Frequently asked questions about hyperpigmentation
What Is Hyperpigmentation?
Hyperpigmentation is characterized by a darkening of an area of skin caused by the overproduction of a pigment in the skin known as melanin. It is relatively common and usually harmless, but for cosmetic reasons, it is a nuisance to those who have it.
Hyperpigmentation is the result of either of two occurrences: (1) an abnormally high concentration of melanocytes produce melanin or (2) when melanocytes are hyperactive. For instance, sun exposure stimulates the production of melanin. Although it can affect anyone, this condition is more prevalent among certain ethnicities such as Asian, Mediterranean, African, or Latin. Hyperpigmentation can affect any part of the body including the face, hands, and neck.
The following are examples of hyperpigmentation: lentigo/lentigenes, pregnancy-induced or hormone replacement treatment [HRT] melasma, nevus, freckles, solar lentigos (i.e., sun spots, age spots, liver spots) and under-eye dark circles.
- Lentigo/Lentigenes – Lentigo simply means one freckle; lentigenes are multiple freckles.
- Solar Lentigenes – widely known as ‘sun spots,’ ‘age spots’ and ‘liver spots,’ solar lentigenes are freckles caused by sun exposure
- Melasma – Often known as the ‘pregnancy mask,’ melasma is caused by hormonal changes due to pregnancy and is characterized by splotchy, pigmented areas usually on the face (except the eye area).
What Are the Causes of Hyperpigmentation?
- Overexposure to the sun
- Picking at the skin
- Hormonal changes
- Certain medications such as antibiotics, hormone treatments, and anti-seizure drugs
- Inflammation and skin injuries such as acne vulgaris
Is there a cure for Hyperpigmentation?
There is no ‘cure’ for hyperpigmentation. However, one may choose to treat this condition by removing the darkened area(s).
I have dark spots on my skin. Is this Hyperpigmentation?
Possibly. Any area of the skin that is darker than the rest is potentially considered hyperpigmentation. It can occur on any area of your body (even the feet) but hyperpigmentation usually tends to appear on the face, arms, or hands. ALWAYS check with a physician first to ensure that the dark spot is not cancer, before removing any spot.
What is Post-Inflammatory Hyperpigmentation?
Post Inflammatory Hyperpigmentation or PIH occurs after a pimple, burn, cut, abrasion or a minor injury, leaves a mark on the surface of the skin (epidermis) that is darker than the rest of the skin.
What is the difference between acne scars and hyperpigmentation?
Sometimes it can be difficult to clearly distinguish between an acne scar and hyperpigmentation. However, some ‘acne scars’ are actually not true acne scars but rather a type of Post Inflammatory Hyperpigmentation. If a mark that has developed from an acne lesion does not heal and go away after 6-12 months, then chances are that particular mark is a true scar. In other words, if it’s a permanent mark, it’s a scar, but if it eventually fades away, it is only a type of Post Inflammatory Hyperpigmentation.
How to Prevent Hyperpigmentation?
- Wearing a sunscreen of at least SPF 15 daily and avoiding sun exposure is crucial in preventing hyperpigmentation.
- Be mindful that discoloration is also in dead surface cells so it is imperative to exfoliate regularly to slough off the build-up, which will help minimize hyperpigmentation.
- If you have dry, sensitive or mature skin, it is best to exfoliate 1-2 times a week. If you have combination to oily skin, exfoliating 2-3 times a week is recommended. However, facial scrubs should not be used on acne erupted skin as they are too abrasive and can worsen the condition. Rather, a mild over-the-counter exfoliant should be used.
Dark Marks and Acne Scars: Your Complete Guide: A top dermatologist breaks down what these spots are, why they appear, and how to treat them.
by Eden Univer and Christa Joanna Lee
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