Have you ever noticed little brown spots on your hands or face? If your answer was YES then you’re in a group of millions of people who are affected by hyperpigmentation. This article is perfect for people who want to learn more about hyperpigmentation and how to prevent it as well as for individuals who want to find out how to minimize the condition. Keep reading to find out more.
What is Hyperpigmentation?
Hyperpigmentation belongs to the group of pigmentation disorders where patches of the skin are altered i.e. darker in color than the surrounding skin. It is caused by excessive production of melanin or pigment that gives your skin its natural color. Hyperpigmentation usually affects certain parts of the body such as areas that are exposed to the sun’s radiation, the most e.g. hands and face. This skin condition is quite common and is usually harmless, but affected individuals find it quite frustrating and feel less confident.
Types of Hyperpigmentation
There are several types of hyperpigmentation and they include:
- Lentigenes – freckles
- Solar lentigenes – age spots or liver spots (although they have nothing to do with liver)
- Melasma – affects mostly women during their reproductive years. It’s widely referred to as mask of pregnancy
- Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation.
How Common is Hyperpigmentation?
Pigmentation disorders are quite common. For example, Taylor A. and team of researchers of the Center for Dermatology Research at Wake Forest University School of Medicine from Winston – Salem conducted a study to inspect the prevalence of pigmentation disorders and their impact on quality of life. The study included 140 participants undergoing skin exams at private dermatology practices in North Carolina.
Results of the study, published in the Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology, showed that 80% participants were diagnosed with one or more pigmentation disorders. Other findings revealed that:
- 47.3% patients admitted they felt self-conscious about the way they looked
- 21.8% felt other people were focused on their skin
- 32.7% patients felt unattractive because of their skin
- 32.7% tried to hide discolored areas
- 23.6% patients felt their skin affected their activities.
Based on these results we can safely conclude that pigmentation disorders, including hyperpigmentation, are very common.
Furthermore, Pratik B. Sheth and a team of scientists of the Government Medical College and Hospital from Rajkot, India conducted a study which involved the prevalence of periorbital hyperpigmentation or the prevalence of this condition around the eye area. The study included 200 participants who were subjected to clinical and Wood’s lamp examination, an eyelid stretch test and laboratory investigations.
Findings from this study were published in the Indian Journal of Dermatology and they showed that:
- Periorbital hyperpigmentation (POH) was most prevalent in 16 – 25 age group (47.5%)
- Female participants were more prone to POH or more precisely 81% while 45.5% account for housewives
- The most common form of POH was constitutional (51.5%) followed by post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (22.5%)
- Lower eyelids were affected in 72.5% cases.
What Causes Hyperpigmentation?
Hyperpigmentation isn’t caused by one factor only. Instead, a wide array of different factors can contribute to formation of dark patches or spots on your skin. For instance:
- Long-term sun exposure – sun exposure stimulates overproduction of melanin thus contributing to formation of spots and patches. Melanin acts like your skin’s natural sunscreen by protecting it from UV rays. Excessive sun exposure disrupts this process which is why hyperpigmentation develops.
- Injury – in case of post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, discolored patches appear as a result of a wound healing and inflammation which leads to excessive pigmentation
- Medications – yes, even certain medications can stimulate overproduction of melanin. In this case discontinuing intake of these medications can eliminate the patches (don’t stop taking medications before consulting your healthcare provider)
- Heredity – you have higher chances of getting this skin condition if there’s a history of hyperpigmentation in your family
- Photocontact dermatitis caused by henna dyes or tattooing can lead to residual hyperpigmentation
- Hormonal changes – e.g. during pregnancy or menopause.
Some jobs are associated with heightened risk for hyperpigmentation due to exposure to the sun or chemicals e.g. gardeners, pitch or tar workers, individuals who work in bakeries or perfumeries.
Hyperpigmentation Prevention and Treatment
When it comes to hyperpigmentation, there is no exact cure that would eliminate it immediately. Instead, there are different treatments you can use to minimize the appearance of discolored patches.
This is why prevention is the key and sunscreen is the best way to do so. Ahmed Abdullah, MD, a founder and formulator of Lexli International Inc. published an article in Skin Inc. magazine where he explained that preventative measures are vital when it comes to avoiding hyperpigmentation. Furthermore, he also pointed out that importance of the regular usage of sunscreen to reduce risk of hyperpigmentation can’t be stressed enough. In most cases, the primary causes of recurrent hyperpigmentation are nonchalant attitudes towards sun exposure.
Therefore, regular usage of sunscreen isn’t something that you get to read in health and lifestyle magazines all the time. No, they don’t use it to reach the given word count but because the benefits of sunscreen for your skin are undeniable. Sunscreen poses as the barrier between your skin and the environment thus preventing the sun’s UV rays from penetrating into the skin’s layers and stimulating production of melanin which significantly lowers chances for hyperpigmentation. To ensure full protection you can also get skincare and beauty products that contain SPF e.g. moisturizing sunscreen such as Dermaxsol that protects and nourishes your face.
Another important aspect of hyperpigmentation prevention is making sure you exfoliate your skin regularly. Always bear in mind that discoloration is also in dead surface cells and exfoliation is the process that removes dead skin cells along with other impurities. This helps minimizing hyperpigmentation. If you have acne-prone skin then using facial scrubs isn’t the best way to go, instead you should opt for mild exfoliant. On the other hand, if you have sensitive or dry skin, try to exfoliate once a week, while individuals with other skin types can exfoliate 2 – 3 times per week.
Here are more prevention tips you will need:
- Eat a healthy, well-balanced diet
- Be careful about medications you’re taking. If you notice dark spots and suspect that your medications are to blame then consult your doctor and ask whether you can switch to some other medications
- Learn to manage stress – let’s face it, it’s impossible to avoid stress (although we’d like that) but there are many ways to learn to handle stress more adequately
- Limit sun exposure
- Wear protective clothing.
Treatment for Hyperpigmentation
The field of ingredients and products aimed to make discolored patches less visible has significantly improved over last 10 years. Using topical treatments to address problems with hyperpigmentation is effective and the safest way to tackle your problem. Active ingredients in topical treatments work by affecting tyrosinase (enzyme found in melanocytes which stimulates production of melanin). These ingredients are beneficial when production of melanin has to be regulated, but in cases when excess pigment production isn’t a problem anymore discolored patches just have to be cleaned up. In these cases, alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) found in numerous products particularly serums like Glowpeel skin repair serum are very beneficial.
Ideal treatment for hyperpigmentation includes a combination of sunscreen and product that contains AHAs. The efficacy of treatments for hyperpigmentation depends on how well your skin can absorb these products which is why exfoliation is also an important part of prevention and treatment of hyperpigmentation as your skin absorbs nutrients from products you apply better if dead skin cells and impurities are removed.
Other treatments for hyperpigmentation include:
- Chemical peels – process of applying acidic solution onto the face in order to remove the surface layers of the skin. However, this practice is associated with many side effects including heightened darkening of the skin if performed improperly.
- Laser therapies – are more precise than chemical peels because the dermatologist has more control over the intensity of the treatment. These therapies involve zapping the affected areas with high-energy light. Just like chemical peels, laser therapies are also linked with different side effects and their efficacy isn’t consistent.
Both treatments mentioned above are quite costly and invasive. Due to the fact they can irritate, inflame, or even burn your skin they can also lead to post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation particularly in people with darker skin. Therefore, sticking to sunscreen, topical treatments and exfoliation is a good way to treat hyperpigmentation.
Hyperpigmentation is a common skin condition that can affect just about anyone regardless of your age. The condition is caused by excessive production of melanin which is a result of many different factors. In some cases, it is the combination of different factors that causes hyperpigmentation. Although there’s no “cure” per se for this condition, you can still minimize the appearance of age spots, dark patches etc. However, prevention is the key and the most important aspect of preventing hyperpigmentation as well as treating it and preventing its recurrence is definitely sunscreen. Therefore, to avoid problems with this skin condition, using sunscreen regularly is a must.