Hyperpigmentation: What is It and How to Treat It
Spending time outdoors with your friends and loved ones is a staple activity during the summertime. However, with extended exposure from the sun comes dark spots, age spots, or even uneven skin tones. This is also known as hyperpigmentation and it’s a long-term game to treat this particular skin condition.
What is Hyperpigmentation?
Hyperpigmentation is the result of the excess production of melanin. There are two types of melanin, clear and colored. Eu Melanin is a dark brown to black pigment occurring in the hair, skin, and iris of the eye in people and animals. It's also the pigment that causes your skin to tan after being exposed to sunlight.
When melanin is overproduced, dark spots can appear on the face, hands, body, thus resulting in a condition we call hyperpigmentation. These dark spots are usually flat, darkened patches of skin that are light brown to black and vary in size and shape..
Causes of Hyperpigmentation
There are many causes for hyperpigmentation, the primary being:
- Sun (UV Rays): The sun is the biggest cause of hyperpigmentation. UV rays directly stimulate the protection of melanin.
- Irritation, Inflammation, and Trauma: A spot after a healing pimple or discoloration from a scar is post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation or HIP. Additionally, irritation to the skin can cause inflammation. This injury causes an increase in pigmentation and scarring.
- Hormones: Changes in the balance of reproductive hormones (estrogen, progesterone) and stress hormones can trigger hyperpigmentation known as melasma. This is the hardest kind to treat because it is a hidden factor.
- Ingredients: It's very important to note that certain chemicals can trigger a melanocyte to produce melanin. Artificial fragrance is a big one. Oxidized ingredients also cause hyperpigmentation such as expired products or vitamins such as vitamin A, C, E.
- Medications: Certain drugs (anti-malarial, cancer, others) as well as heavy metals may cause pigmentation.
- Aging: Lipofuscin, a pigment in age spots, is produced by cellular garbage. In normal circumstances, these waste products are eliminated by enzymes that digest them into small pieces. However, as we age, our bodies become less efficient at this, and the cellular garbage piles up. As a remedy, Vitamin C and enzymes, which are applied through serums, are a great way to eliminate this waste and to help us clear up our skin.
Types of Hyperpigmentation
- Freckles are primarily a genetic condition. However, sun exposure and other environmental factors can darken freckles.
- They are clusters of spots that mostly appear across the upper cheeks and nose at a very young age.
- They are flat and circular in shape.
- Freckles tend to fade in the winter, whereas other forms of hyperpigmentation do not.
- The medical term for freckles is Ephelides or Lentigenes.
- Sunspots are dark spots (usually brown) induced by sun exposure.
- The sun stimulates the production of melanin, the pigment responsible for producing color in skin. These spots form after years of exposure to the sun.
- Sunspots are flat, discrete spots, usually on the cheeks, nose, and forehead.
- They are also common on the back of hands, arms, and decollete.
- Unlike freckles, they do not fade in the winter
- Age spots are actually spots that result from a cellular waste pigment, called Lipofuscin.
Post-Inflammatory Hyperpigmentation (PIH)
- It is a skin injury or trauma that heals and leaves a flat area of discoloration behind.
- It is commonly found among acne sufferers, and can also be caused by cosmetic procedures such as dermabrasion, laser treatment, and chemical peels.
- PIH can occur in any skin type. However, it is more common in Fitzpatrick Skin Types 4-6, which are darker skin tones.
- African Americans, Asians, Hispanics, Indians, Middle Easterns, Mediterraneans, or mixed-race must be extra careful because their skin is more likely to pigment (and scar) afterward.
- Melasma is hormonally-induced pigmentation that occurs in 70% of pregnant women.
- It is also known as a pregnancy mask or chloasma.
- Melasma usually occurs due to pregnancy, birth control pills, changes in estrogen, estradiol, progesterone levels, thyroid dysfunction, and to a lesser extent, high stress.
- It occurs on the forehead, temples, cheeks, nose, upper lip, and chin, and sometimes neck and arms.
- Stretch marks are permanent scars that result from the skin that has been stretched by pregnancy.
- These are very difficult to treat.
How to Treat Hyperpigmentation
- Inhibit melanin production or deposits to prevent hyperpigmentation from forming in the first place.
- Remove melanin deposits by exfoliating using tyrosinase inhibitors to stop the melanin formation as our cells are being developed. You can also effectively exfoliate them through peels and treatments by professional estheticians or dermatologists.
- Use skincare products that are aimed specifically to prevent and treat unwanted discoloration.
Products for Treating Hyperpigmentation
True to its name, the Dark Spot Clearer is specifically formulated to target dark spots and gently lift them away during your skin turnover cycle. Active ingredients such as Arbutin, Licorice Root, and Ethyl-Ascorbic, the Dark Spot Cleaner ultimately inhibits melanin production and brightens your skin tone.
Sunscreens are an important part of any skincare routine, especially if you have melanin. The sun can cause photosensitivity in recently exfoliated skin so it is best to wear sunscreen over your spot treatment or brightening serum. The EGF UV shield is a light protective cream with an SPF factor of 50 and PA+++ rating. It is an effective sunblock that can normalize the skin cycle rate and clear PIH.
Ingredients to Avoid
Hydroquinone. Although it is a great product to eliminate hyperpigmentation, it is also a known carcinogenic that mutates skin cells and makes the skin more prone to cancer and a well known disease called ochronosis.
Kojic acid is also a well known ingredient to treat hyperpigmentation. However, due to its short shelf life and reduction in efficacy over prolonged use, it is not a recommended ingredient
Ingredients to Consider
Arbutin. Arbutin can be found naturally in Bearberry, Paper Mulberry, Blueberry, Cranberry extracts. Other Plant-Derived Brighteners include Licorice Root (you may see this as Glycyrrhizate on an ingredient list), Glabridin (main oil-soluble compound found in licorice root) and Pine Bark. These ingredients all aid to impede the tyrosinase conversion, dopa, and dopaquinone phase of the melanin production process. Most of these ingredients can be found in the Dark Spot Clearer.
How Long Does it Take to Recover?
Pigmentation can be classified into two types, epidermal and dermal. When the pigmentation is in the skin cells themselves (epidermis), it takes about 14-20 days for melanin to reach from the basal layer of your skin up to just beneath your top layers. However, this process may take 45 days or more if you are older than 40 years old because cell turnover slows down with age. If there's pigmentation that has settled deeper within our body (dermis), then professional treatments are necessary before any brightening ingredients can start working.
Hyperpigmentation can be caused by a number of things, and it’s important to identify the cause in order to treat your skin properly. When you see dark spots on your face or body that are light brown to black in color, we recommend consulting with an expert dermatologist for treatment options. They may prescribe topical treatments or suggest IPL therapy which is a procedure done by doctors at their office using Intense Pulsed Light technology.