatologist in order to discuss the treatment and its possible side effects.
Nowadays, natural remedies are very popular and there are different solutions when it comes to treating hyperpigmentation. However, patients have to bear in mind that these methods are not scientifically proven to be effective.
The advice is to try these remedies on small portions of the skin and observe if they actually work. Aloe vera contains a compound, aloesin, that may lighten hyperpigmentation.
People can try to apply aloe vera directly to the skin on a daily basis and see if it really works. Again, the beneficial effect of aloe vera applied to the dark patches has not been scientifically proved, yet. Instead, one study suggests that pregnant women who take aloe capsules can relieve melasma.
Another natural remedy is licorice extracts. Research suggests that glabridin, a licorice extract, may lighten hyperpigmentation. There are also creams and products that contain this component.
Green tea extracts may also improve hyperpigmentation. Although green tea has been studied mainly for its potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, there is limited research which suggests that this leaf can be an effective solution for melasma and it can reduce sunburn. In any case, extensive research on the effects of green tea is necessary in order to prove that it is a good remedy against hyperpigmentation.
How to treat hyperpigmentation
A person affected by hyperpigmentation can self – treat it by avoiding exposure to the sun, especially during the time of the day when the sun rays are more intense.
In addition, a good sunscreen of an SPF of 30 or higher is highly recommended because it will both protect the skin and prevent the skin patches from becoming darker.
After an injury, it is possible to prevent hyperpigmentation by avoiding picking at the skin (spots, acne, and scabs). Both methods are recommended for preventing the skin condition and to stop it from becoming more serious.
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