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Updated: Jul 6, 2020

What is hyperpigmentation?

Hyperpigmentation is a broad term that refers to a very common skin issue: discoloration. Usually, this manifests in the form of dark spots or patches, but hyperpigmentation can take on many different and equally frustrating forms.

Whether it's from too much time in the sun, an eczema flare-up, or a particularly bad breakout, the roots of every type of hyperpigmentation all start with melanin, the pigment in our skin. Melanin is produced by cells called melanocytes, which live in the base layer of our epidermis (the outermost layer of our skin).

Hyperpigmentation is caused by overproduction and irregular distribution of melanin in the skin. The skin can be triggered to overproduce pigment (melanin) for a variety of different reasons, but, by far, the most common is sun exposure. When our skin is unprotected and exposed to the sun's rays, melanocytes are naturally triggered to produce more melanin — this is actually our body's way of protecting itself.

When the pigment is evenly distributed, it appears as a 'tan,' but over time and with increasing sun exposure, most of the pigment ends up being distributed unevenly. This uneven distribution is hyperpigmentation, and it can take form as freckles, age spots, or even melasma, which is a specific type of hyperpigmentation that is believed to also have a hormonal factor.

The sun isn't the only thing that can stimulate an overproduction of melanin. Pimples and rashes can also throw pigment out of whack. The discoloration that lingers after general skin inflammation or trauma, including acne, is called post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation.

What are the different types of hyperpigmentation?

1. Age spots: A common sign of skin aging, this form of hyperpigmentation is caused by overexposure to UV rays (i.e. sun damage). Areas that are the most prone to developing age spots are those that are exposed to the sun most frequently, such as the face, neck, forearms, and hands.

2. Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation: This is the term for the skin discoloration that lingers after certain skin trauma, such as acne, eczema, a rash, or a cut.

3. Melasma: This is a form of hyperpigmentation that's more common in women and believed to have hormonal ties. It manifests as patches of discoloration usually on the cheeks, the bridge of the nose, the forehead, the chin, and above the upper lip. It is commonly triggered by the hormonal changes associated with pregnancy.

4. Freckles: They're linked to genetics, but they may become darker and more visible with UV exposure.

Though the reasons behind different types of hyperpigmentation may vary, there are a few universal practices that can help keep it at bay. However,it is important to remember that not all common treatments for hyperpigmentation will work for all types of hyperpigmentation.

Avoid the sun

The first step in treating hyperpigmentation is prevention, and that includes sun protection, there is no question that the sun stimulates more melanin production, so no treatment will be effective unless the sun is taken out of the equation.

This means wear sunscreen every single day, rain or shine. "Using a daily SPF of 30 or more, ideally with a physical sunblock such as titanium dioxide or zinc oxide, reapplying every two hours if you're out for extended periods of time, wearing hats, and avoiding direct sun

Don't pick or scratch at your skin

If you get any pimples, it's important not to pick at them. If you get a cut, try to cover it with a plaster to avoid having a permanent dark mark or scar there. Also, avoid scratching mosquito bites — that can also cause darkening of the skin.

There are also many topical ingredients, aesthetic treatments and skin care treatments, which will be covered in further posts.

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