What is hyperpigmentation?

Hyperpigmentation is a common skin condition in which patches of skin become darker in color than the surrounding skin. The darkening occurs when an excess of melanin, the brown pigment that produces normal skin color, forms deposits in the skin.

Who can get hyperpigmentation?

Due to the influence of hormones, women are more likely to get hyperpigmentation than men. This condition can affect the skin color of people of any race.

Why does hyperpigmentation occur?

Sun exposure is the leading cause of hyperpigmentation, as it’s sunlight that triggers production of melanin. Melanin acts as the skin’s natural sunscreen by protecting it from UV rays, which is why people tan in the sun. However, excessive sun exposure can disrupt this process therefore leading to hyperpigmentation. Once dark spots have developed, sun exposure can worsen dark spots by making freckles, age spots and melasma spots even darker.

Where does hyperpigmentation appear?

Generally, excess sun exposure over time will result in hyperpigmentation appearing on the hands and the face – most commonly the cheeks, forehead, upper lip, nose, chin and other areas of the face that are exposed to year-round sun rays. It’s most common to see it in areas of thin skin that have less natural protection, such as the décolleté and the back’s of hands.

Is there treatment for hyperpigmentation?

Chemical peels contain chemicals that cause the skin to blister and eventually peel off, leaving new and evenly pigmented skin. By applying an acidic solution to the face, hands or feet this can remove the surface layers of the skin and effectively help reduce the visibility of hyperpigmentation. Similarly, laser therapies have much of the same affect, but tend to be more precise, as the dermatologist has control over the intensity of the treatment. This involves ‘zapping’ the affected areas with high-energy light which can penetrate the deepest layers of the skin, resulting in a more effective treatment. However, while these treatments may be more effective against hyperpigmentation, they are costly and can irritate, inflame or even burn the skin. Some alternative options that are less invasive and less costly include vitamin C, retinoid acid, azelaic acid and hydroquinone which have been shown to indirectly affect melanin production, therefore reducing hyperpigmentation.

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